Killing us softly – with food!

If I were to ask you what is the main driver of your food choice, my bet is it would be TASTE.  Even within budget constraints, our taste buds win when it comes to food choice – whether foods look after health and weight is barely a consideration. For most of us, the true purpose of eating and the reasons we eat are poles apart.

The true purpose of eating is to get the fuel and essential nutrients we need to reproduce and survive as a species.   Our genes have us well set up with the biochemistry and physiology to drive and manage the way we eat and this has served us well until recent times. This “homeostatic control system” promotes hunger, signals fullness and maintains blood sugar levels even through times of famine.  An ability to store fat (an on-board pantry) is fundamental to this system as it provides the “buffer” energy source to enable a constant blood sugar on those days “between kills”.  Small weight losses and gains are normal, but hormones such as leptin, grehlin and insulin fight large losses in order to maintain the status quo. This clever and wonderful system is now being challenged.

Until about 100 years ago (a nano second in the scale of man’s existence on earth) very few people had choice around food.  Eating was about what was available, and what was available was limited – processed food did not exist except in very basic forms like cheese.  Modern technology means we now have food at our finger tips and in more enticing combinations and designs than our forefathers could ever have imagined.  Food manufacturers wanting market share appeal to our taste buds and eventually capture and corrupt these through the layers of fat, sugar and salt they add.    We become slaves to taste sometimes to the point of food addiction.  Foods high in sugar, salt and fat lock in to the pleasure seeking part of our brain which then drives us to eat more of them.  The “hedonistic brain” starts to override the homeostatic control system.   We become resistant to homeostatic hormones and the fine balance between appetite, satiety, blood sugar, and body fat falls in a heap.  Obesity and the lifestyle diseases it promotes herald the beginning of the dying process; sadly, many young people are already on this track!

Most of the animals we care for (pets and farm animals) stay healthy and well.  We know that what we feed them is critical to their wellbeing so we follow expert advice. Given choice however, a different story would emerge – animals like us, would follow their desires rather than their physiological needs. I have seen pet sheep go mad over chocolate cake and fairy bread (leftovers from birthday parties )  Given a choice, grass came a poor second.  It is because animals have no choice and because we pay heed to the experts, that they stay healthy and well.

Choice is a wonderful thing and something modern day society holds sacred; unfortunately when it comes to food, it is also a reason for our demise. We are so hard wired to follow our desires that all the knowledge in the world about what we “should be eating” is pushed aside.  And given that our environments are awash with tempting but unhealthy foods we have a “perfect storm” of conditions promoting ill health and weight gain.

Our current government believes food choice is personal responsibility.  While this is ultimately true, it is difficult to make healthy food choices when unhealthy food is abundant, available, affordable and the norm.   Putting the responsibility on the individual is unfair and unjust in such environments.  We need a whole of society approach and a gutsy government to take on the challenge.  Things like controls over marketing to children, taxes on soft drinks, healthy policy in schools and workplaces will all contribute to a culture where it is easy and affordable to take personal responsibility for health.

 The path to food corruption……

Icecream manufacturers and sellers compete for your tastebuds through layers of chocolate, caramel, fudge, biscuits, chocolate chips etc.  The icecream in a cone (a treat when I was young) could seem a poor alternative!