You might have gone shopping this weekend. How did you decide what to eat? When you’re walking round the supermarket, what factors determine what ends up in your trolley? Here are some common ones:
Choosing food is clearly a complex operation.
So why do we eat?
We’ve come to think of food mainly as a source of energy, like petrol for the car. The simplicity of the idea is appealing but it’s only part of the story.
Nevertheless, since the introduction of calories as a measure, we’ve become obsessed with them. The calorie value of food has been elevated in importance beyond what it deserves. In spite of its popularity, calorific content is a poor basis for making food choices. In fact, it often drives us away from good foods and towards bad foods. You might have been led to believe that a calorie is a calorie regardless of source but I hope you’ll agree that whatever the calories say, a doughnut is not the same thing as a steak (Dr Andreas Eenfeldt).
Why else do we eat?
Our bodies need building material. Your cells and tissues are renewed all the time and the only things you body has to use for making new ones are the things you provide by eating. Substance and quality matter. You need protein – not just in total but including all the essential amino acids – to make muscles and chemical messengers. You need fats of the right shapes to make your cell membranes and hormones. You need vitamins and minerals and enzymes to support the zillions of chemical reactions going on inside. Not all the food you eat will contain these good things.
Are you getting enough goodness?
Recommended daily intakes are set at levels to avoid illness not at levels for optimum health or to cover increased demand eg if you are ill or under stress. Modern farming methods are degrading the soil so vegetables have lower levels of minerals (eg since 1940 carrots have lost 75% of their magnesium, 48% of their calcium, 46% of their iron and 75% of their copper.) Unripe foods are picked before their full nutrient potential has been reached so they can be transported long distances without spoilage. Processing of foods can damage or remove micronutrients. Good omega 3 fats might be taken out to increase shelf life while bad fats (eg damaged omega 6 fats like sunflower oil) are common ingredients. The trend is to eat grains such as wheat with every meal and these contain anti-nutrients (eg phytic acid) which block the absorption of minerals like iron, calcium, magnesium and zinc.
The result of all this is that much of our population today is over-fed but under-nourished. Deficiencies may not be so drastic as to show up as beriberi, scurvy or rickets (although that happens too) but may be revealed as tiredness, low mood, aches and pains, poor skin, hair and nails.
The impact of poor diet on your mental and physical abilities affects your whole life, including your work performance, fitness for sport and the fun you have with your family. That’s why I ask people to think first about nutrition.
Good food gives you essential amino acids, essential fatty acids, vitamins, minerals and enzymes. Major on fresh meat, fish, eggs, cheese, fruit, veg and natural fats. Do your own cooking. Put calories in the back seat, steer clear of processed foods and make your choices based primarily on the goodness real food contains.
Top tip: Choose your food for maximum nutrition