One week butter is good for you, the next, bad. The same with meat. While physician, author and BBC TV regular Dr Rangan Chatterjee finds emerging new science fascinating, he advises some caution when it comes to dishing out nutritional advice.
“If you’re under the impression that there’s one perfect diet that’s going to help you, I’d invite you to think again,” he says. “Different things work for different people.”
Instead of telling us what we should or shouldn’t be eating, Dr Chatterjee has some clear principles to help guide you through the confusing nutritional information out there.
These five pillars of good diet form part of his new online course on BBC Maestro. Two decades of seeing tens of thousands of patients and he knows what practically works for busy people with busy lives.
There’s also a host of different factors that will influence your personal nutrition, says Dr Chatterjee: for instance, your previous relationship with food, your heritage, how many antibiotics you’ve taken in your life that might have affected your microbiome, and therefore how you process and metabolise food.
“What these principles give you are the very solid foundations of the small things you can do every day that really do make a difference to your health and your happiness as well.”
Reset your relationship with sugar
You do not have to stop eating sugar. “That is frankly unrealistic for most people, nor do I think most people need to do that,” says Dr Chatterjee.
Humans are biologically wired to crave sugar. And there’s a good reason for that. “We’ve got to remember that the ability to take sugar in and store it as energy, as fat, is frankly a super power for humans. It’s what allowed us, depending on where we were in the world, to get through winter.”
The problem is that, in the modern food environment, we are tempted by low-quality foods that are high in sugar everywhere we go.
The first sugar pitfall to look out for, says Dr Chatterjee, is hidden added sugars. “If you eat meat you may be surprised if you flip over a packet of ham or chicken breast and see that sugar is one of the first ingredients. This is why people are struggling so much, because a lot of us have conditioned our taste buds to want sweet things. And therefore food manufacturers want to make things that people like and will buy more.”
Eating an unprocessed diet will eliminate many hidden sugars. When it comes to fruit, Dr Chatterjee says the sugar in an orange is fine when eaten with its natural fibre. The problem comes when you have it as juice.
This can be the sugar of, say, six oranges without any of the fibre. “Then you’re mainlining sugar. It’s fine as an occasional treat but you wouldn’t want to have that everyday.”