Scattered throughout the food and diet literature is the suggestion that to ensure optimal health we should return to the eating patterns before the 1960s. This concept was popularised by Michael Pollan. In his book In Defence of Food2 one of his food rules is ‘don’t eat anything your great-grandmother would not recognise as food’. His implied take-away message is we should ‘eat real, proper, simple food’ – not the kind from a packet. Others have suggested going back two generations further ‘eat the way your great-great-great-grandparents ate, and you’ll live a long life’ 3, or even to ‘eat at the table of your ancestors’.4
I wondered whether this could be true and whether I could prove it. To begin with, my great-great-great-grandparents number 32. To find if that statement was true, I would have to trace my family history to those 32 ancestors, understand their backgrounds, deduce what they probably ate, then contemplate if foods they were eating in the manner they were eating them was still available to me and could improve my own longevity.
This was an intriguing concept and I decided to investigate.
Food is such an integral part of our daily lives, you would think there would be a short, simple and universally accepted description. Alas, this is not so and there are several and somewhat conflicting definitions. Today there are over 120,000 (1) foods available world-wide and up to 40,000 choices in Australian supermarkets (2). Food-types range from basic food commodities to extractions from foods to products with a multitude of ingredients. This is a brief outline of the various definitions of the different foods and food product types, and descriptions of what is classified as food and what isn’t.
“Food” can be simply described as substances (including drinks) that nourish us, vehicles for nutrients of carbohydrate, fat, protein, vitamins, minerals, and trace elements. Nutrition textbooks define food in this manner, as substances ‘derived from plants or animals that can be taken into the body to yield energy and nutrients for the maintenance of life and the growth and repair of tissues’ (3).
The three important elements therefore that define a food from a nutritional perspective are: (1) it must contain at least one nutrient (2) it must perform at least one function of keeping us alive or healthy, and (3) it is derived from plants or animals – or in some cases fungi or insects. It follows that no substance can be defined as ‘food’ unless it satisfies those three elements.
Food regulations governing supply and food safety, however, have a broader sweep and describe ‘food’ as ‘anything that is intended or offered for human consumption’ (4), which can include animals, plants, prepared or partly prepared; ingredients; additives; anything used in its preparation; anything coming in contact with that substance, such as processing aids; or chewing gum (5-7). In other words, anything edible.
Therefore, although from a supply perspective, ‘food’can be any substance that we can consume (all the items on supermarket shelves), not everything we consume as food or within foods is actually ‘food’ (from a nutritional perspective) as some foods, and some substances added to food, provide no nutrients, do not contribute to the primary function of food, or are not derived from plants or animals.
The year 2019 was a defining year for me, a year of growth …
After some major set-backs earlier in the decade I reinvented myself from 2014 onwards including returning to University and completing a Masters in Human Nutrition through Deakin University in October of last year, 2019. The course included a research component of four units. My research topic was Ultra-processed food and health outcomes. I also researched the Health Star Ratings, a nutrient-profiling system introduced in Australia in 2014. I am currently writing some papers form my research which is taking all my time and focus. After all that is finished I am planning to focus more on this blog to provide educational content.
One thing that this course has taught me is that science is evolving and nothing is set in stone as factual without controversy. The more I have learned, the more I know there is yet to know. The more expert I become in an area, the more I realize how in-expert I really am.
I have come to understand that there are so many unanswered questions, of how things pan out for public health initiatives, and for an individual. Even presuming individuals are humming along happily and healthily in good personal, financial and social situations (and not suffering from a personal crisis or trauma); there are still unanswered questions in regards to the current food environment we have today. I aim to explore these questions on my blog. Like a gardener, I intend to grow my knowledge and impart that to others.
My fields of interest are prevention of non-communicable diseases especially heart disease, type-2 diabetes and some cancers; food sensitivities; surviving the current food environment of excess food availability, and especially availability of ultra-processed foods; and constant social pressure to indulge with food. Moreover, I will explore the evidence of using diet and lifestyle to extend one’s health-span, not simply one’s lifespan.
That is my aim as I enter a decade of personal growth … it is never too late to be where you want to be.
Energy from food is one of our prime needs for survival. As well as oxygen and water, without energy from food we would die. Every cell in the body requires a continuous supply. The macro-nutrients carbohydrates, fats, and protein are the sources for energy. When the body uses these for energy, the bonds between the atoms break and energy is released. Energy is expended within the body as electrical energy such as in nerve impulses, kinetic energy such as muscle movement, chemical reactions such as synthesis of new molecules; or the energy can be liberated as heat. (1,2)