Tuesday, 3 April 2012

I've Given Up Being Healthy for Lent...

Don't become a slave to this innocent looking wheel...

Although Christian, I have never really given anything up for Lent. This is not because I am simply too weak-willed and indulgent to deny myself any kind of luxury for forty days, it is just that somehow I have never felt the need to.

Different people give up different things, whether that be chocolate, sweets, crisps, alcohol, and even television or Facebook – basically anything unhealthy and addictive. Some do it for the love of a challenge, some for a bit of fun and the shake-up of every day banality, whilst others do it for the gratification and sense of self-control that it effuses. But I've decided to give up something quite different, and for quite different reasons too. I have given up being healthy. Well, almost.

For some reason I am a little obsessed with the colour-wheels on food products that provide nutritional information. The place where one can learn the amount of sugar, salt, fat, calories and so on, with, depending on the product, horror (more often) or delight (less often). The traffic light colour coding and GDA percentages only serve to heighten the appeal to the inner-child.

This confession, I understand, might only serve to disturb the reader, considering that this is coming from a young male when it is usually mid-thirties mums who obsess over their calorie counts. However, I would argue that it is not entirely unmanly, because the fact is that men love statistics and cold, hard facts. And so nutrition information is just another set of statistics, and as a foodie I'm always curious to know what's inside the grub that I'm chucking down my cake-hole.
And this is where the Lent thing comes into play. I have discovered that statistic obsessions actually ruin food. In the same way that James May argued that Top Trumps ruined cars, chasing the food with lower calories and worrying about high levels of saturated fat (seeking higher BHP figures and not wanting to be seen in a Ford Mondeo, in James' case) means that food cannot be enjoyed for what it is anymore. As we munch on a quality beefy burger, instead of lavishing flavour, aroma and texture, we are worriedly thinking about the salt, fat and calories that are sliding down our throats.

I was further distressed when I recently heard of a respected restaurant chain that had started to publish the calorie figures of each dish on its menu. Oh, how to ruin an evening out. The whole point of eating out is to enjoy yourself, to not do the cooking, and to pay good money to eat good food with great flavour. How could anyone think that it is a good idea to allow people to perhaps be put off buying a dish that they would love simply to please their conscience?

When I did work experience in a restaurant kitchen, I remember being surprised at the quantities of butter going into certain recipes. “You don't eat out to get thin!” the chef told me with a wink. If you're worried about your calorie intake, you shouldn't be eating out much in the first place. Simple as that.

Don't get me wrong; I'm all for healthy eating, and I am aware that sadly we are in a culture of increasing obesity and some awfully unhealthy eating and lifestyles. All I am saying is don't let calorie counting become an obsessional paranoia. Eat sensibly, but enjoy your food. 'Everything in moderation, including moderation', Oscar Wilde wisely advised.

So for Lent, I decided to give up observing any nutritional information, and eat food regardless of how many 'reds' there are on the packet. And do you know what? I have enjoyed my food a lot more for it.

As if I needed confirmation, I was at the hospital last week, and you'll never guess what my doctor told me. “You have low blood pressure and you have low blood sugar levels.” she said. “You're a big lad. I think you need to eat more.” “I can certainly do that for you”, I replied with a wry smile.

What do you think? Do you rabidly digest nutrition information, or simply take it all with a pinch of salt?

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