The Road to Fat City Is Paved With Lies

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Commentary By Anna Gaskell Observer Staff Writer You don’t have to be rich to be fat. In fact, according to recent studies in America, obesity hits the poorest first. The American government claims that within the next couple of years, obesity will have become the leading cause of preventable death. And as the Western diet, which is high in fats, sugars and salts, becomes popular the world over, so its intimate cousins ” obesity, diabetes, heart disease ” become popular elsewhere, too. Obesity affects at least 300 million people worldwide. Excess fat tissue on the body and insufficient muscle to support it (which is the case in overweight people who don’t do much exercise), makes you more likely to get diabetes. Diabetes, a disease in which the body cannot control its levels of blood sugar, is linked to heart disease, kidney malfunction, blindness, and amputation due to the harmful effect it has on blood circulation. Type Two diabetes, so-called because it was known to develop later on in life, is now developing in children. What their futures will be, or by how much their lives will be shortened, we don’t know yet because this is such a new phenomenon. What we do know is that for a child born in America in the year 2000, there is a 50 percent chance of developing diabetes. In the past couple of decades, our diet must have changed in a very scary and dramatic way to spur on such a rapid decline in health. Strangely enough, obesity rates soared in the early 1990’s when “low-fat” products became available on supermarket shelves. The low-fat label was too good to be true. It made people think that they were suddenly allowed to eat twice as much of their favourite ice cream, just as long as that magic label was on it. It was a concerted and successful effort by the food industry to take advantage of the gullibility that people are prone to when they”re desperate. The miracle idea became a faith with many devout followers. The problem was that not all fats found in food are bad: some are essential for brain health and also for enabling the body to absorb certain nutrients in food. Our bodies need the fats from vegetable oils, nuts and fish. The other thing we were not told during the low-fat craze was that when the fat is taken out of something, it is replaced with other ingredients (often carbohydrates) that often had just as many calories in them. This meant that weight gain would be the same, or even more – because the label was misleading and made people think they could eat more. It can be no coincidence that the carbohydrates used to replace the fat in “low-fat” products were almost always derived from corn, sugar, soya, palm or rapeseed, which are the most heavily subsidised crops in the world. This is the era of messing with food: taking it apart, swapping its parts around, changing its colour, inventing new flavours. Another big culprit in helping us to gain more and more weight is refined starch, like white bread and white rice. In the body these starches convert into glucose, which is pure sugar that is instantly absorbed into the blood stream. When the blood sugar levels go up suddenly, the body has to work to bring them back down quickly, and this causes hunger. So these foods are essentially making you hungry. This makes sense if you manufacture them and you want people to consume huge amounts of your product, but if you”re an ordinary consumer with no wish to put on weight, these refined foods should really be eaten in moderation. With the “low-fat” labels and the food that makes you more hungry, you”d be forgiven for thinking the food industry had lost all its morals. And you”d be right. There are all sorts of tricks in the labeling of food which are used to fool us into thinking that they might be healthy. It is worth knowing how to tell what a label really means; it is not as simple as it sounds. In the words of Felicity Lawrence, author of “Not on the Label”: “a strawberry yogurt must contain some real strawberry,” but a ‘strawberry-flavoured yoghurt has had a briefer encounter with the fruit. A strawberry-flavour yoghurt, on the other hand, has not been within sight of a strawberry.” When the food industry defends its use of so many artificial additives in food products, it always claims that they are there to protect the consumer from food poisoning, by extending the shelf-life of the product. However, only 1 percent by weight of all additives used is used for this purpose, and about 90 percent of them are purely cosmetic. Annually, the food industry spends around $20 billion each year on chemical additives to change the colour, flavour, texture and shelf-life of food. The food industry wants to cut the costs of using decent, natural ingredients, and so instead they attempt to simulate the flavours and textures of those ingredients artificially. What do all those numbers mean on the backs of packages? Unless you”re a chemist, it’s unlikely that you”ll understand what they mean. And that’s just the point; they”re there to deliberately confuse us. You look at them and you don’t understand what they mean, so that is the end of the investigation. If adults are being routinely fooled by the empty promises of nutrition in much of their food, what chance do children have? Very little, I can assure you, when there is the promise of a free Harry Potter toy with a Happy Meal. Harry Potter can’t be bad. Fast food corporations spend a lot of money advertising to kids, and in many countries they have a foothold in schools, too. Nestl”, Pringles and McVitie’s have all offered books and equipment in return for food vouchers. No wonder we”re getting fatter. The big fast food chains like McDonald’s and KFC say that they are putting out healthier options now, with less sugar, salt and saturated fat. This can only be a publicity stunt. No one goes to a fast food restaurant to eat a salad. The other thing that these fast food chains say is that we shouldn’t blame their food for making us fat; we should look at our lifestyles instead, including our TV-watching inactivity. It is true to a certain extent. Researchers claim that we are so sedentary these days that we don’t even have to overeat to get fat. So just imagine how easy it is to become overweight now, when we”re surrounded by food that deliberately misleads us about its nutritional value or calorie content, making us think it is more healthy or less fattening than it really is. It’s no wonder that obesity and Type Two diabetes are becoming increasingly common in people of all ages. The food industry has increasingly distanced itself from any consideration of our welfare. There is such a big distance between manufacturers and consumers now that it cuts out any moral obligations we might feel towards each other. We can’t see each other’s faces; we don’t know each other’s names. Everyone’s anonymous. Perhaps if you can shake hands with the person who grew that sweet potato, or packaged that lettuce, there”d be a greater chance that it was good for you. The more sense you can make of an ingredients list on the back of a packet, the more likelihood there is that its contents will be good for you. No one wants to see more children developing the health conditions that a decade ago were only found in adults over 50. We have to be smart about what we eat.

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