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We NEED to educate people

Recently, a friend of mine blogged and his thoughts whipped up quite an interesting exchange of opinions.

In short, he basically noted that in the days after Christmas, ‘everyone’ was moaning of coughs, colds, bad guts, headaches, tiredness, gas and feeling bloated, and he commented that he tries to tell people that they are stuffing themselves with junk, and that leaves them feeling ill, but he said ‘people get so easily offended’. Then he said ‘we need to educate people’ and this use of the word ‘need’ whipped up some very interesting feelings and thoughts.

Serving ego

Others felt the use of the word ‘need’ was an ego-driven emotion, “we need to educate people”, suggesting that he was holding some kind of higher moral ground. I have seen this discussion crop up a few times before…and I find this a very interesting topic. There certainly is an element of the health and fitness industry who take this moral stance, they tend to be young, male and stacked with bulging muscles (but not always fitting that precise stereotype!) and they often treat others with a somewhat condescending attitude. They do assume some kind of “I have a right to educate you, whether you asked it or not” as if having muscles and a 6-pack makes you a ‘better person’ than someone overweight or out of shape.

However, I actually do think that ‘we’ (those enjoying abundant good health) do ‘need’ to educate those with health challenges, we just have to do it without the ego, the attitude and without giving anyone the feeling that we are trying to take some kind of moral stance, judging them for the mistakes they may or may not have made.

I believe that many people unwittingly fail to understand that their food and lifestyle choices are hurting them. While no person should force their opinions on other people, perhaps there is a moral stance for sharing knowledge. I could say that I, personally, have figured out how to go from obese to lean and healthy, after 16 years of yo-yo dieting and 2 decades of addiction to smoking, drinking and eating sugar, and now I have that ‘knowledge’ gained through my life experience, would it not be selfish of me to keep it to myself? Should I not help others by sharing what I have learned along the way?

Of course, if they don’t want to hear it, then we shouldn’t preach to people. But I believe that often times, people don’t want to hear it because they don’t fully understand the consequences of their current actions. This then, is the crux of the whole discussion.

Now we could take this discussion in many directions.

  • We could discuss ‘the lipid hypothesis’, how the diet industry has demonised saturated fat from animal sources for 50 years as ‘the cause of global #1 killer heart disease’ – yet the entire time they have pushed that story, obesity and heart disease have been on the rise.
  • We could talk about the ‘low fat diet’ craze and how it’s been instrumental in leading to a massive increase in the amount of sugar in processed food.
  • We could talk about the rise in chemicals that are in our food, our homes, our cosmetics and much more.
  • We could talk about the rise in omega-6 fatty acids in our diet, compared to omega-3 fatty acids, and how that is harmful to our health, and how it’s being led by the use of cheap processed vegetable oils in processed food and the constant addition of grain to our diets – including grain-fed meat.

There are many topics we could talk about to help show the idea that consumers are engaging in dietary and lifestyle habits that are destroying their health, but they don’t know it – UNTIL it’s TOO LATE. But, we will cover all those other things another day, for today I want to talk about supermarkets – those ‘palaces of consumerism’ where the majority of people buy the majority of their food.

Supermarkets

I was talking to a chap the other day who was, many years ago, manager of a busy Tesco store in North London. We’re talking 1965. He and I did some calculations, looked at some square footage, and we realised that today, his entire store would fit into 2 aisles of a modern 21st Century Tesco supermarket. Just 2 aisles. shutterstock_150161552

I have written before that I think that 21st Century wealthy Westerners – that’s us folks, you and me, yes if you are using a computer or smartphone to read this online, then I am talking about YOU – are ‘spoilt BY choice’, not ‘spoilt for choice’.

See, we like to go into a supermarket and think “Gosh I’m spoilt for choice” as there are so many varieties of every product for us to choose from. There isn’t just 1 breakfast cereal, there are over 100 to choose from. Chocolate? Sugar frosted? Golden honey roasted? Cinnamon toasted? Multi-coloured? Golden crisps? Deliciously crunchy? Take your pick. There isn’t just ‘ice cream’, there must be 50 or 60 different ice creams. Mint Choc Chip, Hazelnut Swirl, Mars Bars Ice Cream, the list is endless. When I was a kid in the 1970’s, there was vanilla (Walls ice cream, in the brick shape, in a cardboard packet that opened out flat, do you remember?) and then raspberry ripple came out, all new and exciting, and there was chocolate, and posh people had Neapolitan which gave you 3 flavours in one go! But that was it! Now there must be 300 flavours of ice cream on sale around Britain today – we’ve gone from 3 to 300 in 40 years!

And so it is with every product – there are a dozen types of Baked Beans, some have spices, some have sausages included, some are low-salt. There are more types of sliced bread than you can shake a bread knife at, there are endless rolls and pastries and shaped bread products. The confectionary aisle in a modern supermarket is larger than the biggest sweet shop from 40 years ago, and the frozen veg aisle offers more choice than a greengrocers did back in the 70’s.

And so we are ‘spoilt for choice’. And I believe we are spoilt BY this choice. A large supermarket in the UK today will stock between 40,000 and 80,000 product lines, generally covering about 25,000 types of product. Firstly, I cannot begin to imagine how there are 25,000 products available. Assuming 10,000 of them are tea towels, bin liners, light bulbs and washing detergent, can we assume 15,000 lines of perishable food items? That’s obscene, I cannot possible think of 15,000 types of food! Even if you gave me all day, I could maybe write a list of 100 types of meat and fish and another 100 or 150 vegetables and fruits, and maybe 50 other foods – such as eggs and nuts and seeds. I cannot imagine my list ever exceeding 300 items, yet somehow, food manufacturers are offering us 15,000 types of so-called food products. We are living in ‘food overload’ and drowning in choice and plenitude, and it’s driving an obesity epidemic.

There are two lines of thought I want to pursue here.

1: More on this notion that we are ‘spoilt BY choice’

Some time ago, researchers proved that people eat more, in total calories, when more variety is available. shutterstock_144332548

They have demonstrated this in tests where 2 lines of people took turns to go into identical rooms, one at a time, and in Room A there was a bowl of Smarties all in one colour, and in Room B there was an identical bowl of Smarties, but in multiple colours. Almost every single person took MORE from the bowl offering multiple colours.

Then they tested the rooms again, with a large bowl of Smarties in one room, and a small bowl in the other room. Almost every single person took MORE from the LARGE bowl.

Such research has shown that when we have more (a big plate full) available, we eat more, and when we have more variety (lots of foods in one meal) we eat more. This is genetically programmed into us as a survival mechanism – if there is ‘plenty’ (seen as quantity, and variety – our eyes interpret multiple colours as ‘more available’) available, we gorge on it, to fill up in anticipation of times when there will be a lack (which would always naturally occur, in Mother Natures’ world, where there would always be periods of feast, and periods of famine). If you doubt the truth of this – try cooking a meal tomorrow of carrots. Nothing else, just pile your plate with carrots. See how hungry you are once you get after about 50% done eating them. Mono-meals are a great way to control appetite, hardly anyone overeats on mono-meals, even if the food is something sweet, like bananas or strawberries. Add cream to those strawberries, and plenty of people will overeat – see, the variety increases desire.

However, contrary to the natural world, in the wealthy modern human world, times of ‘lack’ (the famine) never come. The supermarket is always open, the home-delivered take-away is only ever a phone call away, the 24-hr drive-thru Mickey D’s is never far away…so many people overeat, constantly, every day, for decades on end.

I don’t have the research to hand, because I read about this a long time ago, but there are some references here that may help you:

http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/wordofmouth/2013/mar/12/how-taste-different-colours

http://www.behaviorlab.org/Papers/Numerosity.pdf

More choice leads to overeating.

Now, back to our supermarkets.

For every product line a supermarket stocks, the supermarket is paid a ‘listing fee’ by the manufacturer. So that cereal manufacturer is paying that supermarket a fee to give shelf space to its product. IT pays that fee for each and every product line the supermarket stocks. Now, this incentivizes the supermarket to run a bigger store and offer a greater variety of products. Yet we know, that when exposed to more choice, we are prone to ‘take more’ – so we spend more  money (their objective) and when we get home, we tend to engage in overeating.

See, again, more choice leads to overeating.

And overeating is leading to our current obesity problems.

And SO MANY of these thousands of product lines are highly processed foods, all with little fresh natural food, and most with added sugar, salt and artificial chemicals.

So we are overeating (too many calories overall – hello obesity epidemic) and we are eating too much sugar (hello increased Type-2 diabetes) and we are consuming too much processed food and too little fresh natural food (implications to low-nutrient diets and many, many associated health conditions). All of this troubles me greatly.

2: Health warnings on things we put in our mouths

Of those 40,000 to 80,000 products in British supermarkets, only a handful of those products carry a “Consume this and it might kill you” label – the cigarettes, cigars and tobacco. Nothing else carries such a warning. IMG_0796

Yet, if smoking a pack-a-day (20 smokes) every day for 30 years “might kill you”, what if you bought a packet of 20 custard creams every day for 30 years and ate the whole pack every day…what might that do to you? Could that kill you? I believe it could. I believe 20 sugary biscuits every day would damage your health as much over 30 or 40 years, as 20 cigarettes per day.

With the cigarettes, you run a high risk of causing lung cancer, emphysema, asthma and other lung conditions…and with the biscuits you run a high risk of causing heart disease, not to mention obesity, Type-2 diabetes and numerous other problems associated with obesity and metabolic syndrome.

And what if you bought a litre of gin every day for 30 years and drank the whole bottle, every day? Could that kill you? I believe it could, probably quicker than the cigarettes or the sugary biscuits.

Yet the packet of custard creams and the bottle of gin don’t carry the same health warning that the cigarettes do. Why?

Hear this argument on video – http://youtu.be/gDZ9_sfhRao

So sugary foods, alcoholic drinks and highly processed junk foods don’t carry any health warnings, and in fact there is little restriction on the way these foods can be marketed – sugary confectionary and junk food is marketed directly to OUR CHILDREN!! Yet based on how I present this argument here, don’t you think they should control the marketing of these products, and print health warnings on these foods and drinks? What about drinks like cola? One single can of Coke exceeds the recommended daily intake of refined sugar (which personally, I think should be ZERO – you don’t need any of that stuff, it’s a poison in my opinion! See here – https://mothernaturesdiet.me/2014/12/23/white-refined-sugar-is-an-anti-nutrient/ ) so drinking a can of Coke per day, that should carry a health warning, right, because if you drank 1 or 2 cans per day EVERY DAY, as many people do, well over many years that would likely exact a punishing toll on your health.

You see, few people look at these things the way I do. I see cigarettes, alcohol, sugar and junk food on a sort of ‘sliding scale’ of badness. If you only engage in a tiny little bit of one of these things, then you won’t ever really notice any detrimental effects on your health.

  • If you smoked 1 single cigarette every 10 years then that will probably never hurt you
  • And if you eat 1 single custard cream every 10 years, it really won’t do you any harm
  • If you drink one single shot of gin every 10 years then I’m sure it’s not going to kill you

So you see, there is a middle ground, right? Somewhere between 1 in 10 years, and a pack of 20-a-day, there is a point somewhere, and once you cross that point, the damage to your health begins to add up.

And that’s how I see it as a sliding scale, where small amounts of these things are relatively harmless, but large amounts consumed regularly over many years, will very likely make you very ill and kill you.

Do you agree?

And if the amount of sugar in 20 custard creams, is the same in a large chocolate trifle, then maybe the trifle should carry a “might kill you” warning too?

Now, if we extend this logic further, then half the so-called food in the supermarket needs to carry those warnings.

  • Everything in the biscuit aisle
  • The confectionary aisle
  • The soft drinks aisle
  • The alcohol aisles
  • The cream cakes and boxed cakes
  • Half the baked goods, all those iced buns
  • The sugar-coasted cereals
  • The ice creams and frozen desserts
  • Crisps?
  • Snack bars?
  • Dairy?

Basically, half the products in the supermarket that are made to be eaten or drunk, have a serious deleterious effect on your health – and taken in extreme, will likely kill you. So I think they should ALL carry the kind of warnings that cigarettes carry.

BUT THEY DON’T.
ONLY the cigarettes.

And people, consumers, the population at large, TRUST the smiling faces of Tesco and Sainsbury’s, Morrison’s and ASDA, Lidl and Waitrose, that they are not killing us all for profit.

So people buy this stuff. They know that 1 custard cream or Bourbon or chocolate digestive won’t harm you much more than 1 cigarette, or 1 glass of wine, or 1 small beer, so they buy the custard creams, and eat 4 each day, then buy another pack the next week.

They buy the 12-pack cans of beer, 2 of them, and drink 4 each evening, then do the same next week.

They buy the bottle of gin, and a bottle of tonic to ‘water it down’.

They buy the chocolate trifle, in fact they buy one every week, for pudding as a treat at the weekend…after they have a Chinese take away.

And so it goes on.

They don’t understand my ‘sliding scale’. Most people have some ideas that “years of heavy smoking will give you lung cancer” and “too much fatty food and sweets will make you fat” and “too much booze will pickle your liver” but they completely fail to understand that it’s a sliding scale. They don’t realise that little amounts every day add up, and then those health complaints that plague most people from about mid-30’s onwards, those pesky signs of ageing that people spend so much money trying to hide, and those endless illnesses and feelings of fatigue that everyone hates, those are the signs of a body struggling from the inside out, because it’s being slowly poisoned by a tide of ingested crap, weakening cells and over-working the immune system day after day, year after year.

But these people want to be healthy, they want to be slim and feel confident about how they look, they want to be youthful and vibrant, whether it’s politically correct and socially normal or not they want to look thin and ‘sexy’, and they want to feel good, and they are fed up of feeling tired all the time, and they hate all those wretched coughs and colds they catch. Doctor bad news

But they don’t make the connection.

In their minds, they think “That stuff can’t be bad for you, it’s all over the country, they sell it everywhere, if it was bad for you ‘they’ wouldn’t be allowed to sell it, ‘they’ would have proved it’s bad for us and taken it out of the supermarkets by now.”

So they keep eating.

Then at 59, obese, on statins, blood pressure tablets, diabetic meds and suffering sleep apnoea, the Dr says “I’m sorry, Mr Davis, we’ve found a mass on your scan, we need to do more tests.” and that’s when they are all tears, and families are ripped apart, hearts are broken, it’s all wailing and gnashing teeth and “Why me, it’s not fucking fair, this bastard cancer” and everyone says “Why don’t ‘they’ do more to cure this bastard disease that ruins so many lives?”

And you might thing I’m making this up, but this is life in the UK today. I see it every day, and it breaks my heart, every day.

Scientists far and wide often quote that around 50% of all cancers, and higher rates of heart disease, are down to lifestyle factors including diet – and I believe the figures are much higher. Now I’m not naïve, I know there are other causes of heart disease and cancer, and I know some is genetic and pretty much completely unavoidable, but after 25 years of observing, thinking, reading and trying out lifestyle changes on myself, I utterly wholly believe that around 75% of ALL heart disease and cancer is down to dietary, lifestyle and environmental factors, and if we can share the knowledge and get people to understand this reality, then we might be able to have some impact…10, 20, 30 or 40 years from now.

Full circle

So where did this post begin? Well, a lot of people out there don’t want to hear it, when ‘health freaks’ like my friend and I spout on about clean eating and clean living and nutrition and exercise. Yeah, people like me, we shouldn’t preach to people, we shouldn’t push our views too hard. As I said at the start – “Of course, if they don’t want to hear it, then we shouldn’t preach to people. But I believe that often times, people don’t want to hear it because they don’t fully understand the consequences of their current actions.”

Robb Wolf, one of my heroes, wrote the excellent line (in explanation of the fact that 25% of people he comes across just refuse to modify their behaviour no matter how hard he tries to explain things to them) “If you insist on being helpless, your needs will exceed my abilities to help you, and I will move on to the other 75% who want to succeed.” I love that line. I know we can’t help everyone.

A lot of people plain tell me to just piss off, they tell me to poke my unwelcome advice where the sun don’t shine.

I have met a lot of people who laugh about quitting smoking, baulk at the idea of not drinking and poke fun at my healthy eating habits.

They think I am silly, they think healthy eating is boring and stupid.

They laugh at people like me.

Right up til the day they get cancer.

Then I don’t see anyone laughing.

 

Sure, people might not WANT to hear what us health freaks have to say, but a lot of people NEED to hear it, and we NEED to tell them.

 

 

Most breakfast cereals are bad for kids – too much sugar: http://www.nhs.uk/news/2012/02February/Pages/breakfast-cereals-still-too-high-in-sugar.aspx

 

Image credit: Shutterstock.com/gallery-938875p1.html Kunal Mehta

 

3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Sometimes when I talk about new food facts, people get offended (as if Im talking bad about them). Seeming preachy is counter productive. Bottom line is, bad habbits are hard to break I guess. Some people are just set in their ways. All I can do is worry about myself and others willing to learn. Super thorough post sir!

    January 1, 2015
    • Hi Andrew,
      It’s New Year’s Day – Happy New Year!
      Thanks, yes, I try not to sound ‘preachy’ for sure…and I try my best to ‘lead by example’, that’s the best way!
      All the best to you!
      Karl

      January 1, 2015
  2. I couldnt afree more. Well said.

    January 2, 2015

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