Oliver Cross: Choose your diet well and live a long and happy life

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I NOW weigh less than I did before Christmas, and that’s after losing weight, very slowly but surely, over the last two or three years.

I’m still nothing like slim and you might not notice any difference in the size of my body, but you only have to look at my insufferably smug face to know that my slimming plan is working.

What’s more, it involves no crazy fads and actually very little slimming, the aim from the start being to stave off type two diabetes by following dietary advice from the diabetes nurse at my GPs’ surgery, plus some things I made up myself and haven’t told her about in case she disapproves.

Losing weight is a by-product of eating more healthily but is so far from being the object of the exercise that I’ve only recently bought bathroom scales to torment myself with.

There are many unpleasant diets cramming the bookshops at this time of year (including, yuk, the clay diet and the urine diet) but my special invention is the salami, air-dried ham, stilton, gorgonzola, pickles and garnish-just-for-show diet.

I’ve explained in a previous column that my particular corner of Woodhouse, Leeds, is a major centre for artisan cheese and meat production, where the locals, under the direction of our food guru Mr Dibbs, sometimes join together to make ethically-sourced, free-range, organic salami or chorizo-style sausages from scratch. These are then matured in Mr Dibbs’s cellar because, by an astonishing coincidence, it has exactly the same humidity and temperature conditions as a cave in Umbria.

There is something satisfying about eating non-factory food, including the intuitive feeling that it must be better for you than mass-produced stuff, even though the fat and salt content of home-made cheese and meat tends to be frightening, particularly to diabetes nurses.

But the secret, as in many things, lies in quantity. I now eat huge amounts of vegetables, particularly during the growing season, but vegetables, though very virtuous, don’t really set me salivating.

Perhaps the only reason people in southern India can follow totally-vegetarian diets is that their food is so excitingly spiced; plain vegetables would be a sort of punishment, likely to bring you nothing but a long and boring life accompanied by dangerous levels of smugness.

I like vegetable soups, stews and pastas with a few scraps of spicy sausage or strong cheese thrown in; after all. fat and salt are very far from being poisons, particularly in small quantities, and low-fat, mass produced diet foods have hidden dangers as well as a tendency to taste unpleasant. Better the devils you know.

Incidentally, I heard a health expert on the radio who, on the subject of weight loss, made a point so very obvious that I felt stupid for not thinking of it myself.

It was that losing weight is intrinsically hard to do because the body, for almost the whole of human history, has been evolving to maintain fat deposits rather than to waste them away, leaving nothing to live on during the inevitable lean years.

It’s only very, very recently, and in a tiny part of the world, that people would pay good money to follow plans and potions aimed at making them more vulnerable to starvation.

My mother, though not fat, spent decades following faddy diets and eating dreadful, tasteless bread made mainly of air.

She also made several attempts to take up smoking, thinking it would make her eat less, but could never overcome the fact that it made her feel sick.

So in the end, it wasn’t the tobacco that did for her but a wasting heart condition. She reached her target weight shortly before she died.

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