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03 January 2006

Food not-so-glorious food

A century ago women bought fresh food from the markets daily. Today it is not uncommon for people to buy food weekly or monthly. Are we compromising our health by doing this?

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In the last century or so there has been a drastic change in our diet and lifestyle.

Fifty or a hundred years ago, women mostly stayed at home and had time to cook fresh food for the family every day. Her shopping was done on foot, and she mostly shopped at fresh produce markets. There were no refrigerators, so daily shopping was the norm. Fresh food purchased daily would have contained far more nutrients than the food we purchase from the supermarket on a weekly or monthly basis.

Because they have little choice, owing to time constraints, women have had to learn the art of the shortcut. They now drive to the supermarket and definitely not on a daily basis. There are many fast food options that seem convenient and attractive. Many of these foods are filled with preservatives, sprayed with chemicals, or grown in chemically rich soil. Some foods have been treated with pesticides and insecticides and many of the animals, whose meat we eat, have been pumped full of antibiotics and growth hormones. To top it all, the levels of general environmental pollution, which must surely affect the food we eat, have reached new heights.

How have our eating habits changed?

  • Our sugar-consumption has increased enormously. The last century saw a 25-fold increase in the worldwide production of sugar. We don’t really need to eat sugar. Our bodies can convert complex carbohydrates and proteins into sugar. Refined sugar that we consume in vast quantities, contains almost no nutrients. They are mostly empty calories and these empty calories in the form of refined sugar can be found in some of the most unlikely foods, such as cheese, pickled cucumbers and sausages, amongst others.
  • We consume vast quantities of saturated animal fats. This gradually blocks the arteries, which eventually can lead to heart attacks and strokes.
  • We eat 10 – 20 times more salt than our bodies need, which can cause high blood pressure
  • We have too much caffeine, because we drink too much tea and coffee. This can inhibit the absorption of essential nutrients into our systems and lead to nervous tension, insomnia and headaches.
  • We consume too much phosphorus, which interferes with calcium absorption.
  • Alcohol consumption, especially amongst women, has increased dramatically. This also inhibits the absorption of nutrients. Overconsumption of alcohol brings a whole host of other health and social problems.
  • Many of the foods we eat contain chemical additives in the form of flavour enhancers, colouring and preservatives. Some of these are harmless, but quite a few are not.
  • Our meat animals are bombarded with antibiotics- often as a preventative measure. We consume these antibiotics secondhand.
  • Almost all fresh fruit and vegetables and cereals are sprayed with pesticides.

What you can do

While it is almost impossible to avoid consuming all of the above, it is a good idea to become aware of what you are eating and drinking and in what quantities. Fall into a habit of limiting caffeine and alcohol intake and read labels on products to see what they contain. While you definitely cannot avoid all harmful substances, you can cut your intake of them drastically.

Buy organically grown fruit and vegetables and limit your meat and chicken intake. Fresh fish is usually less tainted by chemicals, so start having this at least twice a week. Check the fat content of prepared foods you eat regularly. They might be a lot higher than you think.

The key to healthy living is awareness and moderation. If you have a hamburger, chips and a fizzy drink once a week, that’s not the end of the world, but if it is your daily lunch, the red lights should be flashing.

 
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