Category Archives: Healthy Eating

Preparing for a Long Haul Flight

International travel is a different experience than it used to be…

Back in the day, long-haul flight preparation would generally start with a visit to the Executive Lounge for a few stiff drinks – a quick start for an enjoyable flight.  I didn’t worry too much about what time of day it was, the impact of changing time-zones would just be accelerated by an early buzz.

My arrival on the plane was celebrated with a glass of Champagne and some pleasantly warmed salted cashew nuts.  A couple more pre-dinner drinks would help get me “in the zone”.  Then I’d have a glass or two of wine to accompany my meal as I enjoyed a film.

A well-executed plan would result in me being overcome by waves of exhaustion as the film reached its climax – leaving me ready to sleep through the rest of the flight.

How things have changed!

Firstly, long-haul flights are a much rarer occurrence for me. I still travel a fair amount with work, but the locations I visit are much less exotic nowadays.  As a result I no longer have a shiny Executive Club card; my pre-flight preparation therefore takes place with the masses.

Fortunately, not having access to the Executive Lounge is much less of an issue when you’re not looking to get “tanked up”. Since the Heart Attack I have severely reduced my alcohol intake.  I still enjoy a drink when I have one but I only drink very occasionally – my last was in October.

Houston Departure

As I write, I’m 37,000 ft. in the air above the North Atlantic on my way to Houston for a few days on business. I’ve just enjoyed the low fat meal option, I’m keeping myself well hydrated and I’ll stay active to keep the blood flowing.

The excitement of international travel has subsided somewhat for me, and the flights don’t pass in quite the same way as they used to, however, I’m sure I’ll arrive in much better shape and it’s clearly more sustainable this way.

When I arrive I’ve got a hard week’s work to look forward to… perhaps I’ll treat myself to a glass of wine on the flight home!

Fruity favourites

I don’t remember nectarines featuring in my early years. If they existed, they were probably a little exotic for the mainstream supermarkets.

From what I can remember, fresh fruit used to consist of the basics; Apples (Granny Smith, Golden Delicious or Cooking), Oranges and Bananas. It was regularly supplemented by the tinned variety in syrup, a healthy desert option, with cream or ice-cream.

Other fruit appeared on special occasions only; Grapefruit was a regular feature at my Grandparents; Satsumas appeared at Christmas; Grapes were a special treat (usually lasting minutes “post shop”). Soft fruit was a seasonal delight; sometimes hand-picked, occasionally home grown, always tasty.

You can’t go wrong with fresh, ripe soft fruit!

Peaches used to appear in summer, but they never quite did it for me. While I have always enjoyed the ripe, juicy flesh, I was never that big a fan of the texture of the skin. For me it always has undertones of a dropped sweet, too good to waste, reluctantly recovered from a hairy lie. While skinning a peach is always an option, the riper the fruit, the more messy the task. My tactic has generally been avoidance.

Nectarines are another kettle of fish! A smooth skin and tasty, succulent flesh; they have all the benefits of Peaches without the downside. Where were they all my life?!

Since my Heart Attack I have been eating a lot of fruit. As well as being good for me, it has filled a gap left by my abstinence from evening nibbles; crisps and nuts used to be one of my main food supplements. While the basics are good, a bit of variety always goes down well; Nectarines, Blueberries, Kiwi Fruit and Plums have all become favourites.

Fortunately the all-inclusive buffets over the past couple of weeks, while we were on holiday, featured lots of fruit. Although it was slightly limited in variety, it allowed me to keep up my fruit intake.

nectarines

The illusive nectarine… what’s not to like?!

The buffet even featured Nectarines on Day 1… a result! Unfortunately, it flattered to deceive, despite much anticipation they didn’t make a further appearance (perhaps they were too popular!), replaced instead by plenty of hairy Peaches. It was all very disappointing! Never mind… it just provided another reason to look forward to getting back home!

 

Confused

Every so often someone will ask me what I’ve done to lose weight, or what should be included as part of a Healthy Heart diet?

Over the past 9 months I have managed to get myself into reasonable shape, partly through exercise and partly through watching what I eat and drink.  I’ve taken a fairly hard line in determining what I should be consuming:  low saturated fat, lots of fruit and vegetables, no alcohol, no caffeine, low salt.  I have not dieted as such, when I’ve been hungry I’ve eaten.  However I have generally avoided processed food and stuck fairly religiously to the “good” stuff.

The problem is, having made these changes to my diet, I’m confused myself… what is the “good” stuff?

There’s so much contradictory information out there, new research is released on an all too frequent basis.  It’s difficult to know what to do for the best.  Since my Heart Attack I’ve been paying fairly close attention, and I’m confused.  What is it like if you just catch a newspaper or radio headline?  How is anyone supposed to follow a simple, healthy diet based on the “noise” that’s thrown at us?!

Here are some snippets from recent articles:

More research needed into fat guidelines  (The British Heart Foundation 17/03/14):

A study suggests there’s not enough evidence to back the current UK guidelines on the types of fat we eat.  But we think more research is needed before suggesting any major changes.

At the moment guidelines generally encourage us to swap out saturated fats – found in foods like dairy products – for unsaturated fats found in products such as margarine or sunflower oil.

But this analysis, by researchers including BHF Professor John Danesh from the University of Cambridge, of 72 separate studies suggests this change does not impact on our risk of developing heart disease.

So that’s clear then!  Bad fat might not be as bad for us as we thought!  Excellent!

Living and working near takeaways linked to obesity(The British Heart Foundation 13/03/14)

People who live and work near a high number of takeaways are more likely to be obese than people less exposed to these outlets, according to new research we helped to fund.

The researchers found that those who live or work near to takeaway outlets were almost twice as likely to be obese than those who encountered the fewest outlets.

Being obese isn’t good for you, I get that.  I’m assuming, although the article doesn’t mention it, that you need to eat the Take Away food in order to put on weight.

Apparently, giving people information to make healthy choices will reduce the risks of living in this sort of environment… assuming they know what a healthy choice is after they’ve absorbed the information!

Are we too sweet on sugar?  (The British Heart Foundation  04/02/14)

Added sugar is associated with increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease (CVD), researchers have claimed.

A US study used national health survey data to examine added sugar consumption as a percentage of daily calorie intake. Higher levels of added sugar were then linked to an increased risk of death from CVD.

And so it goes on… sugar, salt, carbohydrates, this fat, that fat, vegetarian diets, Mediterranean diets.  There is even news that chocolate might be the answer (or part of it, at least).  What to do?

For me, there are some basic guidelines that seem to make sense:

    1. You have to eat.  Not eating is not a great idea… not very sustainable.
    2. Things that look like they did in their natural state are generally better for you.
    3. It’s good to eat a variety of different things.
    4. Processed foods can contain a multitude of evils, beware!
    5. Don’t over-eat, manage portions sizes.
    6. Practice moderation and balance.
    7. Try to avoid obsessing over food, it’ll take a lot of fun out of life!

From my perspective, if you’re aware of what you’re consuming it’s a big step towards doing the right things.  I don’t feel like I’m in a position to suggest what to eat, or not.

As I’ve already said, there’s plenty of advice out there.  Good luck in deciding which advice to follow!

Christmas preparations

Christmas Dinner is going to be a bit different in our house this year…

The centre-piece of Christmas Day, in the past it has been the focus of weeks of preparation.  We gather tips, tricks and recipes from all the major TV Chefs through religious dedication to each of their “Christmas Specials”.  Over time, layer upon layer, a luxurious feast is conjured up in our minds.

For some, the Christmas preparations take a little longer to complete!

A “gravy” day and a “stuffing” day preceded the main event.  Christmas Eve was spent in preparation, the first of the bottles of Christmas wine were cracked open to raise the spirits and foster the creative juices.

Lists were written and re-written; trying to make sure that nothing was forgotten in the dark recesses of the fridge and that it all arrived, cooked to perfection, in precise synchronisation.

Not so much so far for me this year…

This time around it’s taken a while for my excitement and enthusiasm to build, I think largely because a healthy diet and abstinence are incompatible with Christmas “highlights” (habits or traditions?) of old.

My contribution to preparations started yesterday with a trip to M&S to collect the Christmas order… not an insignificant task as it turned out.  I heroically stood in line for 90 minutes, holding my nerve as our allotted “window” came and went.  The relaxation techniques I learned at Cardiac Rehab came in handy as I “patiently” waited my turn.  Others didn’t fare so well… losers!  How can the Christmas rush come as a surprise to large stores?

Having safely commandeered the supplies, today marks the start of the preparations proper.  I’m not going to worry so much about what I eat on Christmas Day, but I’ll still going to err on the side of healthiness and restraint.

Slabs of extra butter have been removed from the ingredients list and no geese will be harmed in the making of our Roast Potatoes this year.  I love Roast Potatoes… crispy on the outside and fluffy in the centre.  Goose fat used to be the Christmas “treat” that made them extra-indulgent and tasty.  As I haven’t enjoyed a Roast Potato since June, I think even an ordinary one will do the trick!

Are you feeling peckish yet?

Fortunately Turkey is good, I can pile into that, and of course the Vegetables are generally OK (although look at the packets on prepared veg, you never know what they’ll add!).  I’m even going to have a little gravy… very exciting!

Right… that little monologue has got me right in the mood, and it’s just started snowing outside!  Brussels Sprouts, here I come!

Merry Christmas everyone!

I might even allow myself a tasty dessert!

Fat and Bald

I turned 43 this week.  I definitely consider myself middle aged despite the fact people try to convince me that I’ve got a long way to go… middle age starts at 60 apparently (mostly according to people too young to really care, or old enough to be horribly biased!).

images (13)Like many men of my age, I had been losing the battle to maintain the physical attributes of my youth… although, to be fair, I wasn’t fighting very hard.  I was drifting towards the stereo-typical look of a middle aged man who’s slightly let himself go… “Fat and Bald”.

My personal journey into middle age took an “interesting” twist with the Heart Attack in the summer.  I am quite proud of what I’ve managed to achieve since in relation to getting myself into decent shape…

It’s been 150 days since my first post-Heart Attack visit to the Doctor.  At that stage, I had been out of hospital for about 10 days, and I was able to walk for about 15 mins, twice a day.  My Body Mass Index was about 29 (Overweight, borderline Obese) and the amount of superfluous weight I was carrying seemed ridiculous (See:  It all smells a bit fishy – 28th June 2013).

Since then I’ve lost about 40lbs and really started to build some strength and fitness.  For the first time in a very long time, my weight is officially in the “normal” range:

Body Mass Index

To achieve this. I wouldn’t say I’ve dieted as such.  If I’m hungry I eat.  I just tend to eat much more healthily.  I have significantly reduced the amount of fat and sugar I consume.  I haven’t drunk any alcohol.  I eat lots of fruit and vegetables.  I also make sure I have Breakfast every day, which I think makes a big difference.  Regular exercise has also made a huge impact.

In summary, as far as the “Fat and Bald” equation is concerned, I am fighting back (and winning) on the “Fat” front… which brings me to hair loss!

I visited the Barber’s today.  A not particularly frequent or regular trip to get my hair cut.  I have to say, I look forward to these visits less and less as time goes on.  In particular, I don’t look forward to the end of the visit when a mirror is produced to check that I’m happy with the back of my head… actually, “No, I’m not!“.

Bald Patch

My poor baldy heid!

My hair is quite fair.  Technically I could argue I still have a reasonable covering of hair however it isn’t very effective at making itself seen!  In short, I have a bald patch that has been increasing in significance in recent years.

In the great scheme of things this really isn’t a big deal (although it causes much amusement to some members of my immediate family!) and I’m looking forward to the day when I get all my hair cut short so the patch becomes irrelevant.

In the meantime, I guess it acts as a good reminder that time only moves in one direction, and I should spend my energy on things that I can directly influence.

Let middle age roll on… I’ll fight it where it matters!

The unwelcome patron

The Barman’s Nemesis…

Over the course of the past two weeks I have realised that a tee-total, Virgin Mary drinker may well be the least welcome customer in many a Tavern around the world.  It’s fiddly drink that needs to be made to suit personal tastes and yet, as it’s predominantly tomato juice, there is little scope for price inflation.  There’s lots of value add from the Bar Staff, but little value creation from their perspective.  The simple addition of a shot of vodka would increase the cost by approximately 400%.

I like to think this explains the unwelcoming glances I receive from the Bar Staff as I approach for my early evening aperitif.  Perhaps I’m being paranoid, but I believe there is a certain reluctance as the (healthy) nibbles were handed over to accompany my drink.  The addition of an occasional Gin & Tonic goes some way to re-dressing the balance, but in itself it doesn’t appear to fully make up for my deficiencies.

Healthy nibbles… very civilised!

This holiday has been a little different from past experiences as far as the Nightlife is concerned.  Rather than being Party Animals, racking up huge Bar bills and being a safe bet to be there when Last orders are called, we have been very subdued.  Our evening entertainment has largely revolved around a nice meal and a family games of cards.

For me, a late night in the Bar loses it’s appeal somewhat without the allure of a cold beverage to help liven things up.

We have even had to resort to deceit to maintain some level of social acceptability.  Each evening we have ordered a bottle of wine with dinner… “two glasses please”.  This may seem like a strange move given I’m not drinking, but having explored the options it seemed like the path of least resistance.  My role has been to sit with a glass of wine in front of me throughout the meal, subtly switching with Louise from time to time to create the illusion of gradual consumption… the two of us sharing a nice bottle of wine, as civilised people do.

We’re pretty sure that most of the Waiters / Waitresses have cottoned on to our little deceit.  Not that it makes a huge amount of difference to them, but to “us” it feels more acceptable.  The next best option would be to order a small bottle of wine with one glass.

We’ll have a bottle of the red please.

The question is, when does it become more socially acceptable to order a large bottle than to order multiple small bottles?

I’m inclined to think that at least ordering a large bottle shows you’re realistic about how much you’re likely to drink.  You don’t have to drink it all (for the record, we have taken half a bottle to our room each evening to provide sustenance during the family card game), but it’s there of you fancy another little glass.

The flip side is that you order a little bottle, and then another, and perhaps another.  Without an attentive Waitress you may end up with a collection of bottles lined up across your table… and no guarantee of anything to take back to your room for later.

We’re new to all this.  Beverage etiquette has never really been a concern in the past.  We used to work on the basis that you ordered a drink… you drank (and repeat as required).  Another “new life” experience for us all!

Your life in their hands

Some jobs are more important than others.  In some roles, the occupants are expected to keep up with continual innovation.  They are often presented with new concepts, need to learn new words to describe bleeding-edge ideas and stay abreast of technological developments. If they snooze, they lose.  The consequences are almost unthinkable.

I came face to face with some such professionals this morning.

We place important parts of our lives in their hands on a regular basis.  We rely on their discipline and professionalism to prepare precise combinations of chemical ingredients to meet our exacting requirements.  The result of their work plays a critical role in the day to day well-being of so many people. One mistake can have disastrous consequences, wreaking chaos on our carefully planned lives.

Yes, the role of Barista is a critical one!

Precision is everything!

I have to admit that I’ve struggled to stay up to date with developments on the coffee front.  Before my Heart Attack I used to enjoy a Black Americano, or the occasional Skinny Latte (if I needed some extra sustenance), but that’s as far as my not-so adventurous coffee tastes took me. I’ve subsequently been off the caffeine, and as a result, the attraction of Coffee Shops has diminished considerably.

I do enjoy the taste of coffee, and my penchant for a sprinkling of Brown Sugar makes for a warm, comforting, occasional sweet treat, but the other benefits are a thing of the past. I think my body is still fooled into the idea of receiving a caffeine “hit” when I drink coffee but disappointingly it never arrives. It has become more of a comforting bedtime drink for me now rather than the shot in the arm, pick me up it used to reliably be.  It used to get my day started, and get it back on track when I started to flag. I think coffee may actually have negative implications nowadays, with the net effect of making me more rather than less tired.

Having had an early start this morning (early morning airport check-in), we headed for a coffee to perk us up. Perhaps it was because we were at an airport, but the array of exotic coffee orders from the eclectic clientele seemed even wider than usual. I have to admit, I have no idea what pumpkin has to do with coffee, and I thought I had always been drinking “wet” coffee, I had no idea that I would need specifically request it!  I’m still coming to terms with the various syrups on offer.  It’s amazing what you can get nowadays!

Adventurously, I ordered my new “usual”, a Decaf Americano.

I have to be careful not to stand up too fast!

Shortly afterwards, I had a dizzy spell. This happens to me on a fairly regular basis. It’s one of the side effects of the medication I’m on – low blood pressure reduces the strain on my heart, but also means I need to be careful not to stand up too fast. The dizzy spell I had this morning was the worst one I’ve had for a long while. I was trying to focus on the Departure Board, but just felt myself wobbling.  Hopefully no one was looking or saw me rocking backwards and forwards. Fortunately I managed to stay upright. Falling over would have been embarrassing to say the least!

Having recovered, I started to wonder why I was feeling particularly dizzy today… Was it the early morning? The result of a broken nights sleep? Or perhaps something I’d eaten.

What would the impact of a slug of caffeine be after so long without it? Had the Barista unintentionally spiked my coffee by confusing my order?

Given I recovered fairly quickly, I suspect it was entirely my fault.  The event has, however, made me realise what an important role the various people that work in Restaurants, Cafes, Coffee Shops and Bars have in our lives.  They have my utmost respect… but I will be watching to make sure my Virgin Mary doesn’t become a bit more Bloody than I’m expecting while I’m away!