Doctor’s orders

For most of my life, health warnings, health advice, health anything, have been subjects to ignore. I recoil from faddishness and fussiness, and from people telling me what to eat and what not to eat. This is due not only to contrariness. To follow all the advice would be impossible, especially since much of it is contradictory, and to discriminate between different pieces of advice requires a level of competence that I do not possess.  

Times change. I am older. My body has started to protest against the indifference with which I have treated it over the years. It is threatening to down tools. Now I occasionally read up on health issues. I am especially keen on articles, of which there seem to be many, that say that red wine and chocolate are good for you.

So, while it is impertinent to the point of being ludicrous that I should offer anyone health advice, it does have one merit. Which is that if I, of all people, have been convinced that a piece of advice is sensible, perhaps it is. So here goes with MISLED, which I have been in the past, mostly by myself: Mouths, India, Sugar, Lethargy, Eating and Doctors – six pieces of medical advice which, astonishingly, I now embrace.

1. Mouths matter
Not just because your teeth will eventually fall out if you don’t look after them, but because the health of the body depends more than seems possible on the health of the mouth. A perfunctory brush twice a day is not enough. Teeth, and especially gums, need to be cosseted. Problems should be sorted out immediately. Os sanus in corpore sano, as the Romans should have said, but didn’t.

2. India can teach us
Take a leaf out its book … or a flower, or a root, if you want to be pedantic about it. Spices are good not only if you want a curry, which I seldom do. They are good full stop. I became convinced of this during my holiday in India at the beginning of the year. Now my breakfast consists of a yoghurt mixed with five spices and honey. Yes, I know it sounds disgusting, but it’s all right and I feel great on it. If you’re tempted to try it, the spices (all ground) are turmeric, cloves, black pepper, cardamon and cinnamon.

3. Sugar is evil
And not just because it rots your teeth (see above). It is possibly more evil than tobacco (see below), because no one escapes its ill effects. Sugar is stuffed with calories that are better provided by other foods. It provides amounts of energy that no one should need if they are eating properly. It leads to an accumulation of fat, which may turn into liver disease. It contributes to diabetes. It increases the risk of heart disease. All in all, it is thoroughly dreadful, especially when consumed by young children. In due course, companies that sell us sugar products will become as much pariahs as the tobacco companies. Roll on the day.

4. Lethargy is tempting, but …
… while you may deserve to put your feet up, sometimes they should be put down. Exercise is good. In moderation. But don’t start jogging, let alone running marathons, when you’re 60. It won’t make you live longer and may well knacker your joints. Just a brisk stroll for 20 minutes a day. Quite enough. But do something.

5. Eating for life
Within reason. No need to be obsessive about it. The best dietary advice is to avoid diets altogether and find a way of eating for life. Fruit and veg are good and processed foods are bad. They are also expensive. I know it sounds patronising to poorer people to say they should eat better food, but fresh ingredients needn’t cost a fortune. Learn to cook. Buy Robin Ellis’s cookbooks and find out about the Mediterranean diet (see links at the bottom). Don’t think they are just for diabetics: in fact, they will help you avoid diabetes. ‘Out with the whites’ is his motto: white bread, white sugar, white flour, white pasta, white rice. White anything is to be avoided. Except cream. I think he’s all right with cream, up to a point. Whatever you choose to do, don’t bang on about it all the time. People will think you’re a nut. That reminds me: nuts are good.

6. Doctors are sometimes right
We all had a grandfather who drank a bottle of spirits a day, smoked 40 untipped and lived into his 80s. I had two, as a matter of fact. I used to assume that they must be good role models, but no longer. Smoking is bad for you and I’ve stopped. My body can no longer take large quantities of alcohol, which is a relief. I have become disgustingly moderate. And, while my default prejudice is that doctors make you ill and hospitals kill you, I will now admit that sometimes they don’t. Go and talk to them if something doesn’t feel right.

Had I known all these things at 20 (and could have been bothered to follow them), I would probably now be contemplating another 100 years of active existence. Ah well. It’s never too late to start.

Healthy Eating For Life
Mediterranean Cooking for Diabetics