If we are what we eat, it is crucially important to consider what we put in our mouths. This is not rocket science, and anyone can master it in five minutes. Today’s medical advice is that the ideal, balanced diet should contain five servings of fruit and vegetables per day, a moderate amount of unrefined carbohydrate and protein, and that it should be low in fat, sugar and salt.
Unfortunately, the balanced diet so loved of health professionals is an illusion:
- Many people in the world have no access to, or understanding of, a balanced diet
- Even where it exists, it is frequently unaffordable
- Where it is available and affordable, people frequently do not choose it
- Modern farming methods have conspired to maximise yields at the expense of nutrient content
- Such methods include deep ploughing, artificial fertilisers, pesticides, fungicides and monoculture
- They also include genetically modified crops, hydroponics, early harvesting and artificial ripening, factory farming, storage over long periods and transport over great distances.
As a result, our food contains a fraction of the essential micronutrients it contained one hundred years ago, food production is no longer sustainable, and increased transport is having a negative environmental impact.
The problem is compounded by a food industry wedded to milling, refining, processing, additives and the extensive use of sugar, corn syrup and hydrogenated oils (trans fats). The consequence of all this tinkering is that even when we can afford a balanced diet and choose it, our food is often so depleted that we remain malnourished.
Looking again at the advice from health professionals, the good news is that it is not possible to overdo the fruit and vegetables, but there are two provisos. The first is that fruit juice is not healthy and should be thought of as sugar. The second is that, with the exception of tomato, where the nutrient content improves with cooking, fruit and vegetables are better eaten raw, where possible.
The carbohydrate should be whole food and unrefined. All sugars should be viewed as you would view a liqueur – something to be consumed only occasionally and in tiny quantities. Unfortunately the body looks on alcohol as sugar, so moderation here is also required.
Now comes the rub. If we are serious about reducing our consumption of fat, sugar and salt, most of the products on the shelves in the supermarket are banned. Why has it proved so difficult to persuade the big supermarkets to traffic light label their products? As one supermarket executive put it, ‘The shelves would end up as a sea of red warning dots.’ Point taken.
At this point, some of you will give up and eat another Mars bar. But you could choose another path if you value your health and longevity. We are talking about radical lifestyle change. The fact that it is radical is important because it is about discipline and empowerment. There is no point in empowering someone to eat two donuts instead of three. Whilst on this subject, it is often said that it is extraordinarily difficult to change eating habits, because they are culturally engrained. Like so many things that are often said, this is complete nonsense. If you do not believe it, ask McDonald’s, Burger King, KFC and Pizza Hut, who have totally changed eating patterns across the world.