1 January 2009

Food for Thought

We are what we drink
Today, the planet’s 1.6 billion overweight people by far outnumbers the 700 million who are under nourished. This would have seemed ludicrous just 50 years ago, when hunger was the world’s most pressing nutritional problem says Prof Barry Popkin. In The World Is Fat (Avery) he identifies four trends that have emerged over the past 60 years that have significantly changed the way we eat: snacking on energy-dense foods between meals, weekend eating, eating supersized portions and eating away from home. In the following extract, he explains why drinking with abandon an ever-increasing range of high calorie (kilojoule) sodas, juices, sweetened teas, lattes and energy drinks aggressively marketed by food and beverage companies is clashing with millions of years of human evolution.

Prof Barry Popkin

‘Our species, Homo sapiens, appeared between 200,000 and 100,000 years ago. But it’s likely that until wine and beer were invented – about 11,000 years ago – we didn’t drink anything other than water or breast milk. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors drank breast milk for the first few years of their lives, and after that only water – the basis for life for all mammals.

But during the last century we’ve seen huge changes in the beverages consumed throughout the world – changes our biology isn’t prepared for. Imagine what would have happened to a hunter-gatherer if his or her hunger were satiated by drinking water. He or she wouldn’t feel the need to forage for food, and wouldn’t have stored essential body fat for times of famine. It’s obvious that if water consumption alleviated our hunger pangs, we, as a species, might not have survived. Another way of looking at this is that those who survived didn’t cut their food intake after drinking. And for us today the implications are clear – we drink a lot of calories and we don’t cut our food intake as a result. Recent studies confirm this. We can have a 16 oz (450 ml) bottle of Coke or three beers before dinner – and yet not eat any less because of it.

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The relatively recent addition of caloric beverages to our diet as you can see from the illustration provides a sense of the role beverages play in the obesity epidemic. Compared to the millions of years during which we evolved into Homo sapiens, the span of time in which we have been consuming caloric beverages has been very short. Our genes take a long time to respond to such changes – we are living in a rapidly changing world but with genes adapted to an earlier period.’

– Extract from The World is Fat published with permission of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.



Anonymous said...

I do regular gym work fit for my age of nearly 60, 3 times weekly and brisk walk 3 kms after dinner just about every evening. I'm always underweight (160cm, 43 kg), but generally healthy. During my gym sessions, I'm being supervised, making sure that among other things, I build muscles if possible. My diet gets the nod from my family doctor, gym instructors, etc.

Recently my son who goes to gym most of his adult life, suggested me taking energy bar to help me 'pack on' muscles.

I've been eating the energy bars before and after gym work for about 6 weeks now, but didn't really notice any difference. Am I going the right direction as your article mentioned about 'energy-dense foods between meals'?

What are actually energy-dense foods? Are they good or bad for regular consumption?

GI Group said...

Foods with a high energy density provide a lot of energy (calories/kilojoules) in a small serving and are generally high in added fat and sugar. Have a chat to a registered sports dietitian about some alternative snacks that might be suitable to help you 'pack on muscle'. After all, variety is the spice of life.

GI Group said...

We passed your question about energy dense foods on to our dietitian Kate Marsh and here's her response along with her suggestions for nutritious energy dense snacks you could try:

'For most people, who are trying to lose weight or prevent weight gain, energy dense foods are those which should be avoided or limited - they are foods which provide a lot of energy (or kilojoules) per gram and can therefore be easy to overeat and contribute to weight gain. But if you are underweight and are exercising regularly and trying to gain muscle, then including some energy dense foods may help, particularly before and after your gym sessions.

Some nutritious energy-dense snacks might include dried fruit & nut mix, wholegrain toast or sandwich with peanut butter, wholegrain crackers with cheese, nut & seed bars, milk drinks or fruit smoothies.'

Anonymous said...

Thanks GI Group and in particular to Kate Marsh for the feedback. Much appreciated.