Colm Cavanagh: We need to educate ourselves on how food affects our bodies and minds

There is likely more calories in a bowl of porridge with peanut butter and fruit added than there would be in a bowl of some common cereals, but I know that I feel so much better after eating the porridge than the cereal
Colm Cavanagh

OVER the past number of months, I have started listening to podcasts while travelling, most go in one ear and out the other, but I struck gold with one recently that has really resonated with me. It was with a doctor in America and was based on the concept that food is medicine'.

I don’t consider myself a ‘foodie’ by any stretch of the imagination. I like simple food, but I understand nutrition and I have always considered food as fuel rather than something to be savoured. I have been reading up on some of the concepts mentioned in the podcast and find it very interesting.

Growing up as the son of a cook, you would think that our knowledge of food would be better but information available on food was limited. I was always keen on fizzy sweets, drinks, hard lollies - you name it I had it.

Of course, I am now paying for it years down the line with dental bills.

After listening to the podcast, I could make the connection between my diet and my behaviour. I was a difficult child (some might say child, teen, and adult), my concentration was poor, I was always getting sick, in general I was a bit hard to handle.

Of course, as is the norm, when a child is unwell, we take them to the doctor, and they are given an antibiotic. This always helped the issue, but it has now dawned on me that this is only ever a short-term fix, a Band-aid solution.

My parents were never once asked what did I ate or drank, if I was a settled sleeper or did I have much screen time?

A prescription was written, and they were sent on their way which is what would be expected.

I am no nutritionist, but I can say with certainty from my own experiences that there is a link between our behaviour and how we choose to fuel our bodies.

Energy drinks, high caffeine drinks and gels, high sugar content foods and drinks are all used for that quick burst of energy when exercising or when feeling tired at work but when the short-term boost ends, and our bodies crash afterwards we are inclined to reach for the same items again and a vicious cycle begins.

As adults we can feel the after effects of a greasy takeaway or too many sugary drinks but yet we feed the same things to our children and then wonder why their behaviour is up and down.

Since my two children have gotten older, I have really noticed the difference in their mood and attention span dependent on what they have eaten or their screen time for that day.

We aren’t robots and everyone enjoys a treat now and then, but I have really found changing the amount and type of sugars that we eat has a significant difference.

If we took a few seconds to read the ingredients of our food before consuming (or even better, before buying it) then I believe we would get a shock.

The concept is that if you don’t understand the ingredients, don’t buy it.

Easier said than done. In today’s world we are all about convenience, about meal prepping and eating on the go.

Foods commonly contain so many preservatives now to extend shelf-life and to maintain the colour and presentation of the food. The larger food companies steer the market and by using very clever marketing, the consumer is often deceived, thinking something is a health food when in fact it contains more sugar than many junk foods.

It would benefit us all to do some research and read the labels, as sugar has about 20 different names and comes in so many different forms.

I know food is expensive in general and healthy food is so much more expensive than convenience and junk food – two avocados cost more than a frozen pizza and a single protein bar costs more than a McDonald’s meal, but for me the difference in how I feel and how my kids feel after a nutritious meal makes it worth making changes and savings elsewhere to be able to eat good food.

There are always local farmers selling their vegetables at markets throughout the week, fishmongers selling fresh fish and butchers with the best quality of local meats, who need our support against the supermarket chains and fast-food restaurants.

Farm to fork is a concept I now fully appreciate and encourage as much as possible.

A lot of the advice we hear is that nutrition, specifically weight loss, is based on calories in v calories out and while this may be true for changing body shape, I would much prefer to concentrate on the quality of those calories. The impact of the quality of calories can have a significant effect on our gut health, skin, mood, and concentration levels.

There is likely more calories in a bowl of porridge with peanut butter and fruit added than there would be in a bowl of some common cereals, but I know that I feel so much better after eating the porridge than the cereal.

Rather than reaching for medication for a lot of our issues, I now honestly believe that we should think about food as our medicine.

Small changes gradually can make such a significant difference. We firstly need to educate ourselves and our children on food and how it affects our bodies and minds and hopefully our mindset and our health will catch up with the science sooner rather than later.

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