The Truth About Your Food
As with the banking industry, the Russian political system, and the romantic liaisons in Coronation Street, all is not as it seems in the world of food and drink.
Misnomers and confusing labels have been with us for generations—at least since our hungry ancestors devoured the first hamburger (with no actual ham in it) and gobbled down the first hot dog (with no actual dog in it).
And how many fried chicken shops in your area claim to be “world famous” or “the best”? (Wouldn’t you think being so good might allow them to upgrade to some cleaner signs and menus?)
What a food seller chooses to call his product or how he chooses to advertise it has always been as much a matter of fiction and marketing as anything else. And everybody’s in on the joke.
Nobody believes that the man from Del Monte is really touring the world personally testing every fruit crop. Or that Aunt Bessie is slaving over a hot Aga in her country kitchen to bring you her famous Yorkshire puddings. Or that there’s a salty, bearded captain with a crew of happy children overseeing the day’s catch of fish for Bird’s Eye.
These silly marketing claims and characters are just part of the commercial spin of modern life, and if they make one box of frozen fish sticks look somehow more appealing than the next, so be it.
False health claims
But the hype and the spin get a little more serious—and a lot more unfair—when food starts to carry words that make one food seem “healthier” than another. Words and phrases like “lower in fat” or “all natural” or “multigrain” sound very appealing. Who wouldn’t choose the all-natural multigrain product that’s lower in fat?
The problem is, none of these words and phrases really mean anything. The food that’s “lower in fat” simply has less fat than the original version of the product—the “lower in fat” version is probably still bulging with unnecessary calories. (And as you’ll learn in the coming chapters, the type of fat you’re eating matters more than the amount.)
“All natural”? So are crude oil, snake venom, and botulism, but I wouldn’t want to pay to eat any of those. And “multigrain” means nothing more than “made from more than one grain”—it sounds healthy, but if all those many grains have been stripped of their fibre and nutrients, you might as well be eating a teaspoon of pure sugar.
And therein lies the rub—and the reason for this book.
While the government has made some significant strides in getting nutritional information to the public—like requiring food packaging to carry nutrition labels—there’s still so much room for obfuscation and outright mendacity that knowing what’s in our food is never a certainty.
Why food is different today
One in four British adults are now obese. How is this possible? You might say it’s because we’ve all stopped exercising—except, there’s a Fitness First or a Virgin Active in every town in the country and a JD Sports on every high street.
You might say it’s because we stopped watching what we eat — except that on any given week, half of the best-sellers on Amazon are diet or cookbooks.
You might say it’s because we all just stopped caring — except that liposuction and gastric band surgery are endemic. And you know and I know that the two most common phrases in the English lexicon are “I’m trying to watch my weight” and “Does this make me look fat?”
The fattest nation in Europe
Unfortunately, a recent report by the EU bestowed upon Britain the honour of the fattest nation in Europe. The information released by the European Commission has shown that 23.9 percent of British women are obese, the highest rate in Europe.
British male’s came in second place with 22 percent of the population classed as obese — losing out to Malta who hold the highest male obesity rate — but taking the European obesity crown overall. So what’s causing all this weight gain? Did all our stomachs get larger or our mouths expand? Of course not. We haven’t changed. The food has changed.
We’re supersizing our lives. Of course we want to be smart with our money, especially in tough times. So of course when we see the word “value,” especially as it pertains to a “meal,” we’re going to want to go for it.
Supersizing it at your local fast-food restaurant gives you an average of 73 per cent more calories for a mere 17 percent more in cost. Sounds like a bargain, until you realise that you don’t need the 73 percent more calories!
We’re eating things our bodies aren’t supposed to eat. A generation ago, it was hard for manufacturers to create baked goods that would last. Most require oils, and oil runs and leaks at room temperature.
But since the 1960s, manufacturers have been baking with—and restaurants have been frying with—something called “trans fat.” Trans fat is cheap and effective: It makes crisps crispier and biscuits tastier; and it lets cooks fry pound after pound of chips without smoking up their kitchens.
But trans fat has been shown to have a horrific effect on our bodies: It raises our LDL (bad) cholesterol, lowers our HDL (good) cholesterol, and increases our risk of heart disease and obesity. (If you see the words “partially hydrogenated” on the list of ingredients, it’s trans fat.)
We’re consuming way too much hidden sugar. While we are actually buying less sugar in bags and putting less in our tea, a recent report found that over the last 30 years food manufacturers have doubled the amount of sugar they add to products.
The sweet stuff is linked to obesity, bad teeth, diabetes, accelerated ageing and heart disease. Researchers from the University of Cambridge found that obese people dramatically underestimate the amount of sugar they consume each day.
Some consumed as much as 207 grams, which is nearly 52 spoonfuls and four times the guideline daily amount. And most of it is hidden in everyday foods.
The result of all this manipulation is that we absorb more calories than would have been humanly possible a few decades ago. Our food and drink are so calorie-dense that it’s hard to eat healthily.
And the way that foods are sold, in shops and restaurants, has made smart nutritional choices harder and harder to make.
That’s why Eat This, Not That! is such an invaluable resource for those who want to eat their favourite foods and not be ambushed by hidden fat, sugar, and calories.
Buy Eat This, Not that! now or read another exclusive preview from the book on 10 things you should eat every day.