Have you watched the documentary “In Defense of Food” on Netflix? It’s put together by a journalist, Michael Pollan who examines the industrially driven Western diet and how it is ruining our health.
I have no brief to defend or promote this documentary (or the book) and am not paid to write this blog. I thought it was very interesting the way Michael Pollan traces food back to its roots … back to the farm. He looks at the links between diet and health and suggests ways how we can turn our life into a long and healthy one.
If you would like to find out why the Western diet is the cause of various chronic conditions and diseases, read on.
Pollan asks: “Why should food need defending?” rightly so. “Why should food need defending?”
Bread – A Staple Food
“Gluten free” is trending, big time. Why? Wheat has been the staple diet of for millennia. What changed? Why does wheat make you feel bloated and uncomfortable?
In 753 BC the Romans ate bread; it was a staple. There were no sophisticated mills at the time. Grain was technically ground between two stones.
Before mills came into the scene, gluten free was not an issue.
As Pollan explains, a basic change took place in the 19th century. In the industrial era – c. 1879 – wheat was no longer ground between two stones. Mills came into play and white flour was produced. The bran and the germ from the wheat were thrown out and fed to the cattle. It turns out those were the healthiest parts of the grain and we were left with the carbs!
In the early 19th century, “Wonder” enriched bread hit the shelves. Same way as cereals, milks and plenty of other foods come with added vitamins these days. Why?
The grain is harvested, milled, the fibre and the vitamins are used as fodder and “man-made” vitamins are added to the bread.
“Wonderbread” came in one neat packet – bread made from processed white flour with added nutrients – at one convenient price.
What was wrong with the original wheat, which delivered wholesome bread with no added sugars, salt and vitamins? The original bread was (probably) less expensive, and not as soft and fluffy. Its shelf-life was shorter (thanks to no preservatives), but it was nourishing and provided fibre without any artificial additives.
Whole wheat bread did not give people a bloated uncomfortable feeling and people were not made to pay more for “gluten free”.
Processed Food: Sugar, Salt and Fat
Packaged food is “processed” in such a way that it’s life is artificially extended.
Today, Americans consume 1000% more sugar than they did 200 years ago. (The only reason why I quote stats in the US is because the documentary is based in the States. This is not to say that figures in Europe and other countries would be dissimilar.)
The human being has an inborn craving for sugar, salt and fat. Sugar provides food for the brain. Fat is a macro-nutrient and the human body needs fats to function properly. Fat provides the body with warmth and transports fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. The UK Government guidelines suggest that 33% of energy should come from fats. These same guidelines suggest that an adult should not consume more than 6g of salt and 30g of free sugars, per day.
The food industry is a multi-billion Dollar industry and when processed food came into play, it made sure processed food ticked all the boxes. The industry delivered a cheap and convenient solution. Processed food has the right texture, taste and colour. It makes you crave it and come back for more.
The processed food industry is a money-making machine which is mainly concerned with profits.
Omnivores vs Vegetarian
Our ancestors used to gather and hunt. The Hadza Tribe in Tanzania lived a hunter-gatherer lifestyle for thousands of years. Progress, agriculture and domesticated animals brought infectious-disease epidemics and intermittent famine. Today, only a few tribes live a hunter-gatherer lifestyle in the Amazon.
Like the Hadzas our ancestors ate meat of animals which lived off the land. Grass-fed animals (and fish) provide humans with good quality protein. Today, the meat you buy is not necessarily grass-fed and wild fish are becoming a rare commodity. Most cattle are fed corn and soy to make them grow fat as quickly as possible. Meat from farmed animals (or fish) does not deliver the same nutritional benefits as that from grass-fed animals.
Moving on to milk – how many people you know are lactose intolerant? This does not come as a surprise at all. Can you think of a mammal which feeds on the milk of another? I don’t.
In my book, cows produce milk to feed their young.
The water content in both human and cow’s milk is very similar. But the nutrients – i.e. carbohydrates, protein, fat, vitamins and minerals vary.
The balance of the proteins (whey and casein) in breast milk make it easy for a baby to digest. However, cow’s milk has a higher percentage of casein (protein) which makes digestion for the human baby more challenging.
What is the Ultimate Healthy Diet?
The Western diet is mainly made up of huge portions of processed foods. Foods which contain too much salt, sugar and fat and are responsible for chronic diseases which our ruining our health. Obesity, asthma, heart disease, hypertension, colon cancer and other caners are but a few of the many diseases plaguing the Western world.
Michael Pollan, who’s a journalist not a nutritionist, by the way, has one suggestion: “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.”
Studies and records show that communities who live on a plant-based diet (eg: the Advantists in the US) benefit from a long, healthy life. It’s all about quality of life.
This snippet barely scratches the surface of the detail Michael Pollan goes into in his documentary “In Defense of Food”. If you’re interested in finding out more about the subject, head to Netflix or get hold of the book.
If this is not for you, I leave you with Michael Pollan’s apt quote from Oscar Wilde:
“All things in moderation, including moderation itself.”
My thanks go to:
Documentary “In Defense of Food” – Michael Pollan