25 August 2006

Food then and now

One often hears that the modern Western diet is unhealthy and that people's eating habits have changed in the last couple of decades. Many things get added to our foods.


So how have eating habits changed in the last century?

One often hears that the modern Western diet is unhealthy and that people's eating habits have changed in the last couple of decades. Many things get added to our foods to enhance the taste, to colour the foodstuffs and to preserve the food for longer.

But how are our diets different from those of our great-grandmothers?

Sugar and spice and all things nice. The world production of sugar has increased twenty-five-fold in the last 100 years. Sugar is not something we really need, as our bodies are capable of converting complex carbohydrates and proteins into the sugar we need. The sugar we eat, is just basically empty calories. Many food manufacturers add sugar to the most unlikely foods in order to enhance the taste. These include cheese, fruit yoghurt, sausages and baked beans, to name but a few.

Fat, fat everywhere. Fast foods, pre-prepared foods and many other foodstuffs contain huge amounts of saturated animal fats. It enhances taste, but excessive consumption of this can lead to a gradual blocking of the arteries that supply the heart, the brain and other organs. This can lead to heart attacks and strokes. Smoking also accelerates this process. One has to be really vigilant to avoid a high fat consumption in our society.

Caffeine crisis. Both tea and coffee contain caffeine, but so do chocolate, cocoa and cola drinks. Caffeine overload makes it difficult for our bodies to absorb essential nutrients and it can make us suffer from nervous tension, irritability, insomnia and headaches. Excessive tea and coffee drinking was uncommon a hundred years ago – today every workplace has a tea club.

Salt in the wounds. Many of the foods that contain sugar and saturated animal fats also contain much salt. We generally eat between 10 and 20 times the salt our bodies need. High salt consumption can contribute to high blood pressure.

Phosphorus phenomenon. Many of the foods we eat have high levels of phosphorus which impedes the absorption of good nutrients and also interferes with calcium absorption by bone tissue. Examples of foods high in phosphorus are soft drinks, processed foods, canned, prepackaged and convenience foods as well as ready-made sauces.

Bottle blues. Alcohol consumption has risen sharply in most western countries since the Second World War. Notably, in Britain it has doubled. Excessive alcohol consumption also impedes the absorption of good nutrients and can lead to all sorts of other health problems.

Chemical cadenza. Many of the foods available contain chemical additives which are used as flavour enhancers, colourants and preservatives. Some are harmless, but quite a few are not. And anyway, our bodies are not designed to deal with these additives.

Antibiotic overload. Meat animals are bombarded with antibiotics, often to the point where they become resistant to them. They are also often used to promote growth and prevent illness in the animals. This overload is passed on to us when we eat their meat.

Food consumption drops. This is actually true, despite the fact that many people are overweight. It seems that the average woman eats 10 – 15 % less than women did 30 years ago. Much physical work has been taken over by machines, and generally women need less energy than they did before. The problem comes in when one takes a look at the foods that are eaten now – they are less nutritious and have higher fat contents than foodstuffs a generation ago.

Pesticide problem. Almost all fresh fruit, cereals and vegetables are sprayed with pesticides at least once. It is almost impossible to avoid this, unless we buy organically grown fruit and vegetables. - (Susan Erasmus, Health24)

(Information from Every Woman's Health Guide, by Maryon Stewart and Dr Alan Stewart.)

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