Food is not the enemyFrequently when speaking to patients and reading magazines I see and read lots of worrying things in regards to peoples perception of food.  As I frequently tell my patients “food is not the enemy”. Yes we have an obesity crisis on our hands, but it is a multi-faceted problem, it isn’t our food’s fault. While this topic requires a thesis to go into properly I’ll just skim through my views on the issues.  Please note when I talk about food in general, I mean fresh foods, not takeaway or anything from a can.

Rice as been the staple of Asia’s diet for a millennium,  we used to be told that rice was better than wheat, but now one rice is better than the other and white rice is “bad”.  Celiac’s and gluten intolerance’s are sky-rocketing (due to wheat becoming so genetically-modified) so now wheat and gluten is “bad”, and yet places like Italy and France have also had it as a staple and never had any major issues.  Suddenly carbohydrates are “bad”, we should eat only high protein diets and so on and so on.  My view is this, there is no such thing as bad food, simply put, some foods are more appropriate for one person than other and the same can be applied geographically. If you live in the north pole or cold climates like Russia in the winter, you can eat lots of fat as you need the Kilojoules to burn to stay warm, that diet though does not suite Australia at any time of year.  I myself am quite physically active, I simply cannot get enough energy from protein alone no matter what form or how much I eat of it, I need carbs.  Protein at the end of the day is a terrible source of energy when looked at chemically, yes its good for our brain etc, but does not supply anywhere near the ATP molecules when broken down like glucose, carbohydrates and fat.  There is a reason why when the body is burning energy it goes through a particular order and protein is last on the list.  Women seem to be the main ones who keep telling me that “carbs are bad”. Largely because they are concerned about their weight, so since protein is a poor source of energy, their body’s will burn through their fat stores instead. Great in the short term, but what about when your down to 4-5% body fat? where will your energy come from then? especially when your exercising a lot.  This often presents to me as patients with chronic deficiencies, as sure they have a great figure, but their body and mind is still lacking nourishment.  This often shows in menstrual and fertility issues along with emotional problems.

Along with this there is the population issue. There are so many of us, food production can’t keep up. As a result, almost everything is genetically modified, chickens are fed antibiotics to yield more meat and we end up having to digest all these additional additives. Similarly because crops are recycled so fast the soil never recovers and modern fruit and vegetables are simply not as nutrient rich as they once were. The human digestion simply can’t keep up, it takes our system hundreds probably a thousand years to evolve to deal with such changes in our food, and its all happened within our lifetime.  As a result, more and more people are reacting to these changes, so we can no longer tolerate wheat and so forth like we used to, which is causing lots of internal inflammation and digestive problems.  This is the price we pay for convenience, and it isn’t going to stop, we need to find ways to balance with these changes.

We went through a time when fat was the enemy, so everything turned fat free, but its sugar that is now the culprit. Again, natural sugar is not bad for you, it is a great source of short term energy, but when almost everything we eat is laden with heavily processed sugars, we start having problems. In Chinese Medicine, the sweet flavour nourishes the digestion, but too much sweet blocks it up and causes stagnations and pathologies like dampness and phlegm which cause a whole host of problems.  This too is slowly becoming an issue with salt, as it is added to almost everything in a can.

Similarly too we told frequently by the Medical community that certain foods should be avoided (avocados being the classic as they are “fatty”), but now suddenly we have “super foods”, which if you look closely contain most of the foods we were told to avoid a decade ago. why? because they majorly got it wrong, then suddenly needed a buzz word to repair the damage done. Once again proving everything is good for you, in moderation.

The last point I’d like to touch on is our mental state when eating. We live in a very negatively driven society, don’t do this, don’t eat that etc.  we are constantly bombarded with guilt over doing the wrong thing. As a result how many people really sit down and enjoy their food and don’t feel guilty over it? in fact how many people even take time to eat slowly and enjoy their food?  Research has shown that people who sit down, eat slowly and enjoy their food actually digest it better and stay fuller longer. In Asia, if you go and sit at a table on your own, someone will usually come and sit with you and eat. They won’t talk to you or anything, but its an unspoken rule that you shouldn’t sit and eat alone, its unhealthy.

So what can you take away at the end of this rant? again so much to cover in so little space, its only the tip of the iceberg. I feel people need to take the time to find what foods and diet best suit them, that matches their lifestyle, background and any medical conditions. Stay away from “Fads” and “celebrity diets”, its about balance, too much of anything is bad for you.  Balance is the only universal constant, and it can be applied to every facet of our lives, the age old saying holds true “We Are What We Eat”. Try and avoid heavily processed foods, take time to read the labels, you don’t have to go crazy and buy only organic etc, but try and eat fresh food. If you’ve ever grown your own vegetables you’ll know the massive difference in taste from what you buy in the supermarket.  The other facet to this whole issue is our sedentary lifestyle, but that is a separate article, and again, not our food’s fault.

Most importantly, I want people to stop viewing food as the enemy, it isn’t. It nourishes us, it gives us life and most importantly it should be enjoyed.