Food was far less complicated for our ancestors. They would hunt, grow or gather the ingredients they needed to make their meals.
Over the years, people started making food products and selling them, from bread to cured meats to cheeses. But in the past few decades, the range of foods available for us to buy and enjoy has increased dramatically, and many of these simply would not be possible without food additives and ingredients. Some prevent our food from spoiling or improve texture, taste or appearance, and others add healthy properties to the products.
Often nowadays, it’s not just called food – it’s processed food, organic food, GM food or even functional food. Food’s not as simple as it used to be, but whatever category the foods we eat fall into, it’s vital that we eat a balanced diet. We know far more nowadays about the science of nutrition, and it is clear that a very broad diet that includes all the essential nutrients we need, is far better than a diet with a narrow focus.
Eating a wide range of different products while avoiding too many of the things we know are bad for us, like saturated fats, is the best way to stay healthy. For example, the ‘Seven Countries Study’ showed that people who ate a typical Mediterranean diet that was rich in olive oil, a variety of different fruit and vegetables, fish, bread, and moderate quantities of dairy foods and wine, were less likely to suffer from heart disease.
In the UK, we’re now well aware that we’re supposed to eat five portions of different fruit and vegetables every day. Simple rules-of-thumb like this are a much more practical way of getting across the importance of a varied diet than complex dietary recommendations.
Even though we know the importance of eating a balanced diet, there is still a tendency for diets to become unbalanced. This can come from food ‘scares’ about particular foodstuffs being very harmful in excess, or simply because our busy lifestyles make it all to easy to drift into eating badly. And then there’s also the normal human tendency for binges and crazes, which don’t help either.
Balance is the key to a healthy diet. Chips, crisps and sweets are fine in moderation, as long as the rest of the diet contains the right vegetables, fruit and other foodstuffs to ensure we take in enough of all the nutrients we need. Treats are fine – as long as they are part of a balanced diet.