Over recent years I’ve read more than my fair share of diet/nutrition books and been convinced (or misled, more on this later) into believing many different fads and diets.
A couple of decades ago I felt the secret lay in supplements, or optimum nutrition as Patrick Holford called it. In many ways it was a precursor to low carb, so credit to Patrick for getting behind that early bandwagon I suppose, but it also seemed to rely on you having to buy lots of supplements – vitamins, minerals, powders, shakes – all conveniently available from Patrick’s online store.
I then looked into Atkins. I lost weight, all the while thinking it absolutely ridiculous that it could be in any way good to consume so much meat and so little fruit and veg. Atkins has now rebranded as a low carb diet. It also has a shop too where you can but shitty low carb, processed foods and snacks at sky high prices.
I then investigated the The Paleo Diet. It seemed to make a lot of sense – to eat natural food, like our early ancestors did, because after all that’s how we’ve been designed, optimised by evolution over thousands of years. This made a lot of sense – eat lean meat, fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds. But what about all that meat … ?
I’m slowly forming my own conclusions and adopting an eating pattern that seems to work for me on several levels, but I am painfully aware other people don’t need my opinions ramming down their throats. I’m aware food choices are deeply personal and there is no ‘one size fits all’. People shouldn’t preach, they should just inform, educate and debate and let individuals make their own choices.
I’m also of the belief that the biggest and most important debate shouldn’t be between the vegan, the vegetarian, the pescatarian, the paleo and the fruitarian. The real issue we need to debate, the real enemy we need to face, is real (natural) food vs. processed food.
Putting ethical/moral issues to one side for a moment, there’s little evidence that moderate amounts of well cared for, outdoor farmed meat does you any harm, and meat can in fact provide you with many of the vital macronutrients we need to fuel our bodies. Heavily processed meat on the other hand appears to be problematic, as does intensively farmed meat.
There is no evidence to suggest vegetables are bad for you, and in fact they undoubtedly provide you with many of the vital macronutrients we need to fuel our bodies. But if you deep freeze a carrot, transport it over a thousand miles, inject it with chemicals to enhance shelf life, add sugar for ‘extra taste’ because you depleted all the natural flavours, and then mix it sparingly into TV dinners, you can get a much greater bang for your corporate carrot buck. And instead of getting a cheap, wholesome, nutritious and natural vegetable, the consumer gets a rather bland, sugary, nutritionally bereft orangey, floppy, lifeless sticky thing floating in a gloopy ‘soup’ which can be sold at a great profit.
There is no evidence that whole fruits are bad for you, and in fact they provide us with many of the vital macronutrients we need to fuel our bodies. But if you extract just a very small amount of the juice, add carbonated water, even more sugar AND aspartame, add some preservatives to improve shelf-life, add stabiliser and phenylanaline, you get a can of fizzy drink with 23g of sugar, more than 25% of the UK daily allowance for a female adult.
Hopefully you get the point – natural foods are generally good, processed foods are generally shit and it is these sugary drinks, sugary snacks, sugary breakfast cereals, shitty white breads, sugary desserts, salty TV dinners, chemically infused ready meals, mechanically recovered and reconstructed chicken nuggets which are the real menace and which are killing us quickly.
The evidence is out there waddling down our high streets and camped on our sofas and GP waiting rooms for all to see. We are fatter than ever before, we have more diabetes sufferers than ever before, more cardiovascular disease than ever before, more incidences of cancer than ever before. So much for progress.
I’m not saying this is all down to diet – I’m sure environmental and hereditary factors play a role here too – but the food we put inside our bodies undoubtedly plays a very significant and very dominant part in the current health crisis.
I think the message is finally getting out there, but only if you look hard enough, and even then the scientific messaging and evidence is still confused. Scholars may now know the problems are more to do with sugars rather than fats, they may know the chemicals we add to prolong shelf life can be carcinogenic, they may also know that natural food is better than processed food, but if you don’t have the time or the inclination to research this stuff yourself, you could be forgiven for thinking all is well is the world of modern food.
And that’s because the messages being transmitted from our supermarket aisles are intentionally muddled and often very biased for sinister reasons, specifically aimed at keeping the muggles in the dark.
Food industry funding of nutritional science is plain wrong. Coca cola paying scientists to shift the blame away from diet and onto exercise is just ethically corrupt. This is deliberate obfuscation of the facts solely designed to confuse and mislead. This is corporate marketing at its worst.
I know we have to be practical here. We have a free market where people and corporations should be allowed to create and innovate however they see fit. And at the end of the day it’s down to us, the consumers, to use our intelligence and common sense, but let’s also be fair. There is such a thing as corporate social responsibility.
The debate of meat vs fish vs fruit vs plants should remain a secondary issue until we once and for all gain a fair and transparent view on the damage we are really doing with our modern, processed, corporate fronted, so-called dietary advice.
You won’t ever stop some folk from eating what they want, and of course that’s their prerogative, but let’s at least lay the facts out for all to see, once and for all, so that we can all participate on a level playing field.