Time for Eatcare
Back in 1990 research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association put diet on a shortlist of lifestyle factors blamed for half of deaths. Over a quarter of a century later there has been little progress, in fact few would argue that the situation has deteriorated. Over the same period health professionals have become more united than ever in agreeing that a diet of minimally processed foods, predominantly plants, is what is associated with better health and the prevention of disease, yet to little effect.
Being right doesn’t always count for much
According to WHO, in 2014 1.9 billion adults were overweight and of these 600 million were obese, while 41 million children under the age of 5 were overweight or obese. Most of the world’s population live in countries were being overweight or obese kills more people than being underweight. The public health burden this now poses is considerable and it’s vital that we urgently begin shaping our health policies to deal with this devastating situation. However, when we cast a weather-eye back over the past twenty-five years, is there any prospect of expecting or even hoping for better outcomes?
I believe the last quarter century of experience can be a benefit. There is no doubt in my mind that part of the strategy to deliver success in meeting the challenges will include nutritional education – or as I call it ‘eatucation’. Professionals from the world of nutrition, health, food science and the food industry will all have a role in helping improve people’s diets. This might range from communicating and actively working to help the consumer improve their knowledge about what to eat, to providing a supply of nutritious food that is safe, affordable and sustainable. However, at present there still seems to be too little recognition by governments of the very real health problems, both mental and physical, associated with highly processed foods, with the result that even food companies keen to be more radical in their efforts to reduce high levels of sugar, salt and unhealthy fats do not enjoy an even playing field to help them achieve their ambitions. Remember, this is a business where the ‘race to the bottom’ in terms of empty calories also tends to produce the best bottom-line in terms of profits.
Can we at least ringfence “Real”?
When it comes to healthy eating there is only one player in town and that is real food. This means plant-based foods or foods that have been minimally processed. Fruit, vegetables, nuts, wholegrains, healthy fats and lean protein, it is these common elements in our eating routines that have the best health results. And according to many medical professionals we could eliminate up to 80% of chronic disease by just taking this approach to eating.
Yet even here, Big Food can’t help itself – advertising processed products as ‘Real’. (My personal bugbear is Hellmanns ‘Real’ Mayonnaise. What’s real about Calcium Disodium EDTA?) But somehow real food versus processed needs to be clear for people to understand easily, otherwise the message will get lost in the confusing noise of ‘gluten-free’, ‘dairy-free’, ‘nut-free’, ‘low-fat’, ‘low-carb’, ‘high-carb’ etc..
Reducing the amount of processed food in our diet is the challenge. No question that at times this can be tough, even impractical. Food processing has been around since prehistoric times and is an essential element for preserving food to avoid spoiling. Many staples in our diet such as bread and cheese have little resemblance to their starting points and are processed foods, yet are often not considered as such. Of course some are much worse than others, but if we could manage to devote a substantial percentage of our diet to real food we would not need to worry so much about either our overall nutrition or the processed portion. And we could certainly fret less about what the ‘MOST’ nutritious fruit or vegetable or nut or wholegrain happens to be – or that it must be organic or fortified.
The small problem of making this happen
This is the nub. Truth be told, and it hurts me to say this, but I strongly suspect one of the reasons the message hasn’t gotten through over the past twenty-five years is precisely because health professionals, nutritionists and food researchers like myself have been leading the charge. What was really required to address this issue was the best marketing minds in the world. This used to be the ‘Mad Men’ of Madison Avenue. Today it may be the internet’s ultimate behavioural manipulators that we will need to depend upon to help save us from ourselves. Because the dirty little secret is that this isn’t just about food – it’s about eating behaviour. Sure, we know the addictive nature of sugar and processed foods – but if the same marketing skills that Big Food employs were used to promote real food, along with some judicious legislation to level the playing field in controlling processed food production and marketing, significant progress without overbearing regulation would be possible. The only question is how serious chronic diseases must become before government appreciates these elements of Eatcare are a vital part of Healthcare?
As part of our contribution to promoting healthy eating we have created Just Routine, the real food app. It nudges people toward improving their eating habits, making them more mindful about what they eat and drink.
If you would like to give it a try you can download or check it out here: justroutineapp
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