Often I hear speeches and remarks at how all teenagers are unhealthy. Now I must digress: as a 17-year-old teenage girl living in the most populous suburbs of London, I do not hold to such a diet. I used to… but not anymore. From chips up to twice a week, constant streams of energy drinks, and a rainbow of sweets to vegetables and my secret tea obsession.

How can someone do what I did? It seems impossible in a culture swarmed with ‘meal deals’ and ‘bargain’ foods, which completely overlook the amount of calories or nutrients a food has. What I did was simple: I gave up Red Bull’s wings, and instead turned to seeking down to earth food that actually benefited my health. But what finally burned Icarus’ Red Bull wings? Well, it was definitely not a sunburn, no, it was the doctor telling me I had Celiac; a condition that can be cured by eating a gluten-free diet for the rest of your life… yes till you die. For those of you who may not know: gluten is found in wheat, barley, and rye, so basically the base of all fast foods. At first I drowned myself in pity, unable to accept that I was different, the phrase ‘special needs’ echoing in my head every time I ate. Finally, after countless breakdowns and riots, I wandered into the kitchen and decided that I wanted to learn how to cook whatever-the-hell I felt like: no more dry bread from the pharmacy, or crackers devoid of any culinary merit. So the cooking began…

Just by switching your breakfast, from a greasy piece of bacon, covered in three eggs, and half a loaf of bread to a bowl of cereal could help with cholesterol levels. You see, a traditional breakfast in England is high in saturated fats, containing around 800 calories: for an average teen, that’s already nearly half the calorie limit. Better yet, take an example from one of the world’s healthiest countries: Japan. A popular breakfast meal is rice porridge, with maybe some mango for breakfast: no unnecessary oils added.

Sugar and salt were the first items to disappear from my menu. Salt, for one, causes water retention, due to the imbalance between it and water… so, unless you enjoy looking three months pregnant, I would cut back. My grandma once nicknamed salt: white death; I remember laughing at her and throwing extra salt onto my meal, just to vex her further. But it’s true, eating too much salt can cause cancers, high blood pressure, and strokes… need I go on?

Now for our good friend: sugar. It’s an everyday necessity, and even those in the poorest regions have access to it, which is why it still comes as a surprise to learn that sugar was first imported into Britain in the fifteenth century, and only those with money could afford it. Now, sugar is no longer used to preserve food, instead, it is an additive with no health benefits. Instead of it, you could opt for ‘stevia’ sweetener, or use fructose to flavour your cakes. Where once a sugar pop was a daily acceptable snack, try out fruit: it’s sweet, but a dozen times more healthy.

So what have I learnt from cooking by myself? That food can be more adventurous than a lousy burger, and you really don’t need additives in order to survive. Oh, and you find that you have so much more energy from ‘real’ food, rather than empty calories in a plastic bag.

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