It’s not easy be­ing green

When it comes to eat­ing healthily, it can seem like the goal­posts are al­ways be­ing shifted by peo­ple in lab coats. Now they say our five-a-day of fruit and veg needs to be dou­bled, and it sounds a lot like hard work ...

The Guardian - Cook - - INTRODUCTION -

I’m start­ing to un­der­stand why sci­en­tists have faced per­se­cu­tion for so much of hu­man his­tory ...

If I told you I had a healthy life­style, that would be a lie. I have a ten­dency to re­ward my­self with food. Start column? Have a snack. Fin­ish column? Have a snack. Open blank Word doc­u­ment that may, at some point, con­tain column? Good time for a snack.

In ad­di­tion, I dis­like cold, the com­pany of strangers, over­lit spa­ces and Ly­cra, which means I only re­ally ex­er­cise from June to Au­gust, and even then I do it grudg­ingly.

But the one thing I am re­ally good at, the one bit of a healthy life­style I have ab­so­lutely nailed, is my five pieces of fruit and veg a day; partly be­cause I like eat­ing. Or­ange juice and a piece of fruit in the morn­ing, a mid-morn­ing help­ing of raisins or apri­cots, salad or cu­cum­ber at lunch, a ba­nana in the af­ter­noon, some olives be­fore din­ner – there’s your five-a-day. De­pend­ing on what I have for break­fast, lunch and din­ner, some­times I might get as many as eight dif­fer­ent pieces of fruit and veg. So, while other peo­ple talk about their squats and their lifts and their god­knows-what, I can, at least, com­fort my­self that I am eat­ing 60% more fruit or veg than I needed to.

Or I could. Now, sci­en­tists at Im­pe­rial Col­lege Lon­don have pulled the rug out from un­der me. To get “the max­i­mum pro­tec­tion against dis­ease and pre­ma­ture death”, re­searchers say, I should be eat­ing 10 pieces of fruit and/or veg ev­ery day: 10! I’ve gone from over­per­form­ing by 60% to fall­ing short by 20%! I’m start­ing to un­der­stand why sci­en­tists have faced per­se­cu­tion for so much of hu­man his­tory.

At first, I opt for de­nial. What no one ever tells you about length­en­ing your life ex­pectancy is that most of the ex­tra years are swal­lowed up by do­ing what­ever it is you do to in­crease your life ex­pectancy, I tell my­self ... I worked out the other day that when you fac­tor in sniff­ing it gin­gerly, forc­ing it down your throat and wash­ing up, the ex­tra time ac­quired by tak­ing gin­seng is com­pletely swal­lowed up by the con­sump­tion of gin­seng.

But I can’t get rid of the nag­ging voice telling me I need to eat more fruit, so I take com­fort in cre­ative ac­count­ing. Break­fast is ei­ther jam on toast or Gregg’s deadly break­fast deal (a ba­con roll and a sur­pris­ingly good cof­fee costs just £2.25, but clogs up your ar­ter­ies with ev­ery visit). Tomato ketchup and fruit jam don’t count, ac­cord­ing to the sci­en­tists, but sci­en­tists were say­ing that you were safe with five a day only two weeks ago, so what do they know?

Un­for­tu­nately, I know I’m fool­ing my­self, so after a few days I de­cide to re­treat to a stud­ied ni­hilism. Yes, eat­ing 10 pieces of fruit might pro­tect me from dis­ease and pre­ma­ture death. But so would not hav­ing an or­ange tod­dler in the White House, or some­one do­ing some­thing about the poi­sonous cloud over Lon­don.

Nu­tri­tion­ists rec­om­mend not de­nial, not ni­hilism or cook­ing the books, but sub­sti­tu­tion: that is, re­plac­ing your mid-af­ter­noon slice of cake or lunchtime cho­co­late bar with a piece of soft fruit. I am du­bi­ous about this: I like fruit and veg, but if I asked a col­league to get me a KitKat and they came back with a wa­ter­melon slice, I’d have some fairly sharp re­marks for them af­ter­wards.

It doesn’t take long be­fore I re­alise my scep­ti­cism was right: what hap­pens with sub­sti­tu­tion is that you con­sider the healthy op­tion, feel vir­tu­ous, and then opt for the sug­ary al­ter­na­tive.

There are three so­lu­tions to that lit­tle prob­lem: the first, of course, is willpower. Not hav­ing any my­self I find that ap­proach to be un­work­able even though I’m sure it works well for other peo­ple.

The sec­ond is to scrap sub­sti­tu­tion and opt for “ad­di­tion”: so in­stead of switch­ing from an un­healthy snack to a healthy one, I have a healthy snack and an un­healthy one. The dan­ger, here, is that ad­di­tion very quickly leads to ex­pan­sion. Any health gains those ex­tra pieces of fruit might be worth are be­ing wiped out by the neg­a­tive con­se­quences of my rapidly ex­tend­ing bulk.

There’s no op­tion for it: I will ei­ther have to eat less, or ex­er­cise more, nei­ther of which are par­tic­u­larly ap­petis­ing prospects. What I re­ally need is some­where I can be told how to in­crease the amount of veg­e­ta­tion in my reg­u­lar meals, how to make my diet greener and health­ier, and what ex­actly it is you are sup­posed to do with cele­riac. If only such a place could be found …

Stephen Bush

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