When I started as an NHS Dietitian, back in the 1990s, the latest research showed a link between blood cholesterol levels and cardiovascular disease (heart attacks and strokes). The training that I had from my fantastic university lecturer about the biochemistry behind this condition had taught me that eating too much fat, especially saturated fat, was the issue that needed to be addressed. I was up for the challenge and excited to get started and help people.
The stark reality was that most patients were overweight, ate nutrient-poor food and did not want to listen to my recommendations.
“You CAN still eat butter, just use it sparingly…. you know the kind of thing, spread it on then scrape it off “ But they would rather eat low fat spread, a lovely mix of hydrogenated oils and stabilisers, and keep eating loads of it.
“Eat fried foods, like chips, crisps and pastries, occasionally, keep them as ‘treats” But there’s these new oven chips and low-fat snacks that I can eat now that apparently are better for me……
“Choose extra mature cheddar cheese so you can use less to get the same flavour” But I can eat low fat cheese and still pile it high…..
My recommendations also included only eating three meals a day, no snacks between and a whole load of vegetables and salad. I think some of them waited until they were out of the door before laughing but not all of them. Strange that, as I never thought that heart attacks and strokes were very funny….
But this is when ultra-processed food (UPF) really got started. People chose this way of eating because it was easy, and no lifestyle change was required. And now we have an obesity and mental health crisis to show for it.
Because it is not just what IS in these UPFs but what’s MISSING.
Yes, you can argue that artificial sweeteners, gums, stabilisers, preservatives, flavourings etc are having a detrimental effect but you’re kind of missing the point. UFPs are LACKING fibre, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, essential fatty acids, omega 3 fatty acids and trace elements.
IT HAS BEEN OUR TOTAL LACK OF APPRECIATION OF HOW NUTRITION AFFECTS PHYSICAL AND MENTAL HEALTH THAT HAS CAUSED THIS CASCADE OF PROBLEMS.
Young women who calorie counted to keep slim and relied on diet foods and beverages that adversely affected their gut microbiome are now overweight and locked into a flawed system that focuses on calories rather than nutrients. These women are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes, a long-term condition that can lead to many disabling conditions such as kidney failure and limb amputation.
If they get pregnant the excess fat layer causes extra complications as it becomes more difficult to monitor foetal heartbeat and epidurals are more difficult to site. Add in the type 2 diabetes and you have extra monitoring of mum and baby to add to the midwives’ list of things to do.
The same is the case with men, but obviously without the pregnancy, but poor nutrient health will have an adverse effect on mental and physical health, including fertility.
So now we have young parents who themselves are reliant on UPFs and barely know how to cook a basic meal raising the next generation. And on it goes……
BUT WE DO HAVE A CHOICE.
Yes, food manufacturers could and should do better.
Yes, supermarkets could and should do better.
Yes, we could spend a lot of time arguing about legislation and UPF tax but there is a much simpler solution…..
You can CHOOSE to buy simple, raw ingredients and just GET COOKING.
Use your spending power to support local, British food producers and farmers, rather than the multi billion pound corporations that profit from UPFs.