For the everyday cook time is nutrition. For the industrial cook time is money.
Few can dispute that Europe, like so many other global regions, is facing an unprecedented rise in chronic food related diseases. What Europeans, like many other populations both in the developed and developing world, are beginning to fear and become increasingly affected by is the rise in cardio-vascular disease, hyper-tension, food related cancers, diabetes and obesity.
Consider these statements:
Worldwide obesity rates have almost doubled since 1980. The epidemic of diabetes, which is closely associated with obesity and urbanization, has skyrocketed in rich and poor countries alike. This is a world in which more than 40 million pre-school children are obese or overweight. Dr Margaret Chan, Director of World Health Organisation, 2011.
Of the 57 million global deaths in 2008, 36 million, or 63%, were due to NCDs, principally cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, cancers and chronic respiratory diseases. WHO, Global status report on non-communicable diseases 2010.
According to the data, the absolute number of diabetics in the EU-27 will rise from approximately 33 million in 2010 to 38 million in 2030. In 2010, approximately 9% of the adult (20-79 years) EU-27 population was diabetic. IDF (International Diabetes Federation).
Although experts refer to them either as “chronic food related illnesses” or “non-communicable diseases” perhaps a more easily understood term would be “modern malnutrition”, for as with traditional malnutrition, these diseases are caused by the diet many are eating today. As with traditional malnutrition these diseases are debilitating, potentially lethal and are related, in large part, to deficiencies in our diet. To demonstrate this assertion a comparison between traditional malnutrition and modern malnutrition is helpful.
In the past malnutrition took the form of nutrient deficiencies caused by hunger, poverty and the lack of a balanced diet. It manifested itself in the form of, inter alia, scurvy, beriberi, pellagra and rickets. It was thanks to scientific endeavours at the turn of the twentieth century that we are now able to affirm with scientific certainty what causes these debilitating diseases. In the case of scurvy it is a lack of vitamin C, in the case of beriberi a lack of vitamin B1 (thiamine), in the case of pellagra a lack of Vitamin B3 (niacin) and in the case of rickets a lack of Vitamin D and calcium. Happily, modern populations now know what causes these diseases and how we can prevent or treat them. The best cure being a return to a balanced, nutrient dense and varied diet.
Sadly, the same can not be said of modern malnutrition. We are still grappling with the exact causes of modern malnutrition and how it can be prevented, limited and reversed. Attempts to date have been to single out individual groups of natural foods that have traditionally formed an essential part of mankind’s diet. Saturated animal and vegetable fats, salt, red meats, dairy products or grains have all been singled out for derision. The fact that rates of modern malnutrition are not decreasing suggests that singling out individual branches of our traditional omnivorous diet is flawed and we need to look elsewhere for the cause of the rapid increase in hitherto rare food related diseases.
We can say, with absolute certainty, that earlier European populations never ate novel, patented foods. Chronic food related diseases, in the past, existed but they were rare amongst the general population. Modern European populations are eating ever more novel ingredients and incidents of modern malnutrition amongst the general population is becoming increasingly common. The one thing that European populations never ate – and what modern European populations are eating ever more of – are highly refined convenience foods laced with novel ingredients. The trail leads us to invented, novel foods. Consider, by way of example, the picture below.
It was taken by Peter Menzel and published in his book “Hungry Planet: What the World Eats”. The picture is of the Bainton family in the UK. They are fairly representative of most families in the UK today and are a fair reflection of what the general population in the UK will purchase and consume during the course of one week. Around 80% of their purchases are convenience packaged foods with the remaining 20% of their purchases being fresh produce. The packaged, convenience foods, which forms the bulk of the food consumed during the course of the week, will contain a high percentage of novel foods and ingredients their ancestors would not, indeed could not, have consumed – be it in the form of new seed oils (rapeseed), new flavourings, new sugars or new chemical preservatives.
Could it be that the real cause of modern malnutrition is not traditional, natural saturated fats, or salt, or grains, or dairy, or red meats, or even (dare one suggest) gluttony but new, invented, patented foods of which there are literally hundreds on the market today and which are forming an ever larger percentage of our diet? Novel foods are so common and form such a substantial part of what used to be our traditional diet that the food sleuth trying to pin-point the causes of modern malnutrition has erroneously focused all their efforts on singling out one branch of our natural, traditional diet and falsely accusing it of our current malaise. Over the past couple of decades we have witnessed the migration of novel foods from the laboratory into all of our traditional, natural foods – be it fats, grains, sugars, salts, dairy, meat and/or vegetables. There they have enmeshed themselves so thoroughly they have confounded scientific endeavours to identify the cause of our current malaise.
Although the link has yet to be proved, although food scientists working on novel ingredients will make every attempt to deny the assertion that novel foods are aggravating modern malnutrition, the everyday cook does not need to use any novel ingredients in their cooking.
Embrace traditional ingredients of which there are hundreds of thousands available. Avoid, as much as possible, novel foods and ingredients. If you feel uncertain do not worry. Master in the Kitchen assesses each and every ingredient, food and dish listed in its recipes to ensure that they are of sound provenance, safe and of nutritional value.