Samui Wining & Dining
High Octane

When it comes to filling up, are you using the correct grade of fuel?


8At one time it used to be a fact. People in poorer countries generally ate better than their first world counterparts. Strange, but true. Even today, the average Ovambo tribesman, living in a thatched hut on the plains of Southern Africa is healthier, fitter, stronger and better nourished than most burgermeisters in Bavaria or fishermen in France. And back in 1997, every day in the USA, around 200,000 people became ill due to food-based diseases – of which 900 had to be hospitalised – and of these, 14 died.

    Of course, we’re now over a decade further on from these times, and public awareness is changing. It’s been estimated that in 1995 there were fewer than 300 ‘gyms’ in England – and most of these were related directly to a specific sport, like boxing or gymnastics. Today, every city harbours dozens of gyms and health clubs, and the current estimate has risen to a staggering 250,000. And that’s not counting all the private gyms that are provided by employers for their workforce.

      We’ve become more health-conscious. We’re aware of additives and preservatives in our food. We know what a heavy intake of saturated fats can do to us. We’ve stopped smoking, and started drinking ‘lite’ beers. We’re now buying anything with the label ‘diet’ on it, from microwave meals to mayonnaise, and from soft drinks to sauces. It’s almost got to the point that, if a product doesn’t have one of the four magic words stamped on it – sugar-free; low fat; diet; or natural – then it’s doomed to stay on the shelf.

       But is all of this making us any healthier? On the face of it, it has to. How could it not be? Well, looking through some statistics from the 1960s and doing some comparisons makes for interesting reading. 50 years ago, there was a significantly higher incidence of bronchial and circulatory illness, including lung and heart diseases due to smoking and obesity. But there were around half the cases of both MS (Multiple Sclerosis) and intestinal cancers – and afflictions such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Creutzfeldt-Jakob (or Mad Cow) Disease, Interdialytic Weight Gain (IWG) and Systemic Lupus were unheard of. And today, when you look further, a much higher percentage of city-dwellers become ill in comparison with their country cousins.

      We are what we eat. That old cliché still holds true – even more so today, as there is a far wider range of foodstuffs for us to be seduced by. But let’s get down to basics – what our needs are – and try for a moment to forget the food-industry’s push for packaging our well-being in a box of frozen food.

      We need an intake of six basic ‘building blocks’ to function healthily (and that’s assuming we take regular exercise too) – carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins and minerals, plus, of course, water. And, given this fact, a diet that includes fish, meat, eggs, rice or whole grains, plus fresh fruit and vegetables will do the job very nicely. And this is where the ‘lifestyle-factor’ enters the picture. Because if you’re leading a hectic life, rushing between trains and offices, keeping to deadlines and having high-powered meetings, then the chances are that you just won’t have the time to shop for fresh food, and prepare and cook it yourself. So you’ll get home at night and put together something that’s been tinned or frozen – and undoubtedly it’ll have either ‘diet’ or ‘low fat’ or ‘sugar free’ on the packet!

      Talking of ‘sugar free’, take care, here. The sweetener aspartame is widely used as a substitute for sugar. Perhaps its most prominent use is in a world-leading brand of diet cola. In the Gulf War, container-loads of this cola were shipped out to the troops, some of whom drank more than 30 cans a day. Within weeks, there were reports of painful, swollen joints, abdominal swellings and lumps, migraine headaches, crippling backaches, fainting spells, excessive fatigue, and blurred vision. At the time, this was passed over as the expected results of a battle situation. But further research has shown that aspartame is a neurotoxin, and breaks down into formic acid. Yet another reason to take a good look at your eating habits!

      You see, the real secret of healthy living is – balance. Fresh food is more nourishing than the frozen or tinned equivalent, so try to get through as much fresh meat, fish and vegetables as you can. Switch to whole-grain bread for the fibre that your digestive system needs. Boil or bake your potatoes to vary your fat intake. Drink milk (vitamins, calcium, phosphorous, potassium) as well as water. And make sure you eat fresh fruit as often as possible. There’s no problem with bread or French fries, but in moderation. And remember the basic law – if you take in more calories than you use each day, then your body will convert them to unwanted fat. But you’re reading this in Thailand, so make the most of it! Consider a typical Thai meal. There’ll be half a dozen dishes on the table and everyone will take a bit of each. There’s probably a meat curry – protein and fats. Usually eggs or omelettes – protein and vitamins. Often a fish dish – protein and vitamins again. There’s always a plate of fresh vegetables – vitamins and essential minerals. The carbohydrates that our bodies need are in the rice, plus essential fibre too. And then the dessert, usually fruit or ‘kanom’ (sugary sweet things) will also provide vitamins, sugars and carbohydrates. Altogether, a very healthy balance, even if you’re eating ice cream and burgers in-between.

      Think of your body like a machine – a car for example. It’s designed to run on petrol, which it converts to energy. The harder you run it, the more energy it needs and the more fuel it uses. But put low-grade petrol in and it splutters and misfires. And if you keep running it like this, things will wear-out and break. Your car needs a high-octane fuel to work properly and so does your body. And one thing’s for sure – we’re not yet in the age where you can trade-in your body for a new one!

Rob De Wet


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