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????