The real secret to Eat more successful slimming?
Pasteurised milk, lowfat cereal, brown sliced pan... are these staples healthy or harmful? ‘Food doctor’ John McKenna tells Nikki Walsh what we really need more of in our diet is fat – and lots of it
John McKenna lear nt the importance of good nutrition when he left Ireland to study medicine in Africa as a young man. Surprised to find foods such as cereals, fresh vegetables and fruits, chicken, beef, nuts and seeds in plentiful supply, he was impressed by the level of health he saw, as people did not suffer from the sorts of degenerative conditions that he associated with Western culture.
They did, however, suffer from diseases such as malaria, bilharzia, and worm infestations and it was here he learnt his first real lessons in nutrition. ‘The turning point was when I saw the effect of giving vitamin A to infants and young children who were born to HIV-positive mothers,’ he says. ‘The incidence of the infections dropped off markedly. One vitamin had such a profound effect on their well being that my eyes were opened to the power of nutritional medicine. As time has gone on, I have been left in no doubt that nutritional medicine is the future and will reduce the need for expensive drugs and hospitalisation.’
McKenna qualified as a doctor, and began practising natural medicine in his late 30s, specialising in food allergies and intolerances. He published three books: the bestselling Hard To Stomach — Real Solutions To Your Digestive Problems; Natural Alternatives To Antibiotics, and Alternatives To Tranquillisers. Returning to Europe in 2002, he was shocked by the sight of Westerners. ‘The average person in the street of the local town where I was living was visibly overweight, and even the babies were on the plump side.’
In supermarkets, he noticed that people’s trolleys were filled with processed foods, mostly carbs, such as pizzas, waffles, breads, pancakes and breakfast cereals — all laden with sugar. It was a far cry from his own childhood, growing up outside the village of Mullaghbawn in Co. Armagh, where his mother, a nurse, had instilled in him a keen interest in nutrition, fed him simple, good food from the land, and spoonfuls of Scott’s Emulsion and cod liver oil. ‘The diet I had grown up on and the traditional diet I experienced in different parts of Africa were now replaced with factory foods. These were foods that were not designed by nature, but by food chemists. These foods were destroying whole populations.’
In Good Food: Can You Trust What You Are Eating? John explains how such a food revolution took place, taking readers back to key moments in food manufacturing, and laying the blame firmly at the door of politicians, food companies, and drug companies. First up is the obesity crisis in America in the 1970s and the early 1980s in Europe, when fats, thought to cause heart disease, were removed from foods, and replaced by high- f ructose corn syrup. ‘It was known in the 1950s and ’60s that fructose causes obesity and I had learned this in college in Dublin in the early 1970s,’ he writes. ‘It must have also been known to the food chemists who decided to replace fat with fructose. Why was such an international catastrophe like this allowed to happen?’ He argues that there is no link between animal fat and obesity, but that by the time this became clear, high-fructose corn syrup was reaping huge profits for the food industry. This brings him to the introduction of nitrogen fertilisers to farming. Nitrates have been linked with cancer in almost every organ in the body in a range of tests on animals. Add to this the introduction of artificial sweetners, which cause brain tumours in animals, and the processing of milk, which stripped of its good bacteria now contains a cocktail of hormones and antibiotics, and John is in little doubt that it is the toxicity of most foods labelled ‘healthy’ that are causing our ill health.
So, what should we be eating? According to John, it’s time to go back to basics — fresh milk straight from the farm, organic meats and line-caught fish, free-range eggs, and organic fruit and vegetables. He urges us to buy directly from farmers, grow our own vegetables, bake our own breads and make our own yoghurt.
For credit- crunched, time- poor parents, the doctor has this message: ‘Keep carbs to a minimum. If you cut out breads, rolls, cakes, biscuits, waffles, pizza, chips, potato, rice, pasta, etc, which form the bulk of the weekly shopping, you will have money to spend on animal meats such as lamb’s liver, which is an excellent food — and very cheap. An egg a day keeps infection at bay. Animal protein