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Grow Food not Feed: New Factors in Nutrition - 16/06/2014
 
We value scientifically appraised food for animals of all kinds, humans included, rather than mountains of gut-fill
 
Turning our thoughts to the forthcoming recommendations on diets for juniors, ie 5-8 year olds, brings in so many ‘ologies’ and ‘onomies’ only just being recognised for their significance in this matter. Relying on cost alone is a short-sighted policy because it is inadequate to meet the challenges of various ‘ologies’ and ‘omics’ and they should be considered more important than sheer economics.
 
One should consider many facts before jumping to conclusions and the policies will be modified within five years – let alone longer spells, so it must be constantly under review for issues more important than immediate economics, bereft of values. They must include values such as other factors of lifestyle, including the so-called Life Sciences.
 
Nutrition is a little understood discipline and definite answers are very much under the influence of one ideology or another. We are very much at the point where the cost of a cheap diet is neglected in favour of an exotic, apparently expensive diet, but in fact they emerge as false economies. 
 
Most important is the wholesomeness of the food, but sustainability may be insecure. In the early days, and under the influence of Lloyd George (“How can we build a healthy nation on C3 diets”) and various other experts; fish and chips was regarded the best cheap food for populations on these shores. In fact, farmers and fishermen were churning out cheap and plentiful food, which would be rated now as little more than gut-rot, with little knowledge of nutritional matters and the long-term ill effects of fats. Considerations even now do not understand the benefits of ‘brain foods’ for the overall wellbeing of human populations. 
 
We have already discussed now the long-term effects of animal fats and more specifically certain animal fats, but the fact remains that there is a connection between the nature of fats and the risk of pollution in the seas and lakes. How did the understanding that fish is good for the brain arise and what evidence is there for this, long before DHA and EPA came into the picture?
 
Now that chemists have discovered ways of making those compounds synthetically, they assume great significance in considerations of nutrition of the baby and earlier the brain of the foetus (and even earlier) and should be considered when assessing the nutrition of young children, many of whom have been introduced early on to cheap foods without considering long-term effects on the man or woman.
 
So it would be advantageous to build in a list of cheap available foods that have been used over many stages of our evolution without apparent harm to development of healthy life. Now, noriture and nutrigenomics must consider this – not just vets and animal welfarists in production of food, but also the range of dietary facts that are already established; though there will always be further doubts that will have to be explored, for example, grapefruits were introduced to this country after WWII as a good source of vitamin C, until it was discovered that people were eating enzymes closely related to oranges. They had certain factors that made them appear like anti-nutrients, though they are still on sale and are a joy to many people to consume, and as a source of vitamin C. But they have other effects that are antagonistic to the benefits, which are less marked in other citrus fruits. There is very much understanding at the moment of nutrition by assessment of “it doesn’t agree with me”, “I don’t like them” or “I don’t agree with other nutritional foods”.
 
Therefore, when we consider other foods as a source of nourishment, we have to consider susceptibility of populations to little understood allergies and aversions. Otherwise, they are a very valuable component of the diet. But for those people, resort can be had to items like oranges and other citrus fruit. Likewise, we might dismiss all nutrients as food without sufficient evidence of harm for many people.
 
Milk and dairy ought to be avoided because of the general dangers of viral and bacterial hazards that can only be averted by chemical means such as heating and pasteurization.
 
Rice is another food that is processed to make it suitable for general consumption. It differs considerably after appearing on plates in Britain in various manufactured forms but lacks essential nutrients, whereas wild rice has many of the benefits of oats and wheat, though these may give rise to allergies and aversions.
 
Potatoes are a recent introduction to Britain in diets over the last 300 years, being almost pure starch and certainly inferior to sweet potatoes, which is a traditional carbohydrate-rich source eaten in the East, with natural colour in the flesh and valuable sources of dietary vitamin A, which is beneficial for deficiency in eye function. It is a pity that it’s taken hold with such enthusiasm in the foods for young people when it appears to be only a nutrient of value as mere gut-fill, that holds certain fats and fattening foods as a result.
 
Carrots are another source of long tradition of benefit to diets and it has versatility in its use of nourishment, for example in blindness and vitamin A deficiency; yet tomatoes are another recent introduction and an exceptional vegetable source that can be eaten unreservedly.
 
The general trend in the green agricultural revolution of Borlaug and Swaminathan was improved for wheat and maize (corn). It was succeeded by undesirable and excessive fears over the first improvements in these crops in the last few years because of agronomic advantages which will be manifested by commercial interests, but now a second bout of developments of green agriculture is upon us and more openly introduces a mixture of old and new methods of genetic variation, unlikely to be advantageous for poor, small and organic farmers, to raise both yields per hectare and flood resistance and would allow for production of rice in many unfavourable conditions (and more tropically than in Britain and European countries, in view of the changes in the weather against modern methods of agriculture that might be applicable to the British scene).
 
Therefore many people will have to consider their responsibility in agricultural economics as well as the minor elements of converting crops into wholesome foods. It will make the discrimination much more interesting and subject to more rigorous economic considerations than heretofore.
 
The challenges should be met with constant discussion and debate and above all on stacks of statistics assessed in an open and well-informed item of modern living and with acceptance of all modern technology, alongside traditional methods.
 
The association between gut flora and diet and disease is only beginning to be welcomed to earlier understanding of the meaning of all foods from mouth right through the digestive system and will need to bring in all the new disciplines offered by scientists working independently and leaving the development to developers working openly. 
 
That is the scientific openness and independence that we should cultivate in all our thinking on the subject of nutrition.
 
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Dr Alan Long
 
 
 

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