7d48f1356cfc9210VgnVCM200000e66411acRCRDapproved/thenational/Articles/Migration/2010-07An apple a day? It depends on what day it is6d48f1356cfc9210VgnVCM200000e66411ac____An apple a day? It depends on what day it isSomething of almost everything is fine - in moderation. That's how it seems to me, anyway.<p>I must confess that I have never been someone who could be described as a "health freak". I rarely take exercise, except in the form of the occasional wander over some sand dunes or up a mountain wadi. I can't remember the last time I visited a gym or engaged in a strenuous walk just for the sake of walking itself, though I don't mind strolling along with a pair of binoculars around my neck, stopping every now and then to look at a few birds. I smoke, albeit not as much as I used to (and, yes, I know I shouldn't). I don't look at a buffet and mentally calculate the number of calories in each of the offerings.</p>
<p>I've been fortunate then to have generally enjoyed, thus far at least, a reasonable state of health, Alhamdulillah. I haven't taken a day off for ages because of illness, I don't suffer from high blood pressure (except during the occasional bouts of anger to which all of us are prone) and I'm not overweight, though the weight could be distributed a little more evenly. I like salt with my food and sugar in my coffee and I try, usually successfully, to get a good night's sleep.</p>
<p>My mother, a biology teacher, drummed it into me at an early stage that one ought to eat in a healthy way - a bit of what you enjoy, but nothing to excess, no unnecessary second or third helpings, unless, of course, it was apples straight off the tree. And if you ate too many of those, especially green ones, the resulting stomach ache quickly reminded you anyway that this was not a good idea.
A few years ago, I was told that my cholesterol levels were a little bit high. My doctor told me to cut down on a few things (including full fat cheese, much to my regret) and I have more or less managed to do so. When I complained to the doctor that the food I was allowed to eat was really rather bland and tasteless, he gave me a simple guide to healthy eating: "If it tastes nice, spit it out!'</p>
<p>I've learned to look at shrimp on a buffet and then pass them by. I can accept that a nice piece of cheese is a luxury, not a daily necessity. Otherwise, I'm really not bothered eating to live, rather than living to eat.
I have friends and relatives, who take a very different approach. One goes to the gym regularly, telling me how many kilogrammes she's lost when she really wasn't too unpleasant to look at before. Another always looks for the "low fat" option, cooks without salt and is worried about calories, vitamins, fats, oils and all sorts of other things. That's fine, as long as I don't have to follow suit.</p>
<p>What does drive me up the wall, however, is the way in which those who advise us on healthy eating seem to find it impossible to keep to a standard set of advice and recommendations. They're forever changing, or so it seems to me. Butter is bad; margarine is good. No, margarine is bad too and perhaps butter isn't quite so bad, after all. Eggs are good; eggs are bad. And the latest to come my way: fresh fruit isn't good after all, because it contains too much sugar. Yet a few weeks ago, I'm sure I was told that fresh fruit was good for you, which is something I've believed all my life.</p>
<p>I could scarcely have thought otherwise: when I was a child, my parents grew apples, pears, plums, strawberries, blackcurrants and more. Very nice they were too and the extra pocket money I received for picking them for the market made them even tastier. "An apple a day keeps the doctor away," or so I was taught.
If fresh fruit is bad for you - and red meat, of course, something else we are now told we should avoid - I wonder how our nomadic ancestors, who lived on what they could hunt and gather, managed to avoid extinction. We're told that full fat milk from the cow or goat or camel is also something to be avoided. Really? How on earth did people live in the past?</p>
<p>Admittedly, they didn't live so long, and it wasn't always disease, starvation or war that killed them off. They often weren't so healthy, though I am yet to be convinced that the foods they ate were responsible for their earlier deaths.
I accept fully, of course, that some foods really aren't very good for you. One just has to look at the prevalence of obesity and diabetes in the UAE, not just amongst Emiratis, to realise that burgers, deep-fried chicken nuggets, french fries and the whole range of other "fast foods" aren't to be recommended. Colonel Sanders and his imitators have done none of us any favours.</p>
<p>The answer lies more in simple common sense than in pouring over fancy charts of what foods contain or lying awake at night worrying about your body mass index. Something of almost everything is fine - in moderation. That's how it seems to me, anyway.
I have an open mind on the topic. I have no objection to being convinced. I do, though, find it rather difficult to accept that food I have been eating all my life, because it tasted nice and because the scientific knowledge of the time said it was good for me, is suddenly something that will ruin my health. Anyone for a banana?</p>
<p><i>Peter Hellyer is a consultant specialising in Emirati culture and heritage</i></p>