Tuesday, February 25, 2014
Dietary components, natural ingredients, and missing the forest for the trees.
I'd like to talk a little bit about food.
The food that we eat today is different than that of our primordial ancestors. It doesn't have to be, but in a Western diet it usually is. Food is different because we genetically modify it, mass produce it, endow it with supernatural-like shelf lives, and add chemicals to it. Chemicals like azodicarbonamide, for instance, which Subway has recently taken out of their bread largely due to an online protest by concerned consumers.
In the information age it's difficult to ignore how our food has changed. People are concerned, and rightfully so I say, about what's in their food - about what they're putting into their bodies and on their table for their families. It's easier than ever to critique what industry and food producers incorporate into their foods, and I think this is a good thing.
Where it gets murky for me is the concept of a 'natural' ingredient. Branding slogans like "all natural" or "no artificial ingredients" are misleading to people, and I believe they are self-serving. Often, ingredients are considered natural, or 'healthy' (please note the quotations!), if their name can be pronounced - we've no doubt heard this from some bread and cold cuts companies who claim that they "make their products with ingredients that you can actually pronounce". It's as if the difficulty in pronunciating an ingredient has anything to do with it's nutritional value, potential toxicity or association with disease risk.
You know what else is 'natural', and easy to pronounce? Arsenic. Or how about lead? There are some other compounds that are natural and not very easy to pronounce, like epibatidine which is secreted by an Ecuadorian poison dart frog, which is also highly toxic.
If you have concerns about the food that you eat, then good for you. I'd fight for your right to know what's in the food you're eating any day. But if you're truly interested for the sake of your own health, not just to participate in an anti-industry, anti-synthetic compound crusade, the article above suggests starting with reducing 3 of the compounds in your diet that are associated with the highest chronic disease risk of all: sodium, fat and sugar. These are the leading 3 dietary components independently associated with chronic disease risk. So let's refocus our lens from a micro- to macro- level, and let's not miss the forest for the trees for disease risk.