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An Unhealthy Obsession with Healthy Eating

By: Matthew Lucas

An Unhealthy Obsession with Healthy Eating

By Timo Topp


Isn’t it bizarre that we live in age with more information on food, nutrition and dieting than ever before and yet we are faced with an ever growing confusion as to what constitutes healthy eating? We have an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating. We have a misconception of what constitutes healthy eating when it is really very, very simple. In his fascinating and easy to read new book ‘In Defence of Food’ Michael Pollan states, ‘worrying so much about food can’t be very good for our health’. Science, the food industry and its marketing machine, journalism, Hollywood and its movie stars and the government have all played a part in creating mass confusion. Pollan goes on to say that ‘thirty years of nutritional advice has left us fatter, sicker and more poorly nourished, which is why we find ourselves in the predicament of a need for a whole new way of thinking about eating. In this article I share with you some of the concepts of this new book, combined with my own personal beliefs on health and healthy eating based on years of research, study and practice.


The Western Paradox

We are perplexed by the French Paradox but what of our own? We are an unhealthy population who are preoccupied with nutrition and diet and the idea of healthy eating but can’t seem to agree upon what that constitutes?


The French Paradox

How is it that the French seemingly enjoy unhealthy foods and don’t get fat? The French have a much healthier relationship with food than we do. In an interesting experiment, the French were asked to associate feelings with food. To Chocolate cake, the response was ‘celebration’. When the same questions were asked to Americans, the overwhelming response was ‘guilt’, the polar opposite response. This clearly demonstrates the difference in attitude towards food. Yes, the French eat foods much higher in calorie content but they tend to take a longer time to consume a smaller amount. When the French were asked when they stopped eating, they usually replied it was when they were satisfied.  When the Americans where quizzed, it was when their plates were empty, no matter the size of the plate!


The Western Diet

The Western Diet consists of processed foods. More specifically this means refined flour, canned and chemically preserved foods, hydrogenated vegetable oils and lots of added sugar, salt and fat. It is significantly lacking in fibre, fruits, vegetables and whole grains.


Processed Foods

Why are foods processed? In short, it is not primarily for your benefit. Processing gives food a greater longevity, so they can sit on the supermarket shelf for longer, making them more sellable to the consumer, thus profiting the food industry. Naturally greater longevity does add a certain convenience to us, as foods will not go off as quickly so we spend less time “hunting and gathering”, or as it’s known these days, preparing and shopping. The price of this convenience is poor quality food.



Many foods have tantilising health claims that lull you into thinking they are good for you. As a general rule any food that needs to claim health benefits is not healthy! Think about most breakfast cereals which are advertised with ‘fortified vitamins and minerals’. Why are they fortified? Because they have lost their nutritional value in the course of being processed and packaged, so they are forced to add the nutrition back, at an inferior, artificial level. Health authorities implemented policies to force millers to add B vitamins to refined flour, to account for a loss of nutrition. Then the marketing machine jumps onto a great idea of promoting the fact: “fortified with Vitamins!’


Lifestyle Diseases

As a result of a better standard of living and the elimination of many fatal infectious diseases by medical science, we are indeed living longer. However, there is an ever growing increase in a new wave of ‘lifestyle diseases’ that include obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and some cancers, all of which are preventable and related to diet and lifestyle. Interestingly, many isolated indigenous tribes and cultures do not suffer from these diseases. Yet when they are introduced to our way of living and eating, they soon follow. Even more interestingly, if they return to their indigenous way of life these symptoms soon subside when they revert to their traditional diet!


The Common Denominator

I am often asked, what is the best way to eat? High Carb, low carb, Atkins, low fat? The answer to this modern question can be found by stepping back to the 1930’s. A dentist by the name of Weston A Price (do a google on him), went looking for isolated populations not yet exposed to modern foods. He identified no single diet, or way of eating that promoted health but diets at complete odds with one another.  He found populations that thrived off sea foods, dairy meats, meat, fruits and grains. The Masai of Africa consumed virtually no plant food, subsisting off meat and milk. Eskimos lived off raw fish and blubber and seldom ate anything green. Although everywhere he went he noted a high value on seafood. He concluded the common denominator for good health, was to eat a traditional diet consisting of fresh, natural foods grown or caught from healthy, natural environments that were themselves, rich in nutrients.


Tradition versus Science

For thousands of years we have eaten foods which have been passed down through the generations and those traditions would not have lasted, if they did not make us healthy and strong. According to the laws of natural selection, we would simply have died out. However, now the sheer choice of food available to us and the influence of science and journalism have led us to stray from our cultural eating habits. Since we are now more confused then ever, are we better off with these new authorities telling us what to eat? People, who eat according to tradition and their culture, tend to be much healthier than people eating a Western diet.


The Theory of Everything

Forget calories, forget no carbs after 6pm, it is time to start focusing on food quality, on real, fresh, natural food. This sounds easy in principle, but it still may seem confusing without some simple guidelines. Eating this way represents the one and only rule to follow when it comes to food.



Rules for Discerning Real Food


Eat fresh, natural foods

Food should be a product of nature and not industry. Eat things they way they have come from the ground, tree or sea.



Read the food labels

An apple does not come with a label explaining its myriad of ingredients; it is an apple plain and simple. A pack of oats simply reads ‘oats’ as its ingredients. Processed, tinned, pre-packaged foods come with an amazing array of e-numbers, additives, colours, chemicals, words you cannot even pronounce let alone know what they do to your body! As a general rule, the more ingredients that are listed, the more processed a food is and the worse it is for you. This point is so important I specifically want to highlight:


·         Don’t eat foods with words that you cannot pronounce

·         Avoid E-numbers

·         The more ingredients, the worse the food is

·         Eat foods that do not come with food labels!


Eat Local foods and foods in season

The supermarket is full of foods that have spent a long time in storage and transportation. Your local green grocer, butcher and fish monger do not have the capacity to store as much produce and will generally buy from local producers. Therefore they have a higher turnover, which means the foods you buy there are more likely to have been locally grown and transported a shorter distance. Buy at farmer markets such as the one at Fox Studios or Bondi Junction.  On the same subject, foods that are not in season would have been grown a long way away and therefore stored and transported for long periods of time, contributing to inferior nutritional quality.


Grow your own

Are you serious! Who grows their own fruit and vegetables? Perhaps not in the city but it is not unheard of, after all that is the way we use to do it until the last hundred years. Even a small pot of tomatoes or some salad greens and herbs are easy to grow- and can make a difference.


Go Organic

Organic not only represents plants that have been grown without pesticides and fertilizers, or without antibiotics in animals. It is also an ideology of growing food in balance with nature that does not damage, deplete or create waste. Considerable research shows that foods grown organically are superior in quality. The processing and mass production of food represents an industrialisation of our food supply that has resulted in waste and a move away from nature. Any move away from nature, represents a move to a system out of balance and one that creates waste.

Organic foods also represent foods grown in healthy soils and animals raised in humane conditions, thus ensuring superior quality.


Don’t eat anything that does not rot

Fresh foods will go off in a matter of hours to days, with the exception of grains, seeds and nuts which are naturally designed to store energy for long periods of time. Processed foods take a much longer time to rot, because the microorganisms do not want to eat them. This is because even they know there is no nutrition in them!



Don’t eat anything your ancestors would not recognise

Thousand of new foods are introduced to our food supply every year. It’s time to go back to basics and eat foods our descendents have eaten for thousands of years before us.



A new way of thinking about food

It’s time to start thinking about food in a new way. Society is so disposed to thinking of food in terms of calories, fat and sugar content, carbs, fat and protein. The real concern is the Quality of the food you eat. You can buy a suit from Lowes, or you can buy one from Armani, both are suits but entirely different in quality.


Feel Full on Less

Fresh foods are full of fibre that helps to fill you up, plus they are full of the millions of micronutrients your body needs. You body will continue to feel hungry if it is not getting the nutrients it needs. Hence the position we find ourselves in, overfed but malnourished.




Despite the seemingly mass of confusion surrounding food, it really does boil down to a few very simple principles which are centered on eating real food, food that you recognise from nature that has not been interfered with by man. If you eat like this, you will be healthy and with health comes energy, vitality and a healthy physique. The search for utopia has been revealed. So go forth and eat fresh, raw, local, organic and natural. Everything will be just dandy.



Key points


  • The most important fact about food is not nutrient or calorie content but its degree of processing.


  • A diet rich in fruits and vegetables reduces your risk of dying from Western Lifestyle diseases.


  • Read food labels and avoid chemicals at all costs.


  • Organic foods represent an assurance of quality and of being chemical free, plus they are not just good for you, they are good for the environment too.


  • Choose Quality over Quantity. The better a food is the less of it you are likely to eat.


  • Enjoy more by eating slowly. Take time to STOP and eat sitting down in a quiet or social environment.




Added: 15-03-2010