Once upon a time nutrition wasn’t a controversial topic. We only ate foods from a plant, from the ground, or from an animal that had been treated well right up until its slaughter. Veggies, some seasonal fruit, sprouted grains and legumes, quality meat and fish, pastured dairy, farm-fresh eggs, herbs, spices, nuts, seeds and perhaps a little honey or some fresh dates to add sweetness to a homemade cake or custard.
No one felt the need to analyse their diet, count their calories, take a cocktail of supplements or read the nutrition facts. In fact, there were no nutrition facts because the food lacked packaging. No one was confused. Butter wasn’t considered healthy or unhealthy, fattening or metabolism-boosting, good nor bad. It was just butter and margarine didn’t exist.
Now, look at us. Diets thrust in our faces left, right and centre. Cereal boxes screaming out misleading health claims. Flavoured kinds of milk with 5 stars displayed proudly on the front of their colourful plastic cartons. Fat is bad, then good, then only good when it’s from plants, then only good when it comes from animals. You either belong to team “carb the f*** up’ or team ‘ketosis’. There seems no room for middle ground anymore. No room for common sense; is it real (food) or not real (pseudo food). In fact, we’ve lost common sense when it comes to food because we’ve been brought up with mistruths and manipulative advertising.
So how can we reclaim our past wisdom? How can we navigate the supermarket aisles with empowerment and not overwhelm? How can we defy the lies and outdated studies that have misled us all these years? First by taking responsibility, second by questioning everything ,and thirdly by stripping it right back to basics. Let’s delve into each point in more detail.
Taking Responsibility …
It would be nice if we could rely on health magazines, media nutritionists and government campaigns to point us in the right direction but the truth is that we can’t. It’s up to us to read the fine print, or alternatively, only buy foods that only come in a bit of wrapping for convenience, such as cauliflower halved and wrapped in glad wrap or a 500 g portion of mince contained in a plastic bag. We must ignore the health claims that aim to seduce us and get real about what we are putting in our mouths. Clever advertisers can make anything look healthy – it’s our job to look beyond the gloss, colour and green-washing.
Questioning Everything …
Unfortunately, this is what we have to do when everything is so conflicting. We can’t just accept that ‘all natural’ is 100% pure or that sugar-free is actually free of said ingredient. If we are following step #1 and taking responsibility for our health, then everything is up for question. Having a philosophy really helps. Is this food real? Has it come from the ground, a plant or a healthy animal? Has this food been processed? Has the process affected its nutrient bioavailability? If you have set non-negotiables, then a simple yes or no answer to the above questions will make it easy to decide what deserves a place in your trolley and what gets left behind.
Stripping It Back To Basics …
Finally, losing the temptation to complicate things is perhaps the easiest way to find common sense in a field plagued with deceptions. Forget macronutrient ratios or trying to isolate specific vitamins and minerals. Stop counting grams of fibre and calculating your daily energy needs. The JERF acronym may have become a bit of a cliché of late, with every second #cleaneater hashtagging it all over social media, but in all honesty, it is the easiest rule to live by. Single ingredients, lots of veggies, traditional foods, cooking from scratch and valuing quality over quantity.
Food is only as complex as we make it. So choose to keep it simple. Keep the ingredient list minimal, trust farmers more than factory-workers and always keep in mind how a food came to be on your plate. Stand strong in your personal food ethos and relish in the empowerment that accompanies having the upper hand against food companies that lie to you for their own profit and dietitians that deceive you in the name of commission.