Whole 9 South Pacific’s nutritionist Jamie Scott reminds us of the importance of ensuring you are eating the maority of your food in it’s most natural form.
A key cornerstone of the real food/paleo movement is the focus on eating healthy meals that are focused on… well, food. One could successfully argue that the modern Western diet is nothing but a list of ingredients, all filled with hollow promises. Take cereal box marketing claims as a perfect example. Most of them will scream some sort of health message at you based on the ingredients added to the box. It might be high in protein for muscle development, or a good source of (added, synthetic) vitamins and minerals, and invariably all are low in fat. Food producers and their marketing companies love to latch on to the various health halos we hold to food, appealing to nutrition expert in us all* (*it is a personal hobby horse of mine, as someone with a nutrition science degree, that every person on the street is a nutrition expert).
The truth is, most of us have a very limited idea around nutrition, food biochemistry, our own physiology, etc. When we see a claim that something is high in protein, we are generally good with that on the basis that we know protein is generally a good thing, that our body makes muscles from protein, and muscles are (for most people) a positive thing, and if that protein is coming from anything other than meat (which we “know” is bad for us), then bonus points. But what if you were to learn that some of the “proteins” added to the likes of cereals come from sources which humans cannot actually digest, absorb, and use for all the things we think protein is good for. Check the ingredients list of a well-known Ironman cereal to see that the protein added is from wheat gluten – something you generally cannot break down and use. This is how food marketing works; build a “food” out of the cheapest ingredients you can, meet a few regulations along the way, then latch on to a commonly held view around certain aspects of those ingredients, be it something you want in that “food” (like vitamins) or something you don’t (like fat). Watch the television adverts for all of these highly processed foods to see if you can spot all the usual catch phrases aimed at white, middle-class mothers who are all desperate to feed their family the best and healthiest choices.
Food historian, Michael Pollen summed it up best when he wrote the following in his book, ‘In Defense of Food’;
“Because most of what we’re consuming today is not food, and how we’re consuming it — in the car, in front of the TV, and increasingly alone — is not really eating. Instead of food, we’re consuming “edible food-like substances” — no longer the products of nature but of food science. Many of them come packaged with health claims that should be our first clue they are anything but healthy. In the so-called Western diet, food has been replaced by nutrients, and common sense by confusion.”
In developing a reconnection with food, we need to remind ourselves that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. We simply cannot reduce an apple or a steak down to one or two component parts and promote or condemn those foods on those parts. And sure, we can take an edible food-like substance that is made out of dubious ingredients and improve those ingredients with “all natural” ones (whatever that actually means), but we are still consuming something constructed by food science than by nature. Gluten-free pasta is only less bad than full-fat gluten pasta rather than something which is actually a food and is actually good for us.
Here is a good test… look at all the food you eat over a day, at every meal, and ask yourself this question; how much of that food could you dismantle to its most basic component ingredients and still consume the individual ingredients? Yes there are going to be loop holes to this and some people love to be a little bit smart when it comes to these sorts of things. But just play around with this concept. You don’t have to dismantle an apple – it is what it is. Likewise a yummy steak. But what about everything else? The fact that you may have to find the ingredients list may tell you a lot. And do you even know what is in what you eat?
Ultimately, the vast majority of the foods you eat, should be just that – food. Not a list of ingredients. If you are eating a lot of ingredients, no matter how delicious, it just might be time to rethink your choices.