Books & Podcasts to help improve your nutritional knowledge

As The Source UK and Ireland co-founders, our Zero Waste journey started with Healthy Eating…. After developing unhealthy habits built around our busy work and social lives we began to focus on what we cooked and ate at home, initially via Hello Fresh (which got us into the habit of cooking) and then moving to making our meals from scratch. Quickly the focus turned to eating better for our health and we were both inspired by books from Deliciously Ella and other vegetarian chefs. As the saying goes ‘one thing lead to another’ and it was through trying to eat better that we started to question other values like how much we consumed and wasted. Enter the world of zero waste, plastic free and refill shopping. This is why at The Source we encourage the small steps our customers take as we know first hand, they often lead to people making other changes.

Since those early days we have both made the effort to continue to learn about food and nutrition, especially now that we realise how important it is to remain fit and healthy as we age. In this blog we discuss a few books that have influenced us or at least got us thinking about nutrition in a different way. The more we read the clearer it became that firstly the literature of nutrition is endless, and secondly often contradictory and confusing. Despite this we have always found some value in giving most ideas and theories a chance, even if just to reaffirm our current position on a topic. So please don’t treat these as endorsements but rather as interesting concepts to get you thinking and lead you down your own journey of exploration.

Our most recent read (or listen…on dog walks) has been Ultra-processed People: Why Do we Eat Stuff That Isn’t Food…and Why Can’t We Stop, by author and BBC regular Chris Van Tulleken. In this easy to read book Van Tulleken explores our modern day diets that are for many people built on the mountain of cheap, heavily marketed and readily available Ultra Processed Foods (UPFs).

 UPFs are best thought of as derivatives of real food in that they are made from extracted substances - think fats, starches, added sugars, and hydrogenated fats. Because these foods don’t have much texture or flavour, they are usually full of salt, sugar, artificial colours, flavours and stabilisers to trick us into wanting to eat them, often in excess. Examples are frozen meals, fast food, pre-packed snacks and confectionary, cakes, and salty snacks just to name a few. The long-term impact of such foods is fairly unknown as they are relatively recent introductions to our diets but have been linked to increased risks of certain diseases including obesity and its associated disease risks, type 2 diabetes and cancer.

This book in particular got us thinking about what we eat, especially the so called ‘diet’ or low-fat versions of foods. Some small changes we have made include eating plain full-fat yoghurt (so much tastier!), proper butter, limiting diet sodas and generally questioning most sugary and salty snacks. Often the natural version of most foods tastes better, fills you up and is on the whole more satisfying.

Key Takeaway: Spotting UPFs doesn’t have to be hard. If it contains ingredients you wouldn’t find in your average home kitchen then its’ probably Ultra-Processed and therefore best avoided or consumed in moderation.

Most Interesting Learning: The NOVA food classification is an alternative way to look at the healthiness of food. This consists of four groups; Unprocessed and Minimally Processed Foods (seeds, fruits, eggs), Processed Culinary Ingredients (oils, butter, sugar, salt), Processed Foods (cheese, bread, canned fish) and Ultra Processed Foods (soft drinks, sweet and savoury snacks, frozen meals). The idea is to avoid Ultra-Processed Foods, moderate the intake of Processed Foods and lean towards Minimally Processed Foods & Culinary Ingredients to enjoy a well-rounded healthy diet.

Shameless The Source Plug: Most of our products at The Source are wholefoods meaning unprocessed ingredients that can be used to make nutritious meals.. We have many recipes on our website to get you started.

Another interesting read was Fast Like a Girl by Mindy Pelz. Pelz primarily focuses on women’s health, diet and hormones. In this book she explores various forms of intermittent fasting, and the interplay between the time of the menstrual cycle and the fasts impact on the physical body, cognitive performance and mental health. Fasting is definitely a controversial topic, and it is for the individual to pursue what works for them considering both their physical health, mental state and any propensity for eating related disorders. However, for those that feel they benefit from fasting they will find this book informative.

Of particular interest was the impact fasting can have throughout the menstrual cycle including when you should not fast, as well as which foods to avoid during specific fasting periods. Pelz covers some of the stated physiological and mental benefits that can come from intermittent fasting including possible cell repair and sharpness of mind. This seems to resonate with other similar messaging from other authors and researchers in this field though definitely one I approach with a questioning mind.

Key Takeaway: If you are going to fast you need to consider the impact this has on your body’s natural cycles and rhythms as well as your overall relationship to food and diet.

Most Interesting Learning: The possible link between fasting and increased mental alertness, focus and even cell repair.

Finally, one of the first food related books we ever read is In Defence of Food by Michael Pollan. This book covers both what individuals can do to have a healthy diet in Western society as well as the issues associated with our broader food system. In it Pollan explores why the foods we have available to us are not necessarily the healthiest or best for us. An often-repeated line in this book; ‘Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants’ are the guiding principles I use when it comes to eating. The first part ‘Eat food’ should be considered in the context of the UPFs mentioned earlier in that when we eat food are we eating real food, or synthesised food?

Like Van Tullekens’ take on UPFs, Polan reached the same conclusion 15 years earlier that there seems to be a disconnect between the ‘healthy’ narrow focused nutrition specific foods we often eat now and rising rates of obesity and diet related diseases. Walking the supermarket aisles, it’s easy to see the big shift to reductive nutrition in our food with a focus on specific nutrients; think fat is good/bad, carbs are good/bad, protein is good, sugar is bad. In many cases it is easier to market these specific health claims with no penalty for the omitted information (low in naturally occurring fat often means high in processed sugar). We tend to be easily swayed into choosing what are the reduced and processed versions of what was once a complete food. 

Key Takeaway: That quote again. ‘Eat Food. Not too Much. Mostly Plants’ is such a simple North Star for feeding ourselves and family.

Most Interesting Learning: Back when we read that ultra-processed food wasn’t talked about, with the exception of some awareness of additives and E numbers, so this was our introduction to the concept of real food versus processed foods. As Polan recommends, try to eat foods your grandparents would recognise, as they existed before processed food became dominant.

Shameless The Source Plug: The Source sells so many wholefoods in their magnificent natural healthy glory. And while we do sell the snacks and treats that we should eat in moderation, we try to source products with minimal processing, made with quality ingredients and the fewest additives.

A Note to Keep in Mind:

What Michael Pollan fails to provide in his book is a critique of how to fix the food system for society as a whole. Indeed his advice regrettably can only be taken up by the better off in our society who can avoid cheaper processed food.

And for those that prefer podcasts try: Maintenance Phase

We recommend you listen to the "Maintenance Phase" podcast where hosts Michael Hobbes and Aubrey Gordon pull back the curtain on diet culture and effectively debunk numerous myths surrounding obesity and health. Their thoughtful insights are bound to draw you in.

We are dedicated step counters, diligently aiming for that target of 10,000 steps per day. We were disappointed to learn from this podcast that this well-known guideline originated more from a pedometer marketing campaign than any solid health research. A revelation that is as thought-provoking as it is intriguing.

The duo doesn't stop there. They delve into the intricacies of the glycaemic index, demonstrating why this shouldn't be the single determinant of our food choices. Their ability to simplify and explain complex concepts transforms this often confusing topic into a compelling and relatable discussion.

Hobbes and Gordon aren't afraid to critique widely accepted ideas either. The team take on the aforementioned book by food writer Michael Pollan, highlighting a significant oversight - the systemic issues in our global food chain. They argue that Pollan's focus seems to be on those privileged enough to sidestep processed foods, and underline the need for solutions that cater to everyone, not just the wealthy.

Listening to this podcast feels less like attending a lecture and more like having an absorbing conversation. If you've ever attempted something like the lemon detox diet or decided to cut out sugar, their engaging discussions are bound to make you reassess those choices.

Tune into the "Maintenance Phase" podcast for an immersive experience that combines logic, rationale, and a deep exploration of health and diet culture. You're sure to be captivated.

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