When you look at the pie-chart of what a typical person living in the west eats, it is very disturbing. The standard western diet is 63% highly processed refined foods, a lot of sugar, a lot of white flour and a lot of oil! 25% of calories then come from animal foods, most of which are consumed from animals which have been reared in a highly industrialised system where their fat has been exaggerated and the animals grow artificially quicker than they would in natural conditions. So that only leaves 12% for whole, plant foods. Not much is it? On this western diet 71% of adults are overweight or obese. Meaning 3 out of every 4 adults are seriously unhealthy and living with diet related health issues.
I suggest if we were to design a diet to kill people, in my opinion you couldn’t design a better system than the one we have right before us. There has to be a better way!
If more than 60% 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 foodlike 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 In the so-called Western diet, food has been replaced by nutrients, and common sense by confusion. Welcome to the era of ‘Nutritionism’ so termed by journalist and food industry research writer Michael Pollan.
Today the food industry trades on their ability to continually carry out research on foods. The term they use to describe this is ‘nutritionism’. A system of needing to breakdown the foods we eat into constituents so that they can do empirical and reductionist research on the food item meaning our terminology and understanding of food remains totally nutrient based. Therefore ignoring the idea that food is essentially the sum of their nutrient parts and ideally utilised as a whole food to receive its total healthful benefits.
What nutritionism has created are three pernicious myths about food:
- That what matters most is not the food itself but the ‘nutrient’ instead.
- That because nutrients are invisible and incomprehensible to everyone but scientists, we need expert help in deciding what to eat.
- That the purpose of eating is to promote a narrow concept of physical health.
Because food in this view is foremost a matter of biology, it follows that we must try to eat ‘scientifically’ – by the nutrient and the number and under the guidance of experts. We forget that, historically, people have eaten for a great many reasons other than biological necessity.
Food is also about pleasure, about community, about family and spirituality, about our relationships to the natural world and about expressing our identity. For as long as humans have been taking meals together, eating has been as much about culture as it has been about biology. That eating should foremost be about bodily health is a relatively new concept and I think a destructive one. Destructive not just to the pleasure of eating and food culture in our societies but also to our mental states.
We are fast becoming a generation of orthorexic people: people with an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating. Although currently untested, I am willing to bet that researchers will very soon find an inverse correlation between the amount of time people spend worrying about nutrition and their overall health and happiness. That is why I never advocate diets, instead I advocate and educate people to listening to what their body needs and wants, making it easy and as stress free as possible to live in balance. I advocate the common sense rule when we look at health claims for our bodies.
I believe choosing to eat from the paradigm when food consisted of mother nature’s magic rather than the numbered gibberish we read on the back of ingredients labels is our only way to avoid the traps of the food industry. Eating from a time when we didn’t need a science textbook to decipher nutrition claims and when foods had a shelf life shorter than our attention spans.
Below is a list of 12 healthy eating rules adapted from Michael Pollan’s book titled ‘Food Rules’ to help you navigate a road towards being able to work out “what should I eat?” and understand how to decipher this confusing world of nutritionism and western diet gibberish:
- First and foremost is your decision to choose to eat WHOLE, VIBRANT, COLOURFUL FOODS, mostly from plants. Research has shown that a diet that consists of at least 80% of plant-based foods will lead to longevity and a healthier life as seen in the blue-zones around the world.
- If it came from a plant, eat it. If it was made in a plant, don’t! Avoid all processed foods made in factories which contain ingredients that are either unfamiliar, unpronounceable or contain high-fructose corn syrup. Similarly avoid food products with wording such as ‘lite’, ‘low-fat’ or ‘non-fat’ and avoid foods that are pretending to be something they are not i.e. margarine, skim milk, quorn.
- Avoid all food products that make health claims on their packaging or are advertised on television.
- Avoid foods that have sugar or sweetener listed among the top 3 ingredients. Instead eat sweet foods as you find them in nature such as ripe fruits or fresh coconut water.
- Shop for food outside of the supermarket. Utilise farmers markets, local bakers, butchers, fishmongers, greengrocers and local producers. Forage and eat wild foods where possible.
- Pay a little more; eat less of far greater nutrient-dense quality. Only eat foods that will eventually rot or you can picture in their raw state growing in nature. Eat well-grown food from healthy soil. You are what you eat eats too!
- Eat mostly plants, especially dark-green leaves. Treat meat as a side serving or an occasional food and if you do eat meat, eat animals that have themselves eaten well. Avoid fish at the top of the food chain such as swordfish, tuna and shark. Instead eat small, oily fish varieties such as sardines, mackerel and anchovies.
- Follow this Chinese proverb: “Eating what stands on one leg (mushrooms and plant foods) is better than eating what stands on two legs (fowl), which is better than eating what stands on four legs (cows, pigs and other mammals).”
- Eat foods that have been pre-digested by bacteria or fungi such as sauerkraut, tamari, kimchi and sourdough bread.
- Eat meals and eat with people, around a table (a desk is not a table). Its not food if it came through the window of your car and never get your fuel from the same place your car does.
- Eat when you are hungry not when you are bored and stop eating before you are full. Cook and if you can plant a garden, or at least a herb garden.
- Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper. But break the rules once in a while and treat treats as treats.