15 February 2013

Alex Richardson - Good foods make bad commodities

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The current horse meat scandal should ring like an alarm bell regarding the need to be more considerate of the food we eat, in order to ultimately reduce our risks of contracting illnesses. 

Alex Richardson, is a senior research fellow at the Centre for Evidence-Based Intervention, at the University of Oxford, UK, and the co-founder of the UK charity Food and Behaviour Research. She has studied how food and diet—and particularly omega-3 fatty acids—affects our behaviour, learning and mood. She tells youris.com about her views on how the drive for cheap food has turned it into a commodity. This trend is epitomised by the recent finding of cheap horse meat parading as beef in ready-made meals.

How to distinguish good and bad food?
Basically good commodities make for bad foods, and good foods make for bad commodities.  People should be eating real fresh foods, not cheap processed stuff. The added sugar in many foodstuffs is there to make people eat more–it is addictive and overrides our feeling of fullness – and to mask poor tasteless ingredients. Humans have a naturally sweet tooth because this was meant to be associated with ripe fruit, which is nutritious and safe to eat.  But the rise of refined sugar is now seen by many experts as instrumental in modern illnesses. It is pure, white and deadly.  What is more it is found everywhere; some cheaper burgers even have sugar as an ingredient. 

Are there immediate lessons to be learned from the horse meat scandal?
The horsemeat scandal should lead people to think again about what they are feeding themselves and their children.  What we eat really does matter and it matters fundamentally to our health. People should be eating real food, not processed commodities. The modern diet of processed foods also leads to degenerative diseases like diabetes and mental health problems and will reduce your lifespan. The bad fats and dietary sugars in the processed foods that lower income groups are forced to eat, this is actually raising their predisposition to anxiety and depression, among other things.  What’s more, depression, schizophrenia, dementia are all the result of brain function that is not optimal. And yet the role of diet in creating more of these conditions is being ignored.

Do we need to look into our past to learn how to eat again?
A recent research on 19th-century lifespan is showing up our mistakes. In a study published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, the authors observed that the life span of the mid-Victorians was not dramatically different from those of today. Yet they lived in an age without modern diagnostic tools, drugs, contraception or surgical techniques.  The inescapable message is that the brief dietary advances of the mid-Victorian period have been lost to us because of our low calorific throughput, due to our more sedentary lifestyles, and increased consumption of processed, and in many cases, less nutritious foods.

What is the role of the food industry?
Food is too fundamental to health to be left to an industry and untrammelled market forces. Self-regulation by the food industry is ludicrous. You do not put the fox in charge of the chicken coup.  Politicians know this is nonsense, yet they are heavily lobbied by food companies. If everyone ignored those aisles of processed food it would not take the food industry long to reinvent itself. You can eat healthily on a low budget, but you need to be able to cook, and have a freezer.

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