My food history # 10 – 1990s – combining ‘friendly’ food with ‘healthy’ food makes a bland basic (yet healthy) diet

Photo 2-3-18, 12 28 11 pm
Bread, rice, pasta, oats, potatoes, rolled/puffed wholegrain cereals become the base foods of meals in my longer-term diet. Photo by Leonie Elizabeth 01 March 2018.

Following my nutrition studies and some sideline research, I made changes to my diet:

  1. Basic foods: After in-depth nutrient analyses of RPAH ‘friendly’ foods (1), especially those my own family were reaching for, I concluded:

    • bland foods of plain rice, pasta, potatoes, oats, bread and breakfast cereals were a sound base for my growing children being high in readily available complex-carbohydrates (starch) for energy needs and are moderate in protein;
    • to this sound base, moderate levels of fruit, vegetables and foods higher in protein (milk, legumes, meat, eggs and fish) were rich in micro-nutrients and would provide a balanced, nutritionally-sound diet;
    • small amounts of added fats and sugar made the diet more palatable and socially acceptable;
    • this had been our family diet since the RPAH protocol with my nutrient analysis being an exercise in giving me confidence it was balanced and healthy, similar to that depicted as the Healthy Eating Pyramid (2); albeit our diet had more emphasis on foods high in starch and less on fruit.
  2. Energy Density for weight control: For myself, conscious of avoiding weight gain, I steered my diet to water-based cooked foods (oats, rice, pasta, potatoes) which are much lower in energy density than dry high-starch foods (bread, breakfast cereals, crackers) – although the latter became ‘go-to’ foods when travelling or when busy. I found water-based starchy foods filling and staved off hunger for hours.
  3. Glycaemic index: I latched onto the glycaemic index (GI), increasing legumes of red-kidney beans, chick-peas, lentils (low GI); including barley in soups and stews (low GI); had cooked oats as my main breakfast food (moderate GI); and ate more pasta (moderate GI) and less bread. However, there were aspects of GI theories I was wary of. Most initial testing was on young healthy adults after an overnight fast on single foods (3). Testing on older adults, after mixed meals, or in various activity patterns was scarce. Much later on I would do my own self-testing of these effects. I was also conflicted by GI lists showing some high sugar or high fat foods with low/moderate GI (4). I was concerned people could fixate on GI as the aspect to aim for, and ignore the overall diet these foods may have.
  4. Soluble fibre: I steered my diet to foods high in soluble fibre (oats, legumes, pears, carrots, apples) over foods high in insoluble fibre (eg wheat bran) as soluble fibre was shown to lower cholesterol, and had a slower glycaemic response and other benefits. I will expand on these differences in a future post.
  5. Protein for weight control: Initial weight loss on a calorie-restricted diet is  predominantly water loss as the body depletes glycogen stores. ‘Protein’ was being promoted as supposedly a help to off-set this effect and also helpful for satiety reasons. In the 1990s and 2000s, I did ensure I included high ‘protein’ foods at each meal, although I grew to detest the term ‘protein’ to describe foods. Protein is a macronutrient, not a food. I will expand on this in future posts.
  6. Oils and fats: since my father’s heart attack and dietary recommendations given in 1969 I had been avoiding butter, cream and ate little red meat. My parents switched to PUFA safflower and sunflower oils, and soft margarine. I too used those initially. From 1983 I had followed a Pritikin-style diet which restricted all fats and oils but I did not impose that strictness on the family. In a sideline to my nutrition studies I learned of refining processes to make vegetable oils including hexane used as a solvent (6); the fact that PUFA oils (being prone to oxidation if heated repeatedly to high temperatures) could supposedly promote inflammatory responses in the body; and hydrogenation of oils (to harden them to make margarine) produced trans-fats as a bi-product. There was growing evidence trans-fat could be a risk factor for heart disease. However, I also read minuscule amounts of hexane were left in food oils; oxidation of oils was less for MUFA than PUFA; and trans-fat risk was acknowledged early in Australia with margarines mainly free since mid 1990s (4) as manufacturers began using a different processing technique. There is still trans fats in deep-fried foods and processed foods (5), but as a family we had little of those and I had none. After more reading and queries to numerous food manufacturers on their processing techniques, I switched the family oil to canola (which is low in salicylates), never used the oil twice, disposing of it after a single use; and I found a margarine free of anti-oxidants and trans-fats.

Throughout the 1990s I was healthy, had remarkably low cholesterol levels, and by five years after the birth of my fourth child at age 39, I had lost the kilograms gained during my pregnancy years, clocking in at BMI 22.3, the weight I had been at age 21.

However, as the years went on, I became sucked into changing my diet due to varying health claims and the pressure of social trends. I also experienced some life catastrophes.

Some slow ticking time bombs began emerging …

This is a series of posts on my food history from my childhood up until 2013.

My food history # 1 – My childhood diet – Late 1950s, early 1960s
My food history # 2 – Mid 1960s – First nutrition lessons
My food history # 3 – Late 1960s – Times are a-changing
My food history # 4 – Critical moments – my father
My food history # 5 – Fit 1970s – fibre – fruit – free of sugar
My food history # 6 – 1980s – Critical moments – a health scare – hypertension
My food history # 7 (part 1) – 1980s – Food Sensitivities – shattered ideals of healthy food
My food history # 7 (part 2) – 1980s – Food sensitivities – proving the culprit foods
My food history # 7 (part 3) – 1980s – Food sensitivities – hypertension & biogenic amines
My food history # 8 – The 1980s Healthy Eating Pyramid
My food history # 9 – The 1990s Nutrition studies – low GI – lipoproteins
My food history # 10 – 1990s combining ‘friendly’ with ‘healthy’ – a bland yet healthy diet
My food history # 11 – The 2000s – slow ticking time bombs
My food history # 12 – Critical events and life catastrophes
Disclaimer: Nothing in this article or on this website should be taken as medical or dietary advice. Anyone reading any information provided within should seek advice from their own medical practitioner for any issue, disease, illness or health-related problem they may have. Always seek your own advice from a medical practitioner or dietitian before changing your own diet.

References and notes:

(1) Royal Prince Alfred Hospital (Sydney) Exclusion Diet protocol.

(2) Healthy Eating Pyramid. Nutrition Australia

(3) Wolever TS; Vorster HH, Bjork I, Brand-Miller J, et al: Determination of the glycaemic index of foods: interlaboratory study.  European Journal of Clinical Nutrition 57, 475-482 (2003)

(4) Foster Powell K, Holt SHA, Nrand-Miller J: International Table of glycaemic index and glycaemic load values 2002. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 76, Issue 1, 1 July 2002, Pages 5-56.

(5) Clifton PM, Keogh JB, Noakes M: Trans fatty acids in Adipose Tissue and the Food Supply Are Associated with Myocardial Infarction. The Journal of Nutrition, Volume 134, Issue 4, 1 April 2004, pages 874-879

(6) Steps in Oil Processing. Canola Council of Canada.

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