Food’s alleged health benefits make it more than a mouthful

Food’s alleged health benefits make it more than a mouthful

THE writer Michael Pollan has a simple rule about food – eat food your grandmother would recognise. That means eating stuff that has been picked, killed, milled, fished, fermented or left on a windowsill to rise. Food manufacturers have a different rule – eat foods your personal trainer recognises. That means eating stuff that has been fortified, clarified, peppered with active ingredients and borrowed from ancient texts.

Since Popeye cracked his first can of spinach, food has become a fast fix for troubled bodies. It no longer just has to taste good, it has to perform and that performance is usually about solving medical problems.

Functional foods have been performing miracles in health food shops for a while but they’ve gone mainstream. In fact, a stroll through the supermarket aisles is a bit like visiting the chemist: who knew there were so many maladies, and so many treatments for them?

Take the refrigerator aisle. Here, there is a range of margarines that mimic statins. There’s a product that “actively lowers cholesterol” and a range of other brands with names that suggest your heart won’t survive the shopping expedition without them.

Also in the chilled section is a range of yoghurts that may (or may not) fix your digestion, and there’s a new range of juices, teas and performance waters that will sort you in a way orange juice never could. One that particularly caught my eye claims to give you “the tools to rejuvenate your body from the inside out” and tastes like the stuff you drink before a colonoscopy.

By the time you get to the milk cabinet, you’re ready to get smart about your calcium regime. There are milks that are “smarter” and “physical”, and one that “feels the difference”. There a milk that’s “easy to digest”, one that’s “heart active” and another that “gently lowers cholesterol”. And that makes you wonder whether it’s better to go with the margarine that actively lowers cholesterol or milk that does it gently.

All through the aisles there are suggestions that food is really medicine in a jar. Snacks are smart or on-the-go nutrition; teas detox you; coconut water has five key electrolytes you never knew you needed; cereals will either solve your heart condition or get you to the toilet on time. In the bread aisle one maker has a loaf for every ailment.

By the time you get to aisle eight, you’ve pretty well solved all your medical complaints. The food in your trolley will not only cure disease, it will ease discomfort and prep you for a mean session with your personal trainer.

Have you forgotten anything? Well, if you have, you haven’t been getting enough ginkgo biloba, so back to the tea aisle for some memory boosting beverage.

If you’ve been paying attention to these food-aceuticals, you’ll have noticed there are two sorts of functional foods. There are the drones – oats, Omega 3 and probiotics – that do the heavy lifting in old-fashioned products and there are the superstars: kale, quinoa, acai, ginkgo biloba, black cohosh, quercetin, guarana, chia, and any number of ingredients that sound like they come from a Shanghai shop reeking of rotting sharks.

If you’re a follower, you’ll also know that there are the fashionistas of functional food and, this year, the new stars include buffalo berries, beluga lentils, salsify and teff.

The only substance you won’t find putting on a performance for you is snake oil. But it’s there, all around you. Indeed one of the early studies of food health claims by the Euro- pean Food Safety Authority rejected 80 per cent of the 900 claims. But which 80 per cent is bogus?

The only way to discover which foods will perform for you is to imagine your grandmother walking through the supermarket. What would she think of the food? What would she think of us?

I suspect she would call us a bunch of sick pussies, who should eat their greens and think of the starving children in India.


Source: The Australian


Comment: What a fabulous article! We totally support this viewpoint and the playing on health fears, plus the ‘prescriptive’ attitude we have learnt from the health system.

Yet, of course, there is a core of truth in all this… rather like the internet we must ‘digest’ the information and come to a way to make this work for us – a little like grandmother.