We are what we eat

My post today is inspired by a funny little book called Evertaster. I think Evertaster is a children’s book because it reads like a modern day fairytale but behind the light hearted fun there is a subtle message about the food we eat that started me thinking along gastronomic lines. Is margarine as good as butter? Are all sugars the same? Is organic really that different to conventional? And the big one – is genetically modified food really that bad?

I was born in Hungary – a very small country in eastern Europe – and like all Hungarians my mother was passionate about good food. Everything she cooked was made from scratch and she spent a huge part of her life thinking about, buying, preparing, cooking and serving delicious meals. And she was not alone. Most women of her generation did exactly the same thing because there was very little in the way of convenience food and they had the time to prepare food the old fashioned way [they could stay at home while the Husband went out to bring home the bacon].

The western world has changed a great deal since the 1950’s but one of the biggest changes is not the prevalence of computers but the role of women. Nowadays very few men earn enough to support their families on a single wage so the majority of women have to go out to work. When they come home at night dinner is not waiting for them so takeaways, frozen meals and every other brand of convenience food has taken over from the fresh food their parents used to eat. Home cooked meals are generally something they may do on weekends as a ‘treat’.

Please note the words ‘generally’, ‘mostly’ etc. I was extraordinarily lucky in that I could stay home with The Daughter and cook the same kind of meals my mother used to make. Because we ran our own small business I had the option of working from home, a luxury not many women cannot afford. The flip side of this luxury of time was that we lived rather frugal lives – no wide-screen TVs, new cars or expensive holidays [I did say it was a small business]. Nonetheless we were happy and could afford to be foodies because, irony of ironies, fresh food is actually a lot cheaper than processed food… if you have the time to cook it.

The payoff for me is that at 59 I’m not as fashionably thin as I’d like to be but I’m not overweight, I don’t have type II diabetes, my cholesterol levels are near perfect, my blood pressure is dead on normal, my vitamin and mineral levels are great… and I eat pretty much whatever I like. I cook with cream and sour cream, I put real sugar in my coffee and we put real butter on our bread.

According to the pundits my way of cooking should be terribly unhealthy but the truth is that it’s the exact opposite because it’s all fresh and unprocessed.

So what’s wrong with processed foods? Well, for starters most processed foods now contain a great deal of pure, refined fructose. In its natural form, i.e. in fruits and vegetables, fructose [or fruit sugar] is bound to glucose and all the sugars are balanced by vitamins and fibre which means that the body processes the fructose in a healthy way. When fructose is extracted and used in isolation it can only be processed by the liver and this is bad with a capital B because it is linked to obesity, diabetes [type II], high blood pressure etc. This article from Harvard Health gives a good explanation for those interested.

Now a little bit of fructose is probably not that bad but when you realise just how much of it is in all the processed foods we eat then the picture starts to get very scary. You will find fructose in soft drinks, biscuits, cakes, breakfast cereals, bread, ketchup, fruit juices, sauces and even savoury foods. This link will take you to a list of most common sources of fructose. You can see how ubiquitous it has become.

Yet if we accept that fructose makes processed foods dangerous to our health then what exactly can we do about it?

Clearly no-one can turn back the clock. We can’t go back to living the way we did in the 1950s but we can make healthier choices in the food we feed our families. At the very top of the list should be a ban on soft drinks and fruit juices. These two items are very easy to consume in huge quantities. If we stop drinking them, or at least only consume them as ‘treats’ then a big chunk of fructose will be eliminated from our diets.

But what of food? We can’t just stop eating!

Given the pace of the lives we lead convenience foods are here to stay but I’ve noticed that the supermarkets now stock a lot of convenience foods that are not processed to death. I can pick up salads ready to go, organic soups ready to reheat, and even pre-cooked meals that don’t contain too much of the bad stuff. So there are choices now that are ‘better’ than that frozen pizza. All you need to do is become a label reader. Check what goes into your food before you buy it and choose foods that contain less of the things that are bad for you – such as fructose. But wait, there’s more!

Every time I go to the supermarket and end up waiting in a queue at the checkout I browse the magazines and what I’ve noticed is that quite a few of them contain recipes you can cook in minutes. Some magazines are even devoted to ‘fast food’ cooked at home. Why not give one of these ‘fast’ recipes a try?

I haven’t bought any of these magazines myself but starting next week I’m going to begin posting recipes for the meals I make when I’d rather not cook at all. [Yes, I’m a foodie but after 30 years of cooking the glam has worn off and I’d rather write than cook, so trust me, I know quick recipes as well!]

For now though I’ll leave you with a question – do you know what’s in the food you eat? If the answer is no then please, please have a look at the labels on the foods you buy. Just a few, small changes in what you choose to put in your mouth could make a huge difference to how you feel and long term those changes may also stop you from developing one of those horrible lifestyle diseases that are plaguing our affluent world.

As a final word I ask you to consider ADHD. It is a ‘disease’ that seems to be in epidemic proportions amongst young children. Yet what if the answer to ADHD lies not in medication but in restricting the amount of fructose in their diets? This article is scary and so was the horrible video I saw recently of a six year old beauty ‘queen’ who was nothing if not hyper. In the video this tot boasted about the special juice her mother made for her. This ‘juice’ was made from Mountain Dew and… Red Bull. Why? Why would you do that to your own child????

Much love,
Meeks

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About acflory

I am the kind of person who always has to know why things are the way they are so my interests range from genetics and biology to politics and what makes people tick. For fun I play online mmorpgs, read, listen to a music, dance when I get the chance and landscape my rather large block. Work is writing. When a story I am working on is going well I'm on cloud nine. On bad days I go out and dig big holes... View all posts by acflory

41 responses to “We are what we eat

  • lowerarchy

    Do you think cannibals say, “We are who we eat?”

    Like

  • sweetmother

    meeks, have you seen, ‘fat, sick, and nearly dead’ by this aussie chap named joe cross? it’s on hulu.com for free in the docs section. i’m not sure if you can get that there, but if you can, it’s worth a watch. it’s got me thinking about all sorts of things, really… xo, sm

    Like

    • acflory

      I just had a look at the trailer for that film and my jaw dropped. I haven’t really looked at juicing as a health cure but it sort of makes sense. If you eat nothing but fat, sugar, carbs and protein then it can’t be good for your body. In a way you’d actually be starving yourself so juicing all the things you normally don’t eat would make it easier to give your body the nutrients it’s crying out for.

      But. If you treat juicing like a fad diet, lose weight, get better and then go back to the old ways of eating then all you’re doing is delaying the inevitable.

      I’d like to see the whole movie to see if Joe Cross advocates a more holistic change to lifestyle habits.

      Thanks for introducing me to this guy Mum. He’s not bad for an aussie bloke πŸ˜€

      Like

  • Candy Korman

    A few years ago I created my imaginary grandmother diet. Yes, I know it sounds nuts. I had two perfectly find real grandmothers. The one who worked in the family bakery lived to be 99! But… for the diet I needed a grandmother with Mediterranean roots.

    The diet? Never eat anything my imaginary Mediterranean grandmother wouldn’t recognize. That means β€” skip all the sugar substitutes and crazy fake foods. Give the microwave away (I only used it for popcorn anyway). And eat REAL food.

    The rest of it is about portion control. Grandmas are not alway helpful with that!

    Like

    • acflory

      Yay! We gave our microwave away as well and haven’t missed it one little bit [my thing was defrosting meat].

      I think I must have met your Mediterranean grandmother. Did she say things like “Eat! Eat! Don’t you like my food?”

      I’m canvassing my online foodie friends to join me in a sort of mini food revolution. If you have any quick and easy recipes would you like to join us? I was thinking of posting one recipe a week just to show it can be done. I’ll send you an email in the morning when I’m more awake. πŸ™‚

      Like

  • lowerarchy

    Real men prepare food πŸ™‚
    Absolutely agree my friend – the politics of food and its production are bound up with the key dynamics of our society.
    How can we follow the injunction of the Delphic Oracle and “Know thyself” if we eat blindly?
    Nice wisdom and great post x

    Like

    • acflory

      Thank you and yes, I’ve noticed that the young men of my daughter’s generation are excellent cooks. Mine are generally not. 😦

      Like

      • lowerarchy

        My dad and his three brothers were – his mum worked in an armament factory during WW2 so his dad (wounded in WW1) did the cooking.
        I’m 54 BTW πŸ™‚

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        • acflory

          Aaaah! You’ve proved my point, thank you! In terms of positive change I think that getting guys into the kitchen is a very good thing as knowing how to feed yourself is a survival skill we should all have.

          lol – I beat you by 5 years. πŸ˜€ I’m 59.

          Like

          • lowerarchy

            What’s 5 years between friends?
            A large part of the battle is breaking the sex-demarcation lines – there’s so much work to do to run a home and certain jobs come with a tag saying “women’s” of “men’s” work. And men try hard to prove they’re men and women try to show they’re women by sticking to the stereotypes of clothing, work and attitude – but we know that this is nonsense. There’s just things to do, and the labels “man” and “woman” are just that – labels. At least there’s plenty of folk that see through this and I’m glad we’re on the same side x

            Like

          • acflory

            Couldn’t agree more. Basic hygiene and knowing how to feed yourself [properly] should be taught to all kids as part of a survival skills subject. These skills are genderless!

            Like

          • lowerarchy

            My first wife’s dad wouldn’t even make a sandwich – his wife had to prepare food for a few days when she went off to do Guide camps πŸ™‚
            It’s the same with cleaning – chauvinist blokes hate cleaning the house but spend any amount of time polishing their cars…

            Like

          • acflory

            lmao – Oh yes, we still have a lot of car-polishers here in Australia! Most aussie blokes will get out there and take control of the bbq though. It appears that open flames are macho enough to justify cooking something. πŸ˜€

            To be fair I have to say that in my own family my Dad’s responsibilities included earning an income, looking after the garden, renovating the house and doing up antique furniture that my Mum bought and then subsequently re-sold. [She was the business head in the family].

            I consider myself to be the ‘best’ of both worlds. Dad taught me how to do basic carpentry and gardening and those male oriented fun things while Mum taught me to cook. πŸ˜€

            Nowadays the lines are most definitely blurring and I applaud every fuzzy step the sexes take to meet in the middle!

            Like

  • lorddavidprosser

    Why am I looking over my shoulder as I read this as though I’ve been caught doing something naughty. Maybe I have. I know the degu is prone to diabetes and I feed her ( them) cornflakes which you now tell me are full of fructose. If I have to start reading labels for her I suppose I might as well do it for myself.To be honest I don’t have many ‘bing’ meals or pizzas but I have no idea if where we eat uses fresh produce or not. Maybe this is a good wake up call.
    Thank you my vastly talented conscience for pricking me.

    Like

    • acflory

      -grin- I knew that hat pin would come in handy one day. Seriously though, fructose is good for manufacturers and bad for us, and degu, so make sure you take your reading glasses next time you go shopping πŸ˜€

      Like

  • Carrie Rubin

    What a great post. Of course, I’m biased, because I’m a big promoter of a healthy lifestyle. Treats in moderation are fine–where would I be without my chocolate?–but you are correct, the amount of processed foods Western societies eat has really skyrocketed. Cooking for the family is not always convenient, but at least I know what’s going into our food when I prepare it myself. And honestly, I think it tastes better, especially with all of those fresh ingredients. πŸ™‚

    Like

    • acflory

      Me too! I’d love to buy organic just because I think it tastes better but can’t really afford to go whole hog. I’m trying to grow some of my own produce. Not certified organic but it’ll be close as I don’t spray. I’ll try and take some pics of my kitchen garden on the deck πŸ™‚

      Like

      • Carrie Rubin

        I’d love to be able to grow some of my own food, too, but considering I can’t even manage to keep a house plant alive, there’s probably no point. πŸ™‚ Plus, the deer would just eat them. But we have a great market just a few blocks away that sells all sorts of fresh produce.

        Like

        • acflory

          lmao – I don’t have deer but I do have alpacas and I’ve had to fence off all my garden areas or they’d mow them to the ground!

          Last year I tried something new. I have a deck out the back and it faces the sun so I started growing a few things in big pots. As my kitchen window looks out onto the deck I managed to remember to water the plants. This year I’ve extended the idea quite a bit. Only time will tell if I can keep my new kitchen garden alive πŸ˜€

          Like

  • Courtenay Bluebird

    Healthy food and cooking are two of my longtime foci, and it’s nice to read an essay that talks about cooking and whole foods that doesn’t spend a great deal of time on the shame side of the spectrum.

    Do you know what writer I think you might love? Michael Pollan. After years of digging through books about whole foods, it was a pleasure to stumble over Pollan, who discusses all things food with good cheer and great research. He is as comfortable with writing about the history of food as he is with writing about the social sciences of the modern kitchen.

    Thanks for such a lovely read, Meeka!

    Like

  • metan

    I loved the sound of this book after you talked about it the other day, and thanks to you it is now in my kindle awaiting my attentions.

    We eat as healthily as possible here, fruit and veg, milk and bread, are our most purchased items and we don’t even keep soft drinks or fruit juices in the house. I love a bit of junk food though and have to resist at all times, it is just easier not to have it in the house!

    I think that you can tell how much crap you eat by the state of your bins. Even though there are 4 of us we put our recycling out every 4 to 6 weeks instead of the fortnightly collection we are paying for and it is never full. The weekly garbage can be missed and I will be annoyed but as long as it goes out next time all is well. It drives me crazy to see the same bins in the street week after week piled high with lemonade bottles and fast food packets. Where do they get the money!

    We mainly eat fresh things so no packets, bottles, jars or tins need to be thrown away. We are far from obsessive about being healthy, we pigged out on pizza over the weekend, it is just that real cooking tastes much better.

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    • acflory

      lol – I knew I was kind of preaching to the converted in that post but I was hoping the info. about fructose would reach some non-foodies as well.

      I just had a thought – what if we all combined forces and recipes to show that good food is not that hard to prepare? My motivation is a bit selfish as I know there are only so many easy and quick recipes in my repertoire but between us we might be able to do a recipe a week and keep it going to a while.

      What do you say Metan? And you too Bluey and Carrie! I know none of us write a food blog but that’s not to say we can’t moonlight with our other passions?

      Like

      • metan

        I would be happy to contribute a few recipes but none of mine are quick! I either do a quick chicken and veg type thing when I have been at work all day or my days off are spent cooking a slow stew etc! Not really ‘fast food’ πŸ™‚

        Like

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