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We'll Have an Egg for Breakfast Please

In November 2011, “The Foods That Make Billions” looked at the breakfast cereal industry.  For anyone interested in health and nutrition, it made for compelling, if at times disturbing viewing.  They and us also later covered the yoghurt industry.

Decades of official diet and nutrition advice have created chaos and confusion.  Worse, obesity and degenerative disease is spiraling out of control. With all of the advances made in science, how can it be that we are just not getting a handle on the health of the nation?

There was a time everyone ate food.  Real food.  Biological diversity was rich on our plates.  But the modern Western diet has by and large been reduced to three, cheap, mass produced, highly processed foundation foods - wheat, corn, and soy.   At the same time, nutrient dense, traditional whole foods have tragically been demonized and sidelined.

 

The Charge of the Cereal Industry

The term “empty calories” came about because of the impact cereals were having on the health of America’s children. This phrase was coined way back in 1968.  It caused uproar at the time, yet the juggernaut of the cereal industry overcame its critics, and marched on regardless. 

Here today in the UK, the cereal sector is the most powerful, most heavily advertised, and lucrative in the entire processed food industry.  And why is it so big? Well, the ad men have targeted us relentlessly, and made sure that as they call it,“Art, Alchemy and Magic” have created an emotional bond with breakfast cereal, that is seemingly passed down through families. 

Quoting the BBC programme “corporations have figured out ways to insinuate themselves into private space of the family, processed foods is one of those ways”.  Tony the Tiger has a lot to answer for.

The targeting of highly processed, high sugar, high salt (refined sodium chloride should we say, real salt is packed with minerals), nutritionally weak foods at children has to be the first major concern.   Children’s cereals are worth a staggering 600 million pounds, around half of the total market.  The ruling of no junk food advertising during children’s TV in 2006 was a tiny step in the right direction.  But children and their parents are still bombarded with the message at other times, and through other means.

 

What Happened to Real Breakfast?

In the 1950s, half the nation ate a cooked breakfast of some form. This may have been just a boiled egg.  In the 70s, the figure was around 20%. Today, who knows, but we can be sure the figure is negligible.

As they themselves are pleased to say, the cereal makers were wholly responsible for this massive change in lifestyle.  In our opinion, when it comes to a timeline of nutritional decline, it is a turning point. The way they did it? By emphasizing convenience, ease and speed.  Cooking was made out to be time consuming, messy, and anything but a source of pleasure and important family time.  A bowl of dry flakes robbed of their nutrients, and coated in sugar was cleverly elevated to an attractive lifestyle choice. 

Dairy products (and full fat ones at that), were a staple in the British diet in days gone by (and boy were we thinner then!).   Butter and lard were staple foods.  One of the most famous advertising slogans of all time “Go to work on an egg” tried to save the day.  But the might of the cereal manufacturers, and their substantial marketing budgets put paid to the great British breakfast. 

Today, eggs remain low on the nutritional ladder according to the legislators.  The Food Standards Agency and others like to suggest that dietary cholesterol causes elevated cholesterol levels.   This is flawed nutritional advice that has never been proven. 

Specifically looking at eggs, as shown in controlled trials, three to four per day produces no change in blood cholesterol levels in 70% of people.  In the other 30%, dietary cholesterol increases both LDL cholesterol and HDL cholesterol equally.  Most importantly, small, dense “pattern B” LDL is turned into light, buoyant “pattern A” LDL. These are highly beneficial changes.

And then we inevitably come to the saturated fat issue. Contrary to the advice generally reeled out, saturated fat does not make us fat and saturated fat does not cause heart disease.   Again, no scientific study has ever shown this.  In fact, multiple studies have shown the opposite, yet still the myths continue.

We have eaten natural saturated fats for thousands of years. Saturated fats are in fact, essential for many crucial aspects of body chemistry and provide nutrients difficult to get elsewhere. Issues such as heart disease and obesity were unknown until recent times - it’s not about the saturated fat!

Low fat products fill the supermarket shelves.  Young children are given semi, or even skimmed milk when nutritionally they need whole milk.  (The situation is even worse in America where young children are given sugar laden, chocolate flavoured milk). Low fat diets have become a modern obsession, and yet the nation gets fatter by the day.

 

Eggs versus Cereal - the Facts

We could reference many studies, and the links below do so. But here’s an interesting, and relevant one specifically on eggs and meat, versus cereals and vegetable oils in a Western setting. 

In 1957 Dr. Norman Jolliffe Director of the Nutrition Bureau of the New York Health Department initiated what they called the "Anti-Coronary Club".  Businessmen in the 40 - 59 age group were placed on the "prudent diet". Butter was replaced with margarine and corn oil. Cereals took over from eggs, chicken and fish took the place of red meats.
 
This group was compared with an eggs for breakfast, meat every day group over nearly a ten year period, the study was published in 1966.  The results? Well, eight in the Prudent Diet group died of heart disease. There was not a single death from heart disease in the saturated fat group

When it comes to eggs v cereal, we’ll take protein packed, natural fat, eggs for breakfast any day. And we’ll have a glass of whole fat, raw milk with that too please!  (Certified organic, raw (ie unpasteurized, unhomogenized) milk is now available for nationwide delivery from http://www.hookandson.co.uk)

If you have any doubts about our assertions on fats, you might like to read our fully referenced Butter or Margarine? article.

And do visit the Weston A Price Foundation, specifically on fats see this page: http://www.westonaprice.org/know-your-fats.html

And highly recommended on these very same issues, is a superb book recently released The Obesity Epidemic, by Zoe Harcombe, available in hard back and as an eBook download.  It dissects dietary myths on the back of well researched, solid evidence, and provides some very credible ideas when it comes to solutions to the problems we face.  And if you are on a diet, or need to diet, please read this book first!

 

A Closer Look at Carbohydrates

What does cause obesity is refined sugar (and  anti nutrients in “diet” products such as aspartame which actually make people hungrier), processed vegetable oils and trans fats which have no place in the diet and...carbohydrates.  

Specifically, refined, processed carbohydrates are the most guilty food group.  In excess, they impact on hormonal processes in the body and lead to what can only be described as metabolic ruin.  Also, many people today have a compromised digestive system.  Combining this with a refined carbohydrate diet is nothing short of a disaster.

Low fat diets make people crave carbohydrates to try and fill a nutritional gap.  And so the vicious circle continues.   Whenever cultures introduce refined carbohydrates.  The same thing happens, health begins to deteriorate.

And yet, when we look at the Government “Eat Well Plate”, we see more carbohydrate dense foods than anything else!  And standing proud, is that good old, friendly box of cornflakes…how the manufacturer’s PR teams must rub their hands in glee.

Real, nutrient dense whole foods are naturally low carb.  Processed foods are invariably high carb, and this along with our reliance on sugars and cheap, refined vegetable oils is the root of our obesity problem.  For thousands of years we barely ate carbohydrates.  Still today, if we look at the healthiest people in the World, they eat little carbohydrates, but often lots of saturated fat - Eskimos and the Masai being good examples.  The modern western diet is packed full of carbohydrates. 

Nutritionally, we need very little carbohydrate in the diet to function well and maintain a stable weight.  And the carbohydrates we eat should always be whole food and never, ever refined. Root vegetables provide ample complex carbohydrates for most people.  And of course they are naturally packed with vitamins and minerals (although not as many as 50 years ago). 

If you’re going to eat bread, do make sure it’s real bread in moderate amounts.  And truly whole grains (salt and sugar free!), and traditional foods such as rolled oats of course fall into a different category to refined cereals, for most people, they are absolutely fine in moderation. Sprouted whole grains offer even broader nutritional benefits. We know that the diets of many traditional, very healthy people around the world often includes small amounts of sprouted, fermented or soaked whole grains.

We are now even giving babies high carb, sugary foods - the Childrens Food Campaign highlighted in 2009 that Farley’s Rusks are a staggering 29% sugar! And how very peculiar that there is no definition for "high sugar", even for children.  "High fat" is bandied about so readily on the back of shall we say soft science, yet we know high sugar has serious repercussions and is not legislated against?

But let’s get back to the cereal. 

Breakfast cereal is a major source of refined carbohydrates in today’s diet.  They are placed on a healthy food pedestal, yet the majority of them are certainly not deserving of this accolade.   Some are even promoted as diet foods ("alongside a healthy lifestyle" of course!)

If the BBC programme revealed anything, it’s that the large manufacturers wield incredible, unrelenting power.  Whatever legislators and critics throw at them, they will change strategy and change the message whenever needed to maintain profits.  It would be fair to assume that the flawed nutritional advice we see every day, is in large part due to the power held by the supremely powerful, multi billion pound food businesses.

In November, Andrew Lansley, the "Health" secretary, brought big business on board to help the Government determine food policy.  And not just any big business, but McDonalds, Pepsi, Mars and you guessed it…. Kellogs!  You can read a piece on this at The Guardian.  And our article on this - From Digging to Taxation (With a Junk Food Shovel!)

A senior corporate source stated it was a "recognition by the new government that a lot of the best expertise lies with industry".  In our view, nutritional expertise, cannot, and will not be found in these new working groups of processed food companies.

A Quick Word on “Fortification” of Cereal


Where is the sense is stripping a food of its nutrients, and then putting them back in? For manufacturers, it’s all about the margins.  The more processed a food is, the better they are.  Simple unprocessed foods typically have margins of 3 - 6%.  Highly processed cheap commodities can reach margins of 15% .

Manufacturers sing loud and proud about the added vitamins and minerals.  Where they first saw it as a marketing problem when they were forced to fortify, they now angle it as a selling point. Now first and foremost, these nutrients are synthetic - definitely not the best way to get them.  Further, we were shocked to see Government advisers stating cereal is an excellent way to get micronutrients in the diet.  A cereal fortified with a handful of synthetic nutrients is not even close to approaching the body’s needs for micro nutrients and trace elements.  It is a ludicrous simplification of our complex nutritional needs.

Will Big Business Always Win the Day?


We hope not.  We’d like to see them taking their marketing and R&D budgets to town on innovating real nutritional and to help dig us out of the health chaos we are in.  Imagine the possibilities. But when we look at those attractive margins that highly processed foods allow, this is not going to happen.

We’d like to think Government would lead the way, but given their nutritional advice is already fundamentally flawed, and they are already politically and economically linked with the food manufacturers, this is also unlikely.  The Sustainable Food Bill is likely to muddy the waters even further.  Sally Fallon from the Weston A Price foundation looks at this particular issue HERE

But the times they are a changing.  And there is certainly a shift in food awareness. More and more people are returning to real food that provides real nutrition.  And long may this continue. Free thinking individuals, families and companies are recognizing that we can all make a difference by taking control of our own health, and helping others to do so.

We sometimes find it can be challenging delivering real nutritional advice that conflicts with everything the government has been telling us for decades.   The food companies can pack products with sugar, team up with Government and continue giving “health” advice.  But we sell supplements, which means we are tied up in legislative bonds and can say little to nothing about the power of nutritional therapy. But we are at least free to discuss the nutritional issues in a broader sense.  And we will continue to try and do our bit in bringing the issues to the fore.

If you have any thoughts or comments on the issues, please do let us know!  

(Please note: we don't like or intend to be political in our musings on the nutritional issues, but strongly feel these issues go over and beyond those of politics and must be discussed!).

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has".   Margaret Mead (1901 - 1978) American cultural anthropologist

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