Do we know what we don’t know?

What a great philosophical question. We obviously know what we do know. That is probably the smallest slice of the knowledge cake. I know quite a lot about corporate law and about how you draft certain documents to buy a company. I also know that the boilerplate or standard clauses at the end of the document are all put into the document for specific reasons. But whilst I can tell you the reasons. I wouldn’t be able to recite for you the facts of the cases that provide these reasons. So I don’t know those facts and I know that I don’t know them. I also know I don’t know an awful lot about physics, in fact I know very little. But I have a good friend that is a physics fellow at a renowned University. I know he does know a lot about physics, but within that knowledge are applications and theories that I simply don’t know exist. Why would I? I don’t even know some of the basic theories for GCSE or A level. How could I even know what I don’t know in the field of quantum physics. I simply don’t. I will come to this later.

I find that a lot of people are talking about food and nutrition these days. Various diets that you should follow. It is a pity that the word “diet” has been hijacked by the weight conscious to label the process by which we should not eat our normal fare. “Diet” instead means all of our normal food not just meals of low quantity and, often, low nutrition in order to lose weight. I have never been able to eat small quantities of food so I have great sympathy for those that feel they must start a “diet”. No-one needs to embark on a “diet” of low quantity unless they are obese or under doctor’s orders. Nobody should reduce their nutrition, quite the opposite as you will hear in this blog. However, if you feel you need to “go on a diet” please read my blog on the 3 steps to take to lose weight. It is not complicated. You don’t need to change the quantities of food just the types and quality of the food. Harder said than done if you are addicted to sugar as many people are but not difficult to understand.

So what do we not know about food and nutrition that would help us eat more healthily and lead a more active and engaged life (and hit the right body weight for us)? Is this what you are after? More energy, less fogginess and less illness, yes? Well the key to this door is based on getting the right nutrition at the right time so you don’t succumb to illnesses, whether serious illness or merely, colds and flu. I don’t think I have had a cold or flu for 3 or more years now and that is down to the change in diet and other things that I have put in place such as minimum sleeping hours. However, you do need to watch yourself. And listen to your body.

The knowledge Gap About Food

So back to food. What don’t we know about food and how important is food in our lives? Well, it is important that what we eat is good for us but also that it looks good too. A feast for the eyes and for the taste buds as well as for our insides. Problem is that the pendulum has swung far too far to one side. To the side of “taste buds” and “eyes” than to the side that is good for us. Food companies in particular focus on making up food that is aimed not at providing us with what we need to be healthy, active or less foggy. But rather at satisfying our taste buds first. And be damned about how the so called food is going to affect our insides. The same (and perhaps more so) goes for drinks companies, whether soft drinks or alcoholic drinks. The idea is not to nourish or enhance our nutrition but to endear their drinks to a fraction of our body namely the taste buds. We are led by our taste buds for good reason but this fact has been unscrupulously exploited by big food and drink companies across the globe. In a sophisticated corporate world where every ingredient is available, food and drink companies are only tasked with making profit. Media companies must be fit for purpose and operated by fit and proper people, it seems taxi companies must also be run by fit and proper persons (see Uber recently) but any ‘ole Joe can set up a food company.

So why do our taste buds rule our brains so easily? Why is sugar so pleasing on one level and so destructive on another level? Why do we feel the need to eat sweet things to the extent that low fat yoghurt can be crammed with more than 6 grams of sugar or the same as a Mars bar? The reasons lie in the way our ancestors would live and eat. Remember, our bodies and digestive systems evolved over millions of years, from the time that mammals first walked or crawled the Earth, various different types of fruit, nuts, seeds and vegetation were available. Fruits and other foods high in sugar, were only available occasionally though. So when they did appear we developed an instinct for gorging on these foods to build up reserves of energy and fructose to keep us warm for colder and leaner times. This gives a clue about why now food and drink companies focus almost exclusively on making foods sweet. It is pure exploitation of a trigger that not only satisfies a gorging instinct but also gives us a sense of well-being because of the chemicals it releases in the brain.

It is all smoke and mirrors

Take chocolate, for example. Cacao is the substance that today’s chocolate is derived from. The food of the Gods, as labelled by the Aztecs. It was so valuable that it was even used as currency. But not because of its sweetness but because of its richness and how good it is for you. But food companies have turned this substance into something that is unrecognisable from the original. They have replaced the majority if not all of the cacao and turned it into something that couldn’t be further from the blocks of cacao solids that the Aztecs worshipped. A sweet, milky substance formed of vegetable oil that is sold by the likes of Cadbury’s. You can now buy something close to the Aztec form from artisan manufacturers. Even Green & Blacks produce 85% cacao bars but it is worth focus on the stuff that makes up the 15% too. I love cacao, having it in cacao drinks and coconut slices, delicious but I don’t think I have touched milk chocolate for a very long time. But like all things it can come with a warning on over-consumption. Beware the amount of saturated fats consumed!

So the first thing to impart about food, is nothing is what it seems to be. Chocolate isn’t really chocolate, bread isn’t really bread (certainly not the white or brown fluffy stuff you see in supermarkets) and sugar isn’t really sugar that you were supposed to eat, that is natural and unprocessed. Rather is a processed version aimed purely at your taste buds and nothing else.

But what else is going on?

Plenty of tricks are being used by food and drinks companies to fool us or to fool our taste buds into thinking something is good for us. But surely all the food we eat is passed as edible by the Food Standards Authority so how can it be bad for us? Good question.

It is true that anything classed as a food has to pass testing. However, so do drugs. In fact, clinical trials are used by the pharmaceutical companies to test whether drugs are fit for human consumption. We all know of instances where drugs have been passed as fit for humans but the long term effects have not been known. There are many cases of drugs subsequently been pulled off the market amid claims of affecting unborn babies. The most famous being the thalidomide drug for morning sickness in the 60s and 70s. Thousands of babies were born with tiny arms and legs. Only last week a news report came up of 10,000 babies being born with autism and severe learning disabilities because of a drug that was proscribed for mothers suffering from epilepsy. That drug had been approved. So testing is fallible. Similarly with the Food Standards Authority, but more so perhaps. Ever heard of a bacon, double cheeseburger being removed for being unhealthy?

Not only is testing fallible, but it doesn’t involve the long term effects that food may have on the digestive system. The digestive system is far more important to our well-being than most people realise. When we are conceived and the first embryonic growth occurs, the human form is made up of 3 tubes….that’s it! These 3 tubes proceed to grow into the 3 systems without which there would be no life – tube 1 = the nervous system, the brain, spinal cord etc so pretty important…tube 2 = the respiratory system, so the heart and lungs….so equally important, you would think and tube 3 = the digestive system, stomach, intestines etc to provide the nutrition and energy to power the other 2 systems…without which no life. We die without water for 2 or 3 days and we last a bit longer without food but not much.

So we should really be careful what we put into our bodies…but generally most of us are not! Is that our fault or should we really be blaming the food and drink manufacturers and the supermarkets who stock their goods?

The Rubbish in Food

If I were to visit a supermarket today, I ignore practically 90% of what is on the shelves. My diet is made up of non-processed food, fresh fruit and vegetables, fresh non farmed fish and the odd non farmed processed fish such tinned sardines, roll-mop herrings or crab. Occasionally, I will buy salads which are non PC and contain mayonnaise or similar. But these are few and far between. I eat goat’s and sheep’s cheese and I buy almond milk and coconut water but other than 85% and above chocolate (see above) and some canned veggies e.g. artichokes, not a great deal more gets a look in.

So why do I swerve 90% of food on offer in supermarkets, what is wrong with it? Here are some of the issues:

  1. Sugar (see above) is a major issue. Constant bombardment with sugar damages the linings of stomach and gut.
  2. Additives is also a major issue. Preservatives, colourings, flavourings are nearly all man made and synthetic. Contained in processed food, all of which will damage the stomach and gut linings if taken constantly over time, if not worse (See coming blog post on additives).
  3. Gluten and grains—whilst not inherently bad for you, if taken daily and heaped on top of sugar and synthetic additives, will became a major irritant and contribute to damage to your stomach and gut linings. They also have specific affects on certain diseases such as multiple sclerosis/other auto-immune disease.
  4. Dairy—some people are lactose intolerant but the rest of us should not be having cow’s milk or products every day. We were not meant to do this and it will over time catch up with us.
  5. GMO crops—no-one really knows the full extent of the GMO foodstuffs in our food chain and the long term effect on our bodies.
  6. Industrial Farming—whether involving cows or fish or fruit and vegetables, there are a whole host of reasons to avoid mass produced food. Pesticides, soil degradation, polishing, long shelf life etc, all of which I have highlighted in past blogs (see here).

So What? I know all of this and I eat healthily (most of the time)

Firstly, most people will think in a way that is linked to the “group”. Group mentality is a very strong influence on the way humans behave. We are quite lazy and will much prefer someone who looks more qualified than us to make an important decision. Group mentality can be seen in various guises from the tribal effects of football fans to buying decisions of the fashion conscious. Food is no different, if we see it on a supermarket shelf, we immediately think that it is safe. If we are then encouraged by advertising showing other “normal” people enjoying it and hear of friends and family doing likewise, it becomes engrained that it is both safe and potentially life or lifestyle enhancing. Think of how cigarette advertising was used in the 50s and 60s to both attract and keep smokers. Making them think it was a cool, outdoors and pretty much healthy thing to do.

Sweets and treats have similar cognitive reactions. Children are brought up to believe that milk chocolates and sweets are treats that they get when they are either well behaved or on special occasions. Advertising reinforces this so when consuming the sweets or chocolates we not only get the false high associated with gorging (see above) or convince ourselves that we deserve them and reward ourselves further with extra dopamine or noradrenaline (chemicals for well-being in the brain). If some pure cacao or a raspberry was put onto a pedestal for children at a young age instead of sweets and chocolates, it is likely we would go into adulthood which a much greater resistance to the rubbish on offer on the shelves of supermarkets.

However, what most people don’t take into account, I know that I didn’t, was that having one eye on the healthy option isn’t good enough. I was well trained by my mother to not eat white bread, to avoid fatty and fried foods and to keep the processed foods to a minimum. However, whilst I had one eye on the healthy option, I figured I could live large whenever I went out. So I drank alcohol to excess and had no trouble eating (bad) chocolates, dessert and cheese all at one sitting. This meant that as my work became more focussed on client entertainment, my exercise regime went out of the window and my food intake when out of the home become increasingly bad for me. In addition, my wife at the time was American and bought lots of rubbish in the weekly shop mainly for the kids, biscuits, soft bread, chocolate products, you know the stuff.

Restaurant food is much worse than food cooked at home, it has far more salt, far more sugar and far more fatty/fried elements than home cooked food. So if you eat out a lot, you really need to stipulate in detail your requirements. After all, the whole point is that they are cooking for you, not simply dishing up food of their choice. Of course, this doesn’t work in some more low key places but generally if you tell them in advance or as soon as the menus arrive. Dressed up as an allergy, most people will comply and be helpful. Some even welcome it.

My point is that, it is equally important to make sure you are keeping the bad stuff to an absolute minimum than it is to make sure you get all the good stuff. It is the bad stuff that will do you damage in the long term so if you know what the bad stuff is, that is the starting point. Next you need to work out how to minimise its effects.