As the shortage of flour and other baking ingredients proved back in the Spring, baking has become increasingly popular since the beginning of Lockdown – and with a second helping on the way, this is likely to continue. The result? The average person has put on no less than six pounds in weight over the last six months – an extra pound every month! Home baking is of course not the only culprit – my own personal research, which has consisted in this case of looking at what people are putting into their trolleys at the supermarket - has revealed an undeniably huge consumption of unhealthy snacks – milk chocolate, sweets, crisps, tortilla chips, salted nuts, prawn crackers, pizza bites and any number of so-called foods which I am totally unfamiliar with – Wotsits being the first one which springs to mind, bright orange, crunchy, definitely not natural, and which I recently saw a child aged about one devouring with great relish.......
During my past cheffing life, I was required to do plenty of baking and I must acknowledge the deep feeling of comfort and joy which would wash over me as the bewitching aromas wafted from the oven. But that feeling is sneaky because while the short-term pleasure of a freshly baked cake or biscuit – rich in refined sugar and refined carbohydrates - is undeniable, it also has consequences like that newly acquired spare tyre – or two! - around your waist which you are likely to find very hard to shift in the future. It won’t do your digestion or blood sugar balance much good either. So my heart sinks when I come across yet another television programme or podcast or magazine article or book about the delights of baking. Not because I want to be a kill-joy but because of what they are doing to the nation’s health at a time when that health is already under threat from other dangers.
When I ran my Dynamic Ageing survey earlier this year, excess weight turned out to be one of the top concerns for the participants, which is unsurprising because the Western world is becoming fatter by the year if not by the week! I am not talking here about obesity, but simply about carrying more weight than is comfortable, that pretty thick layer of fat around your middle, your clothes which no longer fit, the fact that you can’t move as fast as you used to – and unfortunately, it is very easy to gain extra weight in MidLife anyway, it virtually settles into place almost without our noticing it, and once it takes hold, it can be VERY difficult to get rid of.
Our daily diet is obviously not the only cause. A sedentary life and lack of movement are big contributors. And a stressful lifestyle is another, as it leads to comfort eating or eating on the run or simply eating anything you can get your hands on because you don’t have time to cook or even to shop properly. Hormonal imbalances are definitely part of the picture as levels of oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone decrease dramatically when menopause and andropause strike. Inner toxicity can be yet another culprit, as it overburdens the liver’s cleansing capacity.
However, an awful lot of the blame rests squarely on what we eat day in, day out, most particularly because a typical modern diet in the developed world revolves around sugar and refined/processed foods which wreak havoc with blood sugar balance – and good blood sugar balance is absolutely key to managing weight in MidLife & Beyond.
Let’s look at “the blood sugar curve”. You start off by feeling tired and flat at the beginning of the day and thinking that you need a bit more energy. So you eat a sugar-loaded cereal or a croissant or Danish pastry. What happens? The glucose from your simple carbohydrate breakfast pours into the blood stream and your blood sugar levels rocket, perking you up and making you feel energised and alert. But unfortunately, within a short space of time, your blood sugar drops even lower than it was before, because the body has produced an excess of insulin to compensate for the sugar load. So at that stage you reach for a sugary snack..... And the whole process starts again, day after day, with all that glucose flooding your blood stream, your pancreas pumping out more and more insulin, and your waistline growing ever thicker. You are on a dangerous roller-coaster and it is crucial to jump off it without delay. The time has come for an about-turn.
How do you do this? By giving your daily diet a good overhaul and booting out sugar and refined foods. This can be a challenge if you are used to eating them, but the results are worth it in terms of health and energy if not shapeliness. Build your meals and snacks around real, fresh, natural, unprocessed foods and you will soon feel the difference. And if you still feel the urge to bake occasionally, go ahead and enjoy both the process and the fruits of your labours – but just make sure that it is only occasionally and that you have just one slice of cake and not the whole lot!