By Michael Smith
A lot of today’s dietary information is monetised and its association with fashion trends make it seem frivolous. However, our relationship to food is part of the key to healthy, fulfilled lives. But, what is optimal food and how will the UK leaving the EU on the 31st of January 2020 affect what we eat?
By understanding how our ancestors ate we can estimate what food is good for us and what food is not. I use terminology like ‘ancestral’ as a loose guideline to characterise the period that lasted from 2.5 million years ago until the agricultural revolution around 10,000 years B.C., since eating with ancestral wisdom is less rigid than the paleo diet. The ancestral diet is however a simple frameworkbased on intuition, which favours naturally occurring foods that early humans are likely to have consumed when they existed as hunter-gatherer tribes. These tribes likely consumed organic vegetation and animal meats when and where they were available. A sparse animal-based diet would have been likely during winter in temperate climates and nature would have encouraged the seasonal consumption of nutritious, brightly coloured berries.
Food marketers appeal to the same biological hardwiring in us today when they stock supermarket shelves with sugary foods decorated in vivid colours. Glucose that was once derived from natural flora in order to fatten our ancient ancestors for winter is now available year-round in the form of processed carbohydrates. The problem with this is that 2.5 million years is not long enough for human DNA to change much. In-fact, the human genetic pattern has altered by less than 0.02% in the last 40 thousand years. This means that we now eat processed foods and food groups that our biology has not yet had time to adapt to.
Now the UK Government says that after leaving the EU there may be a temporary shortage of choices in fresh fruits and vegetables that have a low shelf life, especially when they are not in season in the UK. This means that most fruit and vegetables will have to be imported from countries outside the EU. The government expects that the UK will be able to grow more of its own produce in the adequate seasons.
However, the UK’s capacity to grow enough fruit and vegetables to meet the current demand remains under question. This landscape would seem to force us back into seasonal eating, but this is not the case as processed options will still be available all year round, moreover, offering the appeal of variety that previous organic options had.
Processed foods are mass produced to provide a form of immediate sustenance to the growing human population andthey are laced with unnatural chemicals that would not have been present in ancestral diets. As a rule of thumb, if ingredients are difficult to pronounce they should not be consumed. According to the Scottish Government our current food laws match EU standards, which are regarded by many as safer than those of the US. For example, German beer must be chemical free by law, whereas in the US chicken is known to be washed with chlorine and animals farmed for beef have been known to receive growth hormones; two things that are forbidden under EU regulations.
The Scottish Government also asserts that most of Scotland’s food law ‘comes from the EU making sure food that comes into the country is safe to eat and drink.’ However, the UK Government has stated that it ‘will have its own laws for the production, processing, labelling and trading of organic food and feed after Brexit.’ Thus, the quality of our food may be affected, especially if we import it from countries like the US.
The danger of such changes are that chemicals in food cause biochemical imbalances in the body, leading to intolerances including allergies, sicknesses, and auto immune disorders. Processed food will diminish vitality as it hinders the microbiome in which enzymes and naturally occurring gut bacteria function. Sugar-containing processed food puts the gut and skin at risk of bacterial, parasitic, and fungal infections. Such diseases lead to disrupted sleep, lack of mental clarity, and over-reliance on stimulants to combat the resultant fatigue. When food which is not compatible with the digestive system is consumed, it causes suppression of the immune system, leading to psychosomatic symptoms such as chronic fatigue syndrome. There is even evidence to suggest that some psychological disorders directly relate to modern diets.
The effects of industrialised food are evident in the book Nutrition and physical Degeneration by Dr Weston Price, which was first published in 1948 and is still revered today. This book is to nutrition what Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich is to self-development. Dr Price studied native cultures around the world before they came under western influence and found that when natives ate in accordance with their traditional ancestral diet, they generally remained in good health.
Fundamentally, eating in accordance with ancestral wisdom is a constant process of finding what works for the individual and it must be tailored to individual needs, but an eye should be kept out for obvious red flags. Refined sugar, white flour, table salt (sodium chloride), trans-fats, and hydrogenated vegetable oils, should be avoided. However, Celtic sea salt can generally be consumed more liberally, although those with high blood pressure should consult their doctor before making such changes. Fats and oils, like salt, are largely misunderstood. Oils such as organic olive oil (most olive oil comes from the EU) are generally beneficial, but it is important to note that heating fats to a high temperature changes their molecular structure and causes them to bind with the inside of the arteries. Rapeseed oil is one of the safer oils to use when cooking in this regard. Even if organic foodis slightly more expensive, health may increase for the same price as a coffee per day. Though the UK Government saysthat organic standards will continue to remain similar to the EU’s, and ‘Food and feed registered as organic in the EU will continue to be accepted as organic in the UK’, the EU ‘will decide whether to continue accepting food and feed registered in the UK as organic.’
Even today the benefits and efficiency of organic farming are disputed. Additionally, the aforementioned principles may not be commonly preached by general practitioners. Nor are they incorporated into modern educational curricula. Such institutions are designed to deliver knowledge that will support the needs and wants of the larger demographic who are likely to be disinterested in the dangers of industrialised food. But thankfully, more and more people are realising the importance of taking an interest in what they eat.
There will be a transition period where the UK will still follow EU rules, which is expected to last until December 2020 and Food Standards Scotland has said that it will work with the Scottish Government and the UK government to make sure our food remains protected.
But regardless of this, we should be concerned about where our food comes from by measure of what goes into it or goes on it while it is being processed. It would be just as unintelligent to fuel a high-endcar with lowest quality fuel that could be found and expect the car to perform to a high level as it would be to fuel our bodies with poor quality food and expect it to function well. We must be conscientious of our food amid the upcoming political changes, so that we can make decisions which will promote longevity in our lives and ensure a more respectful relationship with the food we eat.
Image Credit: The Telegraph