In the majority of the food outlets that we all encounter on a day to day basis, it is increasingly becoming far easier to make a poor food choice than a healthy food choice.
As a Naturopath and Osteopath in Doha, everywhere I look and shop for food I am faced with an overwhelming choice of poor quality and unhealthy food options. It is not just here in Doha, but also in most industrialized and urban environments around the world. In his book – Metabolical, Dr Robert Lustig claims that ultra-processed food accounts for 70% of the items found in supermarkets, and 85% of the food produced by the top 25 global food manufacturers.
From the big chain fast food brands and supermarkets right through to the smaller more independent outlets, there is an abundance of tasty and unhealthy foods vying for our attention. Even when we walk down the street or through the mall we are allured by the smell of foods being cooked, fried or baked. Our senses are being repeatedly hijacked, and our resolve and self-discipline repeatedly tested.
From an evolutionary perspective we are hard wired to seek out foods that are rich in energy and taste. As hunter gatherer’s we would, and still do, gorge on honey from bees nests, and also favour the fattiest parts of the animals we hunted, due to their rich supply of energy, nutrients and taste. Research has suggested that our tendency towards the more fatty and energy rich parts of animals such as the brains and organs, contributed to the growth of our brain size. So we could conclude that eating fat and sugar has contributed to our success as a species, however, eating poor quality fats and refined sugar is now contributing to our demise!
With this deep rooted and evolutionary drive to favour fat and sugar, we are now constantly having to resist our primal instincts when we walk down the high street. Our natural desire for the combination of fat and sugar is also reinforced through our very first encounters with food. Mothers milk has a particular ratio of sugars and fats similar to that of some of the most palatable junk foods available, such as milk chocolate, ice cream, biscuits and donuts.
We are the same physiological organism that we were as hunter gatherers, and although our desire for certain nutrients and tastes may not have changed, our eating environment has…dramatically!
Our exposure to poor quality food is now overwhelming to the point where food scientists and marketing gurus are strategically trying to take advantage our primal instincts every time we walk past a food outlet. Even places we don’t primarily associate with food such as cinemas, gyms and even pharmacies have their food and drinks strategically placed to optimise a sale and tempt us into buying! We are simply being bombarded with cues to eat all the time.
So it seems as though it’s just a matter of time before we give in to the constant environmental nudges to eat some poor quality food, especially when we are hungry.
This gives credence to the old adage: “don’t go food shopping on an empty stomach”, which actually has a bit of truth behind it. Shopping habits have been compared between a group of people who had and hadn’t eaten within a 5 hrs of going shopping. Those who hadn’t eaten chose more high calorie, low quality foods than those who had eaten before shopping.
This suggests we are going to be more susceptible to poor food choices when we are hungry. Combine this with an environment that is tailored to make you want to eat crap, and you have a metabolic storm on the horizon!
We should acknowledge that we are influenced to eat when we’re not even hungry. We eat when we’re stressed, bored, tired and emotional. We regularly surpass our satiety signals that tell us when we have eaten enough, and many of us eat until we’re full, not just satisfied. One of the contributing behaviours to the health and longevity of the people of Okinawa in Japan is the concept of Hara Hachi Bu, which means eating until we are no longer hungry, not until we’re stuffed!
So whether we are hungry or not we are still susceptible to eating junk food!
The food industry certainly isn’t an evil empire that sets out to intentionally make us sick, but the bottom line is that food companies are businesses that want to sell us as much of their products as possible.
Foods are now designed and manufactured to make us want more. The industry uses words such as Craveability, Snackability and Moreishness to describe foods that are designed to make us eat as much as possible. The term ‘bliss point’ is used to describe the amount of salt, sugar and fat that optimizes the taste of a product. The term ‘mouth feel’ describes things like the perfect crunch of a chip that will keep people eating! This really demonstrates the power and influence of food marketing and branding!
Even talking about junk food can make us crave it!
Sugar has also been added to everyday products such as bread, tinned soup, condiments and low-fat foods. This somewhat stealthily addition of sugar to everyday products potentially primes us to want foods that have a sweeter and richer taste than naturally occurring whole foods.
As consumers, we have the power to VOTE with our food choices, and to be more aware of what the foods we vote for contain. Food industry isn’t going to stop trying to make us consume their products any time soon, and by ignoring the details of our food choices, we are influencing the physical and mental health of ourselves and our children.
Some simple ways to reduce the sugar content in your diet are as follows:
- Read labels for sugar content. The American Heart Association recommends a maximum of 37.5 grams or 9 teaspoons per day, and even that is completely unnecessary, so as an experiment, why not keep a weekly record of added sugar to see how much you and your children are consuming.
Research suggests we significantly underestimate the amount of sugar in our diets so it’s definitely worth taking an objective look!
- Avoid Sugar-filled breakfast cereals– Starting your day with a sugary breakfast cereal will start an insulin rollercoaster that can lead to a crash in blood sugar levels and the desire for more quick energy foods in the form or refined carbs and sugar. This will increase the likelihood of obesity and all it’s complications such as type 2 diabetes.
- Eat mostly naturally occurring foods.
- Eat more full fat foods– Low fat foods are often high in added sugar as a way of substituting taste. Ironically, eating low fat foods can be making you fatter as a result of eating more sugar!
- Prioritise and fall in love with the ceremony of food preparation and cooking.
- Get your kids involved with things like baking muffins and making smoothies.
- If you’re overweight, obese, have a history of binge eating sugary foods, or crave more sweet foods after eating something sweet, you should completely avoid added sugar in your diet.
So the bottom line is that added or refined sugar is completely unnecessary for our diet and health. There really is no recommended amount for us to consume and it would be better to avoid it completely. ( I know you’re thinking ‘easier said than done!’).
Read labels, don’t shop on an empty stomach, and be mindful of the food industries desire to make you experience that craveability and bliss point!
If you can’t do it for yourselves, let’s do it for our kids!
Yours in Strength and Health