Sugar & spice, and all things … salty!

I am old, clearly. I have arrived at the age when we all start to say ‘when I was young … ‘, and this is exactly what I’ve been thinking lately. Suddenly, there are an awful lot of sentences that begin this way, and a lot of them are to do with food.

It all started some time ago now, when I was diagnosed as hypertensive, and cut down drastically on my salt intake. Then some time in the early 2000s, I had a short but successful tussle with oral cancer, which resulted in the advice to stay away from spicy foods and spirits2, and when I was later diagnosed with GORD, I had another important reason to do so.

A decade or so after that, one by one, a whole bunch of my friends and family found that that were pre-diabetic, and then a few years after that, some had slipped over that invisible line into full-blown Type 2 diabetes. This tends to make an ageing person think, and as a result, I realised that my body no longer handled massive sugar hits as easily as it used to. In fact, it was positively pissed with me if I added a smacking great sugary dessert on top of a carbohydrate-rich restaurant meal laced with alcohol. This didn’t show up in blood sugar tests, but my pancreas was hinting that it could only be a matter of time until it did, so I made the decision to stop eating sugar, and in February 2016, I went cold turkey on added sugar. Not, I hasten to add, simply the sugar I used to put in tea, or on cereals or fruit – no, I stopped cooking with sugar, and I stopped eating desserts and cakes, and biscuits. Now, this year, I find that my cholesterol is working its way slowly towards the Dark Side.

So, here I am, a woman who doesn’t eat sugar or hot spices, and needs low-salt and lower-fat options. Did I mention that I also have a bit of a problem with yeast3? I don’t know if you’ve ever tried shopping for anything other than basic ingredients with those points in mind, but I can tell you that it ain’t easy – especially for someone who really doesn’t like to cook, and has other dietary restrictions (my allergies and intolerances).

But for the purposes of this blog post, my allergies and intolerances are beside the point.

Here’s the point. You try going into any supermarket and find even so much as a packet of cold meat which doesn’t contain sugar in some form: sucrose (usually just listed as ‘sugar’), dextrose, glucose, fructose, corn syrup, honey, molasses, and/or the insidious ‘fools-you-into-eating-far-too-much’ glucose-fructose syrup. Those are by no means the only names you’ll find for sugars in your food, by the way, but you will find one or more sugars in almost any prepared foods, from bread to pasta sauce, savoury biscuits & crisps to frozen chips – I once found a tub of pasta sauce which contained sugar in no less than five different forms. This bottle of BBQ sauce contains four.

Go ahead: try finding unsalted crisps or roasted nuts. Or soups, stocks, crackers, or pretty much anything savoury with a low salt-content. Then try finding soups, prepared meals, sauces, stocks, gravy mixes, etc with low salt content, and no yeast or hot spices.

Fats? Fats are a special kind of crazy. There are ‘good fats’ and ‘bad fats’, and the perception of which are good and which are bad changes regularly. At the moment there is a belief that palm oil is good, which has led to palm oil being almost ubiquitous in processed foods of any kind. There is nothing magical about palm oil except that it is naturally high in unsaturated fats, and it can be produced cheaply, and in large quantities. There is – naturally – a very heavy price to pay for this in terms of the world’s resources4, and what’s more, palm oil does a number on my acid reflux, so I try really hard to avoid it. But I challenge you: go into any supermarket, and do your usual weekly shop without buying anything with palm oil in it. The chances are that you’ll find yourself having to make substitutions before you’ve got halfway down the first aisle of shelved goods. And remember, palm oil masquerades under various names too, but you’ll have to look those up for yourself because there are too many to list. You’ll also find it in cleaning products and personal hygiene stuff like toothpaste, shower gel, and shampoo. We are literally destroying the earth for this crap. The fashion for palm oil will pass, but it might be too late for fragile ecosystems and magical places like Indonesia, Malaysia, and even Madagascar. Wildlife is being destroyed right now to make way for the increasing demand for it.

But the crazy doesn’t stop with palm oil.

In the search for low fat products with ‘good flavour and mouth feel’, manufacturers have reduced the fats, but upped the sugar and salt content, and added all kinds of emulsifiers and fillers. What’s more, they seem to be ignoring the use of more traditional ‘good fats’ like olive oil. You see, your body does need oils and fats. Your brain has a particularly high need for them, and the rest of you needs the vitamins which are fat-soluble – and it is being increasingly recognised that simply popping a vitamin pill doesn’t actually work as well as getting them via your diet. Oh, what a surprise.

And here’s where it’s really insane. Our Beloved Leaders have issued guidelines on nutrition, some of which are admittedly just plucked out of thin air, but some we know make sense. We know that too much salt and sugar can wreck your health, and yet manufacturers are allowed to carry on adding them in large quantities to our foods, because ‘it’s what the public want’. True enough, people like the taste – people are addicted these days to highly salted, highly sweetened, intensely-flavoured foods, but I can tell you, from personal experience as a reformed junk food lover, that it takes relatively little effort to kick all that and get used to the real flavour of the food itself. Trust me, it tastes more than acceptable. I still love my food, but now I don’t enjoy the artificially heightened and intense flavours at all.

This is not about persuading you to join in and kick the habit. This is about choice: your choice to keep on eating what you enjoy, and mine to find the healthier alternatives. Healthy alternatives do sometimes exist (Waitrose do a great line in sugar-free, additive-free, yeast-free, low-spice and salt-free stocks) but often they do not.

Products with good, sustainable fats also exist, with or without sugar or salt. But you could pack all these into a single, short aisle in most supermarkets, and it would be rather nice if they did!

At the moment, for people like me it’s back to basic ingredients, and I seriously dislike cooking. But for now – and this is great – since I’m forbidden to anything with my left arm, OH is doing the cooking (under close instruction). And this is his very first Shepherd’s Pie, made from basic ingredients. Give the man a big hand – it was tasty, too!

1 No, not the sort which go bump in the night

2 Which means that Chorleywood bread does me no good at all. If you don’t know what Chorleywood bread is, or why it can be bad for us, look it up. It’s interesting reading.

3 Slashing and burning to clear huge swathes of virgin rainforest is all-too-common. Sometimes this is done illegally, because they know that once the land is cleared, the profit from their lucrative new crop will be more than enough to make up for any fines they have to pay. Whether the clearing of forest is legal or illegal, all of the forest-dwelling wildlife is left homeless – including Orang-Utans, who are sometimes left with horrific burns and/or their babies orphaned. The wildlife on the periphery of these vast plantations is then further threatened by pesticides, or shot if they raid the fruit.

I have been a very brave girl

MeShoulder-Oct2017

Some years ago now1, I tore one of my rotator cuff ligaments, and had to have it surgically repaired. I blogged about it because it was traumatic, extremely painful, and took a whole year plus a truckload of physiotherapy to get right, and that was also extremely painful. By the end of that time, I pretty much had full use of my arm, but there were still twinges of pain from time to time, and I swore that if I ever did the same to the other arm, I would refuse the op and just fix it with physio.

Well.

Fast forward to 1st June this year. I was clearing up after tenderly tending my hoverfly lagoons, went flying up a 3 inch step in the garden2 and landed heavily and awkwardly, dislocating my (other) shoulder. Much profanity ensued, and after the obligatory six weeks with my arm immobilised in a sling, I set off on the physio trail. It worked, up to a point, and there I stuck. And so, after scans and discussions3 I was booked in for the dreaded surgery, because I’d completely torn two ligaments, and displaced a third, and while I could do an awful lot with that arm, I could not lift it away from my body sideways..

The fateful day – Saturday, 21st October, rolled around, and I admit that I arrived at the hospital in a state of terror and cowardice, and very nearly chickened out. It didn’t help that despite being on a high dose of acid-reducers for GERD, my stomach was pumping out acid like anything – all the stress, no doubt – and I was convinced that I’d wake up from the anaesthetic with a laryngeal spasm4 and die on the spot, and it would all have been for nothing. That’s what happened after the last anaesthetic I had, by the way, except the dying part. Obviously.

But I’m sure you’ll all be pleased to know that I went through with it, and I was fine. The surgeon was able to do the repair arthroscopically, so there is a lot less pain, and I am home and beginning the long road to recovery. When I say ‘there is a lot less pain’, all things, dear reader, are relative, and it still bloody hurts. Oh, boy, does it hurt! But I am managing, so far, without quite as many painkillers as last time, so I am not (at the moment) hallucinating. Is that good? I think it’s good 5

And one of the best things is that I am sleeping okay. Partly, perhaps, because it was a less invasive operation, and partly because I did a lot of research and bought myself a very heavy duty, large, bed wedge to prop me up, and another for under my knees to stop me sliding down the bed6.

The consultant and the anaesthetist were both lovely and very patient, by the way, as were all of the nursing and auxiliary staff throughout my stay. But I still think I was very brave not to turn tail and run from that hospital room.

And I didn’t even get a sticker!

I did, however, get no less than three bunches of flowers from OH, and they were all waiting for me at home when I was discharged. He’d put them into vases, and everything! Aren’t they lovely?

Flowers4MyShoulderFmA-Oct2017

1 2008, to be precise

2 Yes, yes, I knew it was there. It’s been there for fifteen years or more

3 The first consultant I was referred to was a knee specialist and didn’t even order a scan. Then the physio asked for an urgent referral to a shoulder guy, and the doctor’s surgery sent me a copy of my blood results from March 2016, instead

4 Laryngeal spasms are terrifying, and happen when a foreign substance touches your vocal chords – stomach acid, for instance will trigger a spasm, because stomach acid will seriously damage your lungs. Your larynx literally clamps itself shut, so it’s like trying to drag each breath into your lungs through the space between two pages of a damp book. It happened to me after a minor investigative procedure, and didn’t enjoy it

5 Although I did kind enjoy the impromptu opera performances by the invisible people, and OH found the one-sided conversations rather amusing

6 Ah, the wedges … After shoulder surgery, it’s not possible to sleep flat, so you have to find a way to prop yourself up. Last time, I used about five pillows, which kept slipping (which was painful) and if they didn’t slip apart from each other, I slid down the bed off of them (which was painful). This time I have a heavy-duty, 8 inch high firm, long, wedge which I can put my pillow on, and a ‘hill-shaped’ wedge for underneath my knees, so that I don’t slide off it. It’s actually quite comfortable, and it works!

Um … what?

DentalMouldTeeth-MFileXpistwv

A couple of days ago, OH and I spoke at some length on the subject of dental implants. You see he has some teeth which have been loose for some time – they’ve been supported for a few years now by a dental splint, but that broke1, and now they’re doing what our dentist referred to cheerfully as ‘waving in the wind’ (it didn’t help that he added a little ‘goodbye’ wave with his fingers at the time). So OH wants to see if there’s anything he can do to avoid dentures, and we were discussing what he should do next. Options, prices, and all that stuff.

I didn’t post it to social media, and I did no online search – heck, even if I had, I use Firefox and DuckDuckGo, neither of which (supposedly) track you.

So here’s what I want to know. How come I’m now getting ads on my Facebook page offering me dental implants at various ‘bargain’ prices? Both yesterday and today there have been dental implant ads, and, for goodness’ sake, one of them is even in Italian, which, yes, I do speak!

Screen Shot 2017-10-25 at 14.14.10

I was using Google.it to search for something yesterday, but it was certainly not ‘dental implants’. What is going on?

1 Following an unfortunate encounter with a crusty sourdough

The wise don’t build their houses upon sand

Lynx_MFile+Kvaale

I read with some disbelief the other day that a charity called The Lynx Trust is planning to release lynx into the wild in various parts of Britain. Seems a tad daft to me, for various reasons.

Let’s stop for a moment and think about urban foxes. They’re cute and cuddly, and remind us of our pet dogs, and it’s lovely to see fox cubs rolling around on the lawn and coming for the scraps that people put out for them. They do also sometimes rip open rubbish containers, but they’re still cute, aren’t they? Of course, they are opportunists (like most wild animals), and will steal chickens, and occasionally enter houses in search of food, where they sometimes leave their smelly scat or urine behind, and that’s not quite so cute. Very rarely, they will threaten human children1. Basically, it’s never a good idea to encourage wild animals to get too close to humans, but there you go, people will do it. But whatever the downside, foxes are a part of our native wildlife, and play an important role in the whole ecology thing.

Now imagine a different wild animal roaming freely here. A very large, wild cat which comes in at 80-130cm in length, stands up to 70cm at the shoulder, and can weigh up to 40kg2. We are talking about a feline which is described as a very powerful and efficient hunter, and is roughly the size and weight of a large male German Shepherd dog.

Lynx are magnificent animals and remarkable hunters. Their preferred habitat is forest, and their preferred prey is deer, which they like to ambush, sometimes dropping onto them from above. Well, we do have a problem with deer in some areas, especially Muntjac, and it might perhaps be nice to have a predator able to keep their numbers under control in a natural way, but at what price? Isn’t it possible that having run out of food in a particular area that they might turn their attention to other options? Isn’t it also possible that they will learn that human settlements provide easy pickings? I have no illusions that a wild cat the size of a lynx, would voluntarily keep away from farms, or from domestic pets. Cats are smart, and they are adaptable.

The Telegraph ran a news item which claimed that “every pet in the UK is to be insured against lynx attacks“, and I have heard enough from my American friends to know that where decent-sized wild predators are, it’s likely that sooner or later they will run foul of humanity, most likely when their food supply is short. Sometimes, they turn to farm livestock, and sometimes to the easy pickings that our pets offer, so I do not doubt that this will be a clear and present danger in areas where lynx live3.

There is also the question of what this would do for our other wildlife, much of which is already struggling badly. Suppose the lynx stay where they’re put and don’t come out of their forest habitats to snag themselves a pet cat, or a dog? What happens then when the supply of deer runs low? Well, presumably they will eat what they can find, which is likely to be birds and small mammals of various kinds. The problem is that our fragile food pyramid is trembling at the foundations already. You see, almost at the bottom of the heap and feeding those on the next step up are the insects, and we have lost 45% of our invertebrates in the last 35 years. Germany reports a greater loss. Plenty of environmental scientists are concerned about this, but so far we have no realistic plan on how to halt that decline. If the insects do not recover, the species which rely on them to live will also be lost. We are already losing our wild birds at a very rapid rate, so do we really need to add another predator into the mix – one that is on the top tier of that pyramid?

The Iberian Lynx (the one they want to introduce) is a protected species, so once it’s here, there will be precious little anyone can do about it. Will they eventually become so troublesome that they have to have to begin culling them under licence? If the lynx do become a problem and they don’t cull, will we simply see a rise in illegal hunting – which nearly always results in the cruel and inhumane treatment of the hunted, as well as trespass and damage to private land (as has been seen with illegal hare-coursing)? As with illegal hare coursing, will this go along with threats and maybe violence to landowners and anyone who tries to interfere? Well, all this would have to be policed, wouldn’t it? My feeling is that since they are a ‘big cat’ and their fur is valuable, we’d see illegal hunting anyway.

Now, those who know me know that I am very much in favour of the conservation of species, but while Britain certainly used to have a wild population of lynx, they were hunted to extinction 1,300 years ago. One thousand, and three hundred years ago. Since that time, an awful lot has changed here, including the fact that the human part of the equation has expanded enormously and encroached upon the territories of all kinds of wildlife, to the point where our native wildlife being frozen out, and the predators are being persecuted and killed, right, left and centre: badgers culled, foxes poisoned, birds of prey shot from the skies. The wildlife that is left to us is struggling to survive in an ever more hostile, ever shrinking environment. Not only that, but we have a whole different ecology going on now than the one that was in place over a thousand years ago, because at that time, much of our sceptered isle was covered in forest (which, you will remember, is the habitat of the lynx). Heck, long after that time, the whole landscape of the country changed dramatically again, with the Enclosure Acts of the 16th to 18th centuries creating bigger fields, fewer trees, and parks and gardens being landscaped all over the place! So why, in the name of the deity of your choice do we need a large re-introduced predator thrown into the mix – especially one whose natural habitat has shrunk so much4?

Don’t they realise that Muntjac deer themselves are a troublesome introduced species? I am reminded of that old nursery song:

“There was an old woman who swallowed a fly … ”

So far we’ve had ‘re-wilding’ schemes to bring wolves, lynx, and wild boar back to our countryside, all large, awe-inspiring creatures which can capture the public imagination5. This is building upon a sand foundation. We need to begin the re-wilding from the bottom up, by working on conserving our invertebrates. You know, those tiny many-legged creatures whose presence goes largely unnoticed (until they get in the way) and yet who make life possible for all of the rest of us, including the wolves, lynx, and wild boar. None of us would survive long in a world without insects. Don’t believe me? Read this.

1 In London a few years back a pair of twins were badly mauled by a fox

2 For those who don’t do metric, that’s 31-51 inches in length and standing up to 27 1/2 inches at the shoulder, and weighing up to 88lb (6 stone, 3lb)

3 It does happen, in areas where there are lynx

4 I refer you back to the place where I said that predators tend to cause trouble when food is short, and remind you that natural wildlife habitats in the UK are shrinking

5The buzz-word for this type of animal is ‘charismatic megafauna’ because the world is full of nature-lovers who really only care for the furred, feathered, or leathered. We’re talking lions, tigers, elephants, giraffes, turtles, and so on.