The new drug of the century: Junk Food

The struggle with preventing and controlling obesity is nothing new. In Singapore, more and more people are having health problems even before they reach obesity. It doesn’t take an obese person to be unhealthy in today’s times. An average sized person who eats badly, can be inviting a host of physical problems very quickly in the near future.

Some of the main reasons people cite as to why they are not as food conscious as they should be, points at the lack of time in their lives. Processed, packaged foods are much faster to prepare and requires almost no washing up after, according to busy working adults. It seems like convenience is the key to the choice of foods these days. 

Apart from convenience in preparation, taste could be a factor in buying these junk foods, as they often contain high sodium and sugar levels. Working adults aren’t the only ones consuming more junk food, it seems that children are exposed to consuming junk in younger ages and in larger amounts in recent years.

Researches have found that burgers, chips and sausages have built the human brain into craving more sugar, salt, and fat laden foods as our taste buds adapt. It is found that overconsumption of high calorie foods actually trigger an addiction-like response in the brain that is similar to that of drugs.

A three year research on rats have presented “the most thorough and compelling evidence that drug addiction and obesity are based on the same underlying neurobiological mechanisms”.

The rats were divided into three groups. The first were fed healthy amounts of food to eat, the other was given restricted amount of junk food, while the third had unlimited amount of junk food. The third group, as you would imagine, got fat very quickly and started bingeing.

Apparently, eating junk food registers as ‘pleasure’ in the brain, and the more they ate over time, the larger the quantity it takes in order to reach the same amount of ‘pleasure’ registered by the brain. The brain practically got immune to the intake of junk food, and needs more to reach the same ‘high’ it felt the first time, just like drug addicts. This pretty much sums up the act of overeating, and may very well be the cause of obesity.

The addiction to junk food, whether we acknowledge it or not, has even been compared to the famous tobacco history, as smoking was not always admitted as a health risk especially the misinformation through advertising and marketing by the large companies.

However, not everyone thinks the research results are enough. Lobbyists for food industries insists there’s no such thing as a food addiction. Richard Adamson, consultant for the American Beverage Association said, “I have never heard of anyone robbing a bank to get money to buy a candy bar or ice cream or pop.”

Well, yeah sure, those people are too busy getting fat and stuffing their face with foods to do that, in case you didn’t notice, Mr Adamson.

Not all vegetarians are healthy

I, myself, eat more vegetables than meat nowadays. But I don’t believe I can eliminate from eating meat entirely even if I wanted to. Most vegetarians and people who suffer from eczema, needs vitamin B12 which can only be found from natural animal sources. I have occasional flare ups from eczema, thus, can never do without vitamin B12 and besides, I don’t believe in taking supplement pills. My point here is, being vegetarian is a healthy choice. However, just like everything else, you have to take in a good variety of foods to be healthy and this rule applies to vegetarians as well.

I’ve known a couple of vegetarians before I was food conscious and they (not every vegetarians) were always weak, tired and stressed. They weren’t exactly healthy at all, or so it seemed like it. It’s only now as I start being more aware of what I eat, that I realized those friends of mine, who are vegetarians, consume as much (maybe even more!) junk and processed foods as those who weren’t vegetarians. Yes, I understand some vegetarians choose not to eat meat because of the morals and ethics of slaughter houses. But really, I think it’s a very bad thing to do to yourself when you limit yourself to all foods that do not contain animal products, but eat everything else.

I do promote people to eat more vegetables and fruits than meat, but the message I’m sending is to be healthy, love your body, and learn to treat your body better. So whatever your diet may be, as long as you are getting the nutrients you need, that’s all there is to it. EAT YOUR VEGGIES AND FRUITS!! 😀

Are we so superficial that even foods have to look a certain way to be sold?

How many of you have heard of the wonky food controversy in 2008? No? Well neither have I, until a couple of days ago. It seems that The European Commission had a certain set of rules that were launched in 1989 regarding standardizing the quality of our fruits and vegetables. However, years and years down the road, these rules have now been distorted, resulting in tons of food wastage. Today, it seems like our never ending quest to acquire beauty has involved even the foods we eat.

Supermarkets, or rather, companies running these supermarkets, refuse to accept fruits and vegetables from farmers that do not meet their standard requirements of how they look, and this can be measured in terms of texture, height and length of it, and the size of it. Their reason is that consumers do not want weird looking foods, even when consumers say this is not the case. While it seems to be an excuse rather than a reason, I start to see a vicious cycle in that statement.

For the longest time since the late 80s, people have been used to seeing fruits and vegetables in their ‘standard’, ‘fresh’ looking states, and would probably think a product is abnormal or spoilt when faced with an odd looking one. What makes this quest of beautifying our food terrible is that these odd looking ones are perfectly edible and no different from the normal looking ones. In fact, many of these ‘defected’ fruits and vegetables that have been rejected by supermarkets, are not even spoilt or unfit for consumption, they are rejected solely by the way they look. Talk about solving world hunger issues!

After the news got wind of this situation, there have been efforts in many places attempting to do right by these fruits and vegetables by demanding they put the wonky looking ones back in the shelves. And in 1st of July, 2009, The European Commission has lifted the ban of food standardization law on 26 fruits and vegetables. This list includes:

26 items (restrictions on shape and size repealed without qualification) – apricots, artichokes, asparagus, aubergines, avocados, beans, brussels sprouts, carrots, cauliflower, cherries, courgettes, cucumbers, cultivated mushrooms, garlic, hazelnuts in shell, headed cabbage, leeks, melons, onions, peas, plums, ribbed celery, spinach, walnuts in shell, watermelons, and witloof/chicory.

There is another list of 10 items that the ban has not lifted entirely but restrictions lifted subject to labeling to distinguish them from ‘class 1’ or ‘class 2’ produce. These 10 includes:

Apples, citrus fruit, kiwi fruit, lettuces, peaches/nectarines, pears, strawberries, sweet peppers, table grapes and tomatoes.

I think it is a start with these bans being lifted, but we still have a long way to go. As far as these reports are concerned, i believe it applies mainly to the U.K. Because guidelines for foods deem fit for our supermarkets are different from theirs, this ban that has been lifted may or may not have been applied to us. I have been trying to access the website of Singapore’s AVA site but hadn’t been successful, and will do an update of this post the moment I can access it.

On an end note, when was the last time you saw a wonky looking fruit or vegetable on sale in a supermarket in Singapore? Could mother nature really have been consistent in her works that none of the wonky ones ever appear in Singapore?

Tips for starting on eating healthy

There will always be a handful of people who are intrigued and want to eat healthy but have no idea where to start, and for some, it can be harder than others because of the environment that is making it harder for one to be vegetarian or to choose to eat healthy. I believe making the choice to eat healthy is a personal one and can be done, albeit tougher in the beginning of transitions. I gathered some tips on making it easier to start, because we all know that having a good foundation is important, and changing your eating habits can be rather challenging as it takes us out of our comfort zone that many of us have known for years.

Plan your meals in advance. Especially for those who lead a busy lifestyle, be it students or working adults, planning in advance makes you able to eat at the specific time and not waste any on deciding and hesitation. Plan up to a week in advance, and prepare little lunch boxes if you have to, or even bring fruits that are easy to transport around. If eating a full vegetable filled lunch won’t do, at least eat a large serving of salad before anything else, as vegetables are alkaline and will help those who are prone to gastric, not to mention increase your vitamins and fiber intake. If you don’t like to bring salads out, opt for places that has salads for appetizers. Never eat your fruits and vegetables after your meal though.

Eating healthy doesn’t mean boring meals. Spice up your meals by looking up recipe books and try making something yourself, if it turns out good you know what to cook the next time you run out of ideas where to eat out. Not only is it satisfying cooking a meal from scratch, it can be a fun thing to do with your partner over the weekends. Making your own meals also means taking a trip to the supermarket. Take that time to really have a good look at the vegetables and fruits section to see what they have in stock, and if you’re hardworking, you can write down names of vegetables or fruits that you are keen on trying and then go home to look up recipes with that food. 

Do it with a friend or a partner. Having someone to eat healthy together definitely helps because not only can you both decide on new healthy places to eat, there will be tips to share with each other and always learn about new thing related to eating healthy. It also makes it easier to stick to eating healthy food when you have someone else ‘watching’ over you.

Keep reminding yourself why you wanted to change your diet in the first place. Maybe you want to lose weight, maybe you are sick of always falling sick, or maybe you want to improve your skin and complexion. Whatever your reasons and motivations are, keep reminding yourself of it. Don’t lose sight of what made you want to change something as drastic as your diet in the first place. I find that reading books or magazines, and even websites, related to healthy living regularly works in reminding yourself why you had started this change.

Matching your mind and body. Eating healthy or going vegetarian straight away will make you crave for unhealthy food and may make you miserable at times. The best way to go about this is to be moderate in the changing pace of your diet. Do not give up so easily, but rather, set a more realistic pace for yourself in this transition. There is no point in chugging down healthy foods that you dislike and making eating healthy such a terrible affair. Don’t cause unnecessary stress to yourself and be realistic in your goals.

Change your diet slowly. Different people have different pace. Some will be able to adapt the change in diet better than others, and you have to see what suits you best. A sudden change in diet might make you feel unhappy mentally and emotionally if you aren’t used to it. You have to give yourself time to adapt. And remember, you are aiming to change your lifestyle for the better, not doing a detox. Whatever you are trying to improve will be a long term commitment, so the key is to be realistic in your goals.
It is okay to snack once in a while. Don’t beat yourself up if you can’t resist a couple of chocolate biscuits once in a while. As long as you know majority of your diet is a healthy one, you shouldn’t be feeling bad for snacking occasionally. Love your body not torture it! 

It is possible to eat with people who do not have the same diet as you. You don’t have to avoid eating out or eating with friends with bad eating habits entirely. You can suggest places that sells salads and meat so both of you can have different choices on food. If unable to order individually, you can always opt for the healthiest food among the bunch and eat lots of vegetables before that or in the next meal. Don’t sweat it too much. 

Never feel guilty for your eating choices and never make others feel guilty for theirs. Eating preferences are personal choices. If you prefer to eat healthy but most of the people around you don’t, it’s not the end of the world. Find a way to work around it during meal times. What really turns people off is when you start lecturing everyone at the table on how unhealthily they are eating. Not only is that rude, but it’s really making them less likely to take your word for it. You wouldn’t want them to laugh at your eating habits, so don’t do the same yourself. If someone is genuinely curious about what you eat, they will ask you about it without having you to start.

Whatever reasons and motivations you have for having a healthy diet should reflect your general wellbeing and overall, improve your health, so never ever get stressed out or worrisome when it comes to food, or it will be no different from an eating disorder. Learn to love your body and yourself. 🙂