In my last column I talked about starting out at the gym as a way to start getting your fitness on-track, and since that was written there have been several articles out in HIV journals stating that diet and exercise are important for guys (and girls) in an ageing HIV population to promote a longer and healthier road to old age, and as a way of fighting off problems associated with obesity and bad diet. As a population in general, obesity is a big problem, especially as we get older, and lazier. One of the things that prompted me to get off my arse and start doing something about my health was observing people around me who were my age or older, and telling myself “that is NOT how I want to end up” as an older person. I don’t want to be fat, and wear my trousers up around my nipples; I don’t want to be stooped and crippled, relying on Zimmer frames and mobility scooters; I don’t want to have to rely on others to help me get about and just get through my everyday life; and I don’t want to be shuffling around and taking all day to move from one place to another. I saw a LOT of this in elderly people, and for me…it’s just not on!
Okay, so hopefully we have prompted some of you to start looking after your weight and mobillity. I brushed over diet in the last article, but in reality exercise and diet go hand-in-hand, even more so as you get older. It is such an easy matter to tweak your diet from unhealthy to healthy that I often wonder why people think it is so hard. There is very little that you have to give up in a balanced diet, though the emphasis does change from one of ‘oh, that is too much trouble’ to one of ‘okay, I’ll give that a go’ if you know you will achieve positive results.
I would like to think that we had all moved on from the diet we were presented with as we grew up, especially those of us brought up with the “meat and three veg” mentality of the 50’s and 60’s, though I do know of guys my age who still stick to that prescription, and have NEVER ventured outside the box. The move from ‘bad’ eating to healthier eating for me occurred with the discovery of Asian cuisine.The entire Asian approach to cooking (despite being a bit preparation – intensive, though fast to cook) with using all the proteins, plus fresh herbs and vegetables and sauces that were both tasty and healthy appealed to me from the very beginning. It is strange how my foods have changed over time, from a heavily red meat orientated style of cooking to a more poultry, fish and almost, on accasions, vegetarian styled cuisine. This was never intentional, it just seemed to happen, especially enhanced by the new exercise regimes I was putting myself through. As I mentioned in my last piece, I have a severe sweet tooth. I am one of those people who reads the dessert menu first in a restuarant, then decide what else to order from there. I have a weakness for potato chips, donuts, finger buns, cheese, chocolate and little cakey things from cafe’s. Have I given all this up in the rush for a better diet? Not on your life, though I do eat them in moderation these days. I have had finger buns twice this year – quite a severe deprivation for me, though I can’t say the same for chocolate. Full of antioxidants (I love really dark, bitter chocolate) is my excuse. So, what have I done to improve my diet? Nothing terribly radical, I have to say. To start with, I have never really followed diets, though did give the CSIRO diet a good bash, though I found it a bit too heavy with protein for my evolving tastes. I have to say it did work, and both myself & my partner lost weight while on it. I am currently personally promoting the Weight-Watchers recipe books, which are available from most newsagents. They started putting recipe books out about 10 years ago (originally only available through the WW organisation), and even then I was impressed with the variety and range of their recipes. I don’t follow their points system, though you can if you like – I just like theirrecipes, and they cover everything from breakfasts, to light meals, to main meals, desserts and snacks. They are one organisation that has moved with the times. There is a heavy emphasis on vegetables in their recipes which I personally like. So, what else can you do to help improve your eating habits? Eat a lot of fresh, raw leafy vegetables. With summer coming on, our diet will shortly go almost totally salad. It isn’t boring – there are many recipe books around now that just concentrate on healthy and interesing salads. Cut down on the amount of sugar and fats that you use for cooking. Use “Splenda” if you require a sweetener (it can be used for baking): substitute wholemeal plain & SR flour in baking: swap over to other oils for cooking such as Azalea, rice bran or grapeseed oils; use yoghurt and oil as substitutes for milk or cream in cooking; don’t overcook vegetables – vege cooking is one area where microwave ovens are great. Vege’s should still be a bit crisp when served; dry fry where possible, or grill; gives things like tofu a go – ignore the bad press, and make decisions for yourself (though I still hate soy milk). Cut back on coffee and drink tea instead. Limit alcohol consumption without going ‘dry’. All this will not cause miracles, but will be a good start and will give you the impetus to trial things yourself. A good, well-balanced diet will mean that you shouldn’t have to take supplements, though it seems to be very fashionable to do so. It is true that some ARV’s do cause depletion of certain vitamins and minerals in the body, though discuss this with a doctor or dietician before starting up on any supplement regimes. Don’t do things just because your friends do!
Now, for the big question! Do I believe in Superfoods? The short answer is…yes! The term “Superfoods” is used to denote foods that are packed full of nutrient and cover the gammit from exotic to mundane. The latest list includes Acai and Goji berries (it is well-reported that ALL berries are good for you and jam-packed full of goodies to help your skin, brain and heart, as wel, as helping to lower cholesterol; Coconut water which doesn’t taste half bad, and comes with some yummy additives these days – considered fashionable, especially amongt gym junkies; Probiotic cheese though I’d rather stick to a good sharp cheddar or a gooey brie myself; Omega-3-rich milk though there are other ways to get Omega-3, such as fish or fish oil capsules. If you do go to gym regularly, taking these fish oil capsules can help with your heart health as well as joint protection (not to mention assisting memory); Maitake mushrooms (yes, you read that right), though mushrooms in general are very good for you; Vine-ripened tomatoes, though the health benefits of tomato-rich diets are well known now – and how can you hate tomatoes!; Blue-Green Algae (Spirulina) is one I’ll pass on, thanks!; Yerba Mate (a South American tea) is something I’ve tried, but haven’t developed a taste for. There is quite a ritual involved in preparing it; Pomergranate juice expensive but oh so gorgeous and addictive it;s worth going into credit card debt for; and brazil nuts, which fortunately for me come in blocks of chocolate, so yeah, I eat them. I highly recommend you doing some internet research on superfoods, then pick out the ones you enjoy and include them in your diet.
So, the rules for good healthy eating are:
• Keep it fresh – fresh vegetables are not expensive, so stock up and learn to be creative. USE RECIPE BOOKS, don’t just steam and boil things…boring!
• Don’t deprive yourself of treats, just cut back on how often you have them. Keep health bars or trail mix in the cupboard for when you get those junk cravings – it works.
• If you get that ‘do I have to eat that’ thought when you are cooking a meal, then don’t cook it. If you don’t enjoy it you are not going to want to eat it. Nothing worste than making meals a chore.
• Cut back on fats and sugar – don’t cut them out, just rethink them. Remember that fruit juices are not always a healthy, sugar-free option.
• Don’t overcook foods like proteins and vegetables – you cook all the nourishment out of them by overcooking.
• Shout yourself a take-away occasionally – even I go to Hungry Jacks 2-3 times a year.
• Don’t cut out carbs and proteins from your diet – your body really needs them to function properly. If like me you go to gym early in the day, have a bacon and egg toastie after, and don’t feel guilty about it. Without the carb & protein hit you will go home and hit the wall. You burn a LOT of calories when you exercise.
• Eat as many raw vegetables as you like – they are so good for you.
• Don’t knock frozen and canned vegetables and pulses. Most vege’s are snap-frozen, and are often healthier than cooking them yourself. If you buy tinned beans and lentils, rinse them thoroughly before eating.
• Look at vegetarian options – you may be surprised. It is no longer the 70’s and 80’s, and slabs of eggplant with a melange of bland steamed vegetables.
• Buy wholegrain bread instead of white. Your body needs to work to get through all those seeds, so you feel full for longer. Also, rye breads and malted breads.
• I still like my full-cream milk, but there are plenty of options now. Don’t get caught up with all the trendy additives etc in milk now – these are things that are present in a balanced diet, and they really shouldn’t be in milk
Whatever you do, enjoy your food. It is one of life’s pure pleasures. But, like sex, think before you put it in your mouth!