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Avoiding 'modern malnutrition'

Posted Apr 23 2012 1:00am

The range and quality of food available to us now is simply amazing. Visit any supermarket and take in the cornucopia of foods to choose from, fresh or processed. And yet a new trend is emerging: modern malnutrition. It happens where a person’s diet is technically adequate, and yet they develop the chronic diseases of modern society.

I suspect that modern malnutrition comes from eating too much food that has been processed beyond recognition. Breakfast is a great example. You can now eat breakfast on the run, with biscuits or as a drink, or at the drive-through takeaway. You can even have all your food for the week prepared by a commercial kitchen and delivered to your door in separately packaged meals.

It’s easy, that’s true. You don’t have to make time to chop and cook vegetables, or shop, making sure that you use them before they perish. No cooking time. No need to plan your meals. Really convenient.

But with each stage of processing, food loses some of its nutrition, especially water soluble vitamins like C and the B Group, which are depleted by light, heat and time. Minerals are lost too, and elbowed out of the food by empty fillers and taste enhancers. For example, the most nutritious strawberry is one which you pick off the bush and eat immediately. Leave it for a few days and its lost a lot of vitamin content. Process that strawberry into jam, and only the taste reminds you that it was once a very healthy fruit.

Each stage of processing also removes a little more of the ‘life force’ of a food; the term naturopaths refer to as the health-promoting power of a food.

If you have slipped into eating too much of your food in its processed form, here are some simple steps to get your nutrition back on track.

First, eat real food for breakfast (boiling an egg takes just three minutes); or heat up some leftover savoury mince. Yes, you will need to get out of bed a few minutes earlier; so turn off the TV and switch off the internet earlier to get enough sleep.

Next, switch to the ultimate fast snack foods: Fresh fruit and fresh nuts. Toss some into your bag for when hunger pangs strike, and keep a stash of dried fruit and nuts in your desk drawer. They will save you from the highly processed snack bars.

Dust off that slow cooker to have a home cooked hot meal ready for you in the evening. All you have to do is steam some greens to go with it. Even better, cook double and freeze a meal for another evening when you get home feeling “too tired to cook”.

Planning works: Take 30 minutes once a week to outline what you’ll eat for the coming week; take the list with you to the supermarket.

Try eating just real food for a few weeks and see how much your sense of wellbeing improves.

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