What do you know about the nutritional content of the last meal you ate? Maybe you were having a cheeky Nandos. Maybe you opted for a healthy salad today. Maybe you’re trying a new diet. I had a barbecued, marinated lunch of lamb.
Now think about this: when was the last time you had actual, formal teaching on nutrition and food? I think the last time someone sat down and taught me about food was back in Year 6. We learnt about the food pyramid and the next day had to make ‘healthy sandwiches’. That’s also when I learnt that tomato in bread makes it soggy…
Increasingly over the last year I’ve become fascinated with the abundance of food around us. Over the past year I’ve tried so many different, alternative diets. To name a few I’ve tried to have a plant only based diet. But I missed meat too much so then I tried only a ‘white meat’ diet. Then I tried to do a ‘no carbohydrate’ diet. Recently I’ve been trying to eat smaller but more frequent meals. The truth is I know very little about the food I am eating and also what’s actually beneficial.
- Does red meat actually cause colon cancer?
- Do cereals contain more sugar than grain?
- Is the acid in fruits causing our teeth to rot?
- Does peeling a vegetable mean we are loosing the vitamins and minerals from that food?
- Do onions actually cause hormonal disturbances?
- Does milk cause inflammation?
- Does cheese contain pus!?
- Is the food I am eating, killing me?
I’ve always been told that breakfast is the most important meal of the day and that we must never skip it. But for centuries our ancestors were hunter-gatherers. They ate seeds and fruits. They ate when they could. They didn’t have the luxury of an egg and and toast every morning. But cereal, eggs, bagels and bread need a consumer market. They need to be sold. So next time don’t fast-forward the advertisements. Notice how brands like Kelloggs and Burton promote their items? Now look at the packaging of the cereal or yoghurt pot you have at home. It hasn’t been clearer to me that the food industry, like the tobacco industry cares more about money and its business than it does the health of its consumers. After all consumers are replaceable with healthier and younger ones.
Incidentally it was only last month that BMJ released a study that finally proved that alcohol has absolutely ZERO health benefits to us. Remember the days when people would give you a cheeky smile and say ‘red wine is good for the heart’ My mind then went to the tobacco industry. It took researchers 80 years to show the correlation between smoking and lung cancer. For 80 years the media and the government actively ignored medical and health experts and made money off people in exchange for a hospital bed when they got ill. So could the same be happening to food now?
After spending so much time looking at food labels, trying to eat better, trying to feel healthier I’ve only become more confused and a little disillusioned. Recently I picked up a pot of a very famous branded fruity yoghurt. It was something my brother ate after lunch on a daily basis. Yoghurt is good, right? Certainly better than those processed juices and definitely better than a slice of cake. In this 125g pot of mango yoghurt, 13 grams was pure added sugar. I was so disgusted because this very same brand has advertised its yoghurt as a ‘healthy alternative’. Well yes, its healthier than the juice and the cake. But that’s like saying smoke cigarettes instead of a pipe. Whilst one might be healthier than the other, both are still not actually healthy for you.
I could give example after example of similar hypocrisies with different food items but I guess the point I’m trying to make is that as a society we are blissfully unaware of the damage food can do. And it’s unfortunate because food shouldn’t be the reason we are getting ill. And I think half the reason chronic diseases are on the rise is because no one knows what we should be eating.
I’m a medical student and so far in my training I have had one lecture on nutrition. Is this adequate knowledge for a medical professional? Short answer: no. And I’m going to be a practicing doctor in less than two years. If our professionals (barring our dieticians and gastroenterologists) don’t even know what we should be eating how on earth can the society even begin to eat well?