Perceptions of Normality

At every point in history, people perceive the things they do as normal, including what they eat. Socially, we have evolved to fit in with what everybody does. In these modern times, we also align our behaviour to the images and messages with which the media constantly bombard us.

Some years ago, there was a successfulCornetto advertising campaign to convince people that sugar was an aid to dieting – “eat a biscuit before lunch or an ice cream”! It seems ridiculous to us now but people bought into it then. The current trend is fat avoidance which we’ll no doubt look back on with disbelief. The sad truth is that experts in marketing can change what we think so that we’ll change what we buy.

Bowl of cerealBreakfast cereal arrived in the UK in 1900 and gained popularity in 1930 but even as recently as the 1950s and 60s, breakfast would have been cooked eggs, fish or meat. Ready meals were limited to Vesta chicken supreme with boil in the bag rice which I recall with misery cooking on a primus stove while camping but would never have eaten at home. Takeaways meant fish and chips carried home wrapped in newspaper. Nowadays people think it’s normal to order by ‘phone and have any variety of fast food delivered to their door.

What’s really normal? For millions of years we were hunter gatherers eating only meat and low-glycemic index plants. Farming started around 10,000 years ago increasing consumption of grains. Intensive farming, processed food and chemical additives burgeoned after WWII. This is the blink of an eye in human history. We have not evolved to the modern diet; our bodies still want natural meat, fish and veg.

Top tip: Eat real food – that’s what’s normal for humans.

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Seven a day

There was quite a furore in the nutrition world recently over a pronouncement that rather than our ‘5 a day’, we should eat 7 portions fruit and veg. The headlines shouted that this could save lives by reducing cardiovascular disease and cancer.

The number 7 is arbitrary, as was the number 5, not a conclusion of good science. Lifestyle differences were possibly the dominant factor in the findings of the study in question. However, there is a sound underlying message; vegetables contain goodness. Most of us (¾) don’t get anywhere near 5 a day, let alone 7.

Here’s a link to a piece Zoe Harcombe wrote about the study.

The right amount of veg is not the same for everyone and depends on your metabolic type but if you think you’re probably eating too little, what can you do? In the winter, soup is a warming way to get quantity and variety. Start with a good knob of butter in a pan and cook chopped onions, carrots and celery for a few minutes before adding stock, tomatoes, beans, herbs and any other veg you like. Bring to the boil. After it has simmered for about 10 minutes it’s ready to eat. In the summer, have a salad with your lunch and another with your evening meal.

Juicing is an effective way to get lots of raw vegetable goodness (although you lose the fibre). Mix lots of different types of vegetables plus a very small amount of fruit just to sweeten it – half an apple is plenty. In England, we’re not advised to distinguish between fruits and vegetables and that’s a shame. It’s better for your health to go easy on fruit. In Australia, the advice is 5veg + 2fruit. Buy more fresh food rather than processed products.

Top tip – don’t argue about the numbers, just eat more veg.