Monday, January 16, 2006

You are what you eat: RTFL and go slow

Where should I start? Almost every week we learn of new ways food is tinkered with and trick to deceive the consumer.

Here’s the last one: Fresh apples, only stored for one year... (The Sunday Times, 11/12/05)
The apples are stored in warehouses (I’ve read a few years back that they are in complete darkness and that the air is deprived from oxygen to slow down the ripening) and sprayed with a chemical called 1-methylcyclopropene (1-MCP) and sold by AgroFresh under the SmartFresh brand. It blocks the ripening process by being “a kind of placeholder in the space where ethylene sits”. Versions for bananas and avocados exist. The article doesn’t say what it does to the vitamin contents but I would bet it’s quite low after a year!
So if you ever wondered why when you bought supermarket fruits (Sainsbury has confirmed using SmartFresh) they went from hard to rotten straight-away, here you go… (Check AgroFresh’s FAQ on cold storage apples)

Another article I’ve read recently in the same publication and referenced here explains how the sugar content has doubled in apples in the last 60 years while levels of minerals have decreased between ¼ and ¾.

An apple a day keeps the doctor away? Think twice! This is very deceiving for consumers who want and think they’re buying healthy and natural products.

This freaks me out.

But more insidious is what goes in processed food (Processed foods are to blame for the sharp rise in obesity levels and chronic disease around the globe, according to the World Health Organization, read more here and there). So check the label, the sugar and fat contents.
It’s also better to eat healthy natural products (fruits, vegetables) than “diet products” which are full of chemicals (for instance soft drinks with aspartame still provokes an insulin surge and that may in turn cause a food craving (read here, there and there). So if you’re dieting, try wean yourself from your appetite for sweet.

At a higher level, there’s a link between obesity (especially for the poorest part of the populations) and the fact that in the last three decades fat, processed foods and sugars have steadily declined in price while fruits and vegetables are becoming relatively more expensive (read here, there and there). Just go to your Sainsbury’s and try to shop with two baskets: you’ll load one with vegetables, natural yogurt and fish while the other will be processed foods. Check which one is cheaper and it’s likely it will be the “calorie-dense” one.
For more, read The Economics of Obesity (09/05) on the Center for the Advancement of Health site:

In the United States, energy-dense foods tend to taste good, are more convenient to buy, store and cook, and are much cheaper than energy-poor foods, Drewnowski says. “There are data from the USDA [U.S. Department of Agriculture] to the effect that prices for fruits and vegetables jumped by 130 percent or so in the past 20 years, whereas prices for sugar, fat and sweetened beverages increased by no more than 30 percent,” he notes.

What to do then? Shop locally at farmer’s markets (what is the impact on the environment and local farming to eat New Zealand lamb and South-African apples?), read the label and make sure you keep salt, saturated fat and sugars low, sit down with your kids to eat a meal together.

You are what you eat. Go local, read the freaking label and eat slowly.

Other links: