• Jens Hannibal

Why relying on marketing messages is a bad idea if you care about what you eat

By Zoey Henderson

We take a look behind the scenes at some of the prevailing myths about some of the foods that are suppose to be particularly good for us. What most of us hear, is not the whole story, but rather what marketeers want us to know, so that they can sell more product and make more profit for their companies' shareholders.

In the early post WWII era, emerging industrial food science and mass marketing began double dating with convenience and choice to create a complicated web of emotions and social conditioning around the foods we eat. Like most in the Western world, we have enjoyed the riches of a global food system that brings us South African strawberries in November, coconut water available at the twist of a cap (no machete required), and a huge and growing range of food-like substance that are flavoured, shaped, formed and imagined to take over our dopamine system and make us crave more of those products.

This shift to a reliance of so much processed food (and the corporate behind it), is that diet led diseases, such as heart disease and Type 2 diabetes have become the top global killers. Foods that under a shiny veneer lack all nutritional value and a host of marketing terms such as ‘fresh’ ‘natural’ and ‘healthy’ enabling rather unhealthy and unnatural foods to be transformed into the desires of consumers.

The general rule

if a food shouts about its health credentials and boasts an ingredient list with unpronounceable components, it rarely will the best choice. The naked glory of a fresh piece of fruit or floret of broccoli is for the most part a testament to its nutritional value. The choice between unhealthy and healthful may seem simple, but what happens when the foods we eat and the reasons we eat them comes into question?

Fun fact about oranges

Vitamin C is synonymous with oranges and citrus fruit. This we were told was the best source to help beat those coughs and colds and support our immune system. Of course, eating fresh fruit, especially those containing Vitamin C, is undoubtedly good for you. However, it was the Florida Citrus Commission, back in the 1970’s that picked up a nutritional analysis study that showed the levels of Vitamin C in oranges and its isolation as an antioxidant. (1) It was then marketed to the world and woven into culture that oranges were the best source of Vitamin C. In fact, broccoli, kiwi and even peppers contain more vitamin C than an orange, yet the keen marketing eyes in Florida started a revolution that saw orange flavours, derivatives and products of all sorts claiming Vitamin C’s benefits. Poor team broccoli never had a chance.

Omega 3 doesn’t come from salmon

Our good friends in the Omega fatty acids family underwent a similar high-jacking. Omega 3 and 6 are essential fatty acids that our body needs for a host of processes. Salmon touted as the Omega 3 king does go some way to support the nutritional claims. Wild salmon consumes Omega 3 rich small fish and algae that seep into its cellular make up (2). The salmon is not born an Omega factory and so farmed salmon, fed biologically inferior food, inoculated with antibiotics and antifungals to support its unnatural living environment, make for salmon that produce far less Omega 3 and makes it less bio available. Farmed salmon has a higher inflammatory omega-6 fatty acid content, which is due to the corn and soy fed that is (the unnatural) part of feed to farmed salmon.

We are what we eat has eaten

In the words of Michael Pollan, “we are what we eat has eaten”. (If you eat animal products and your care about your health, you, especially, should pay heed to this fact).Even with wild fish we are consuming a secondary nutrient when it comes to Omega 3. The original source of omega three is, in fact, plants, such as leafy greens, algae (e.g. spirulina and chlorella), flax and hemp seeds that all contain high natural amounts of Omega 3, and allows you to cut out the middle man.

Less, but better quality animal ingredients

The point here is not that you shouldn’t ever eat salmon, but, as with anything else in the world of food, there’s good salmon and there’s bad salmon, which depends on how it’s reared (feed, living conditions, etc). For a deep dive into salmon farming, we recommend watching The World’s Most Toxic Fish.

The Core Message

The core message I’m getting at here, the morale of the tale, is to know where your food comes from, and how it’s made. And when it comes to salmon (as with all other animal products) if eating animal products is your choice, then eat less of it, but eat the best quality (guaranteed you will enjoy it a lot more as well, and you will spend the same if not less money because you are eating less of it. But enjoying it more. Get it? And the rest of the time, get your Omega 3’s from aforementioned original sources.

The Upside Down Industrialised Food System

As the need ever grows on our limited capacity planet to feed the 7.8 billion and growing mouths, we have created an upside down food system where the West produces and wastes more food than the all of the remaining world. Land is cleared to grow grain to feed live-stock (it takes 15-25kg of grain to grow 1kg of cow) food, and the soils that sustain our arable infrastructure grow weaker and less biologically diverse by the year. What a mess we are finding ourselves in. Fortunately, it is not all doom and gloom. In the globally connected, more socially aware and more consciously curious time in which we find ourselves, there is are new movements sprouting like green shoots all over the world.

These movements are harking back to a time honoured way of growing and respecting our food, and becoming re-aligned with nature. Understanding soil health and regenerative farming practices holds the key to our foods nutritional value (AND FLAVOUR), so if you buy products from organic, soil association accredited farms then you are benefiting from greater nutritional values and a more sustainable economy.

We want to be healthy, generally we now understand the health fall out from eating over processed, sugary foods. We know that plant based, medium chain fatty acids MCT’s are good fats and that kale is much more preferable with your eggs than processed bacon. However, with this knowledge the marketing elves have pricked up their ears and seen a new way to get us to buy the foods they want. Fortified, added vitamins and minerals appear in everything from margarine, milk, bread even desserts and crisps. A bowl of B12, zinc enriched cereal can contain as much sugar as a can of coke and yet is marketed to children as a healthy breakfast option! (3)

Tip – Eat as mush fresh produce you can, avoid enhanced or highly processed food, eat local and don’t follow food fads.

Just eat the carrot!

From the moment nutritional science became able to analyse our foods and isolate beneficial nutrients, we started down a path of reductionist science that has shaped our present view on food (4). In truth, we still do not fully understand the complex interplay of enzymes, nutrients and antioxidants in our foods. Or the magic of how nature in a combination of factors, growing conditions and harvest cycles creates the health-giving benefits of individual foods. Why, for instance, is the Beta Carotene in a carrot good for you and nutritionally superior to Beta carotene in an isolated substance? We have overcomplicated a beautiful, simple and enjoyable basic human need. Eating food is more than just getting nutrients into your body. Eating (as oppose to feeding) is a deeply social, cultural and ecological act with profound implication for our well-being, health, happiness and the future of the planet.

Let’s fall back in love with real food

I want us all to fall back in love with food! To appreciate and its power and understand how it is grown and produced. Food has the ability to support and transform communities and help shape the future of our planet. The fact is the more we become detached from nature or try to reengineer perfection, the further we go from the real benefit and truth in our foods. Some facts we do know;

- Real food does not come processed in packets

- Eating product in season, packs in the most nutrients

- Eating local food helps local economies

- Healthy soil means a healthier planet and people

- Eating out of season (unless you picked and froze them yourself) means air miles, storage and preservatives

- Eating a balanced diet, mostly plants is better for your health and that of the planet

- Trust the bear (she’s got it right)

It really is quite simple and if you are ever unsure simply ask…what would the bear do?

Further reading

1 – The China Study

2 – salmon facts

3 – Fortification

4 – In Defence of food

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