This week I wanted to share my thoughts about two television programmes that were on recently.
The first called The World’s Best Diet and the second is the Tonight programme about Beating Breast Cancer.
The World’s best diet
This programme was a documentary type of programme about global diets and which ones are the healthiest, taking into account chronic disease statistics and longevity. It was quite interesting but moved very quickly because they commented on 50 countries and their traditional diets all in 90 minutes. The diets were rated: 50 being the worst and 1 being the best.
Food and politics It was interesting to hear that most countries had their food habits tied up with political and economic policies. For example, in America (at no. 43), called the ‘Land of Plenty’, food costs were extremely high during president Nixon’s time in power so he and the government instructed farmers to focus on growing corn crops. Out of this was born the fructose corn syrup which is now used extensively in most of its processed foods. The use of corn syrup has been blamed for the obesity epidemic in America which has also filtered into Venezuela, Hungary and Argentina. Until this time the diet was modest and portions normal.
Bolivia is another example. Their staple diet was quinoa and as we know this is an extremely healthy food. But as the world cottoned on to its health benefits the prices went sky high and the natives of Bolivia could no longer afford to eat it so they now rely on less nutritious staples and their health has suffered.
Australia surprised me as it came in at no.42. It has the fastest growing rate of obesity in the world because fresh fruit and vegetables are expensive and fast food chains have crept in, even to the outback regions.
It will not surprise you that we came in at no. 34. In the 1960’s only 10% of us were obese but now it is more than a quarter of the population and we eat more ready meals than any other European country!!
So which countries scored well? Let us look at the good ones that we could take an example from. South Korea has the slimmest nation in the world. They eat a vast quantity of fish, mostly raw!! And twice the amount of vegetables that we eat. They keep close to the traditional diet and one of their staples is kimchi which is a fermented cabbage very high in beneficial bacteria and vitamin 12 that supports good digestive health. They are also very social eaters, do not like to eat alone, and make a meal a ritual of peace. No eating on the run or at the office desk!!!
India came in at no.11 mostly because of its high use of turmeric.
Greece and Italy came in at no’s 2 and 3. These countries are at the heart of the Mediterranean diet where they grow their own produce, live on pulses, whole grains, fish, fermented yogurt, lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, and of course olive oil. I have written about the Mediterranean diet and it is good to see that it is a diet that we too can embrace. A great deal of research has been carried out on the Med’ diet by the World Health Organization because of the longevity and low incidence of chronic disease, including cancer, that it supports.
Mind you Iceland came in at no.1. This has been put down to the fact that they have the cleanest environment in the world (a point to ponder on, I think). They eat lots of fish and grass fed meat and do not have any processed or ready foods. Everything is made from fresh. They do however have a low intake of fruit and vegetables but are said to have a unique gene pool which makes them the country with the least disease and longest life span. This gene pool cannot obviously be replicated so we must concentrate on the Mediterranean diet and learn from the Greeks and Italians.
The bottom line here is that the onslaught of processed foods is our undoing and that of many countries where it has filtered into. If possible we should concentrate on fresh, whole food, produce, freshly prepared by ourselves. It is also important to take our time over food and make meals a more sociable event where we relax and enjoy what we are eating. Can it be done? I would say that it can with effort and the will to look after ourselves.
Beating Breast Cancer.
This was a short 30 minute programme. My initial reaction was one of frustration and disappointment. It focused very much on self-examination and educating the young in our schools to be aware and encourage early detection. This is of course very important but I do think that the programme could have spent more time on lifestyle factors that research has shown can influence cancer and its development. These lifestyle factors include diet, exercise and stress management. The programme briefly mentioned obesity as a possible cause and drinking too much alcohol.
In other words what we eat, and how we think and behave can influence our predisposition to cancer. This is not always the case of course but the more research that is done the stronger the case for eating well becomes.
Diet and cancer
As we can see from the previous programme on diets around the world, the healthier the diet the lower the levels of cancer and other chronic diseases and the longer people seem to live.
The link between diet and cancer was first highlighted 30 years ago when professors Richard Doll and Richard Peto reported that more than a third of all cancers might be attributed to dietary factors. Since then it has become clear that diet can play a role in preventing as well as increasing the risk of some cancers. More recently the nutritional biochemist Professor T Colin Campbell in his book, The China Study, shows that the right diet may prevent many common cancers.
So where do we go from here and what is all of this telling us. The message is to try our best to eat a more natural diet based around the Mediterranean style of eating, including more plant based proteins like peas, beans and lentils, and to try and avoid processed foods and ready meals. We all agree that it is so easy to eat badly because the food industry encourages this. Our lack of time to shop and prepare fresh food all contributes.
Blog originally written by Caroline July 2014 - updated April 2020