He is on about food again…

We all like to talk about food – although the prodigious range of cookery programmes on TV is a turn-off for ‘useless yokes’ like me. Maybe that is because I have no interest in food before it is trapped in front of me on a plate.

What we should eat is constantly under the microscope, and new advice is issued all the time. At the outset, I would contend that the most important thing of all is for every human on the planet to have enough to eat. To the eternal discredit of those who hold the key to the barn door, no more than half the population of the world ever know what it is to have their fill to eat. We have written about this shameful anomaly here before, and I think we have written on other aspects of food from time to time. Remember, after the weather, food is everybody’s favourite topic of conversation.

‘Eat your greens’ was the persistent directive we children listened to at the dinner table. This could come under the heading of a threat, a plea, or an enticement. Either way, the delivery had limited success – because none of us liked greens! A lot of greens got moved around the plate, as we tried to mould them into a shape that looked smaller. But the fact is that the mammies of Ireland did know best, and greens did help us to ‘grow big and strong’.

There is greater awareness nowadays of nutrition and the individual benefits of one food over another. What is regarded as a well balanced diet has changed a lot since it was simply a matter of ‘eating your greens’ and ‘you’re not getting up from the table until every bit of that is gone’. Unfortunately, Rover, begging under the table, like the rest of us and had no grá for greens.

The advice hammered out by the experts over the last generation was that everybody should consume five portions of fruit and veg a day. Again, how painfully frustrating must this sound to a parent simply struggling to keep enough food on the table in order to sate the family’s appetite. We all know that everybody in Ireland should always have enough to eat; but the food on the table can often be reduced due to underlying problems.

Staying with the previous advice of eating five portions of fruit and veg per day, new findings have improved on that. And before we go on, it is stating the obvious in saying that nutritionists have and are having the greatest role in increasing life expectancy in the developed world.

The latest advice is that we should be aiming to eat 30 different plants a week. Hold on, hold on, Gorls. This isn’t as difficult as it may seem, so please bear with us!

Researchers on the British and American ‘Gut project’ have found that people who eat a wide variety of plants have significantly more diverse gut microbiomes than those who follow a more restricted diet. Gut diversity has been linked to a range of benefits, including healthier immune system and reduced risk of diabetes, obesity and cancer. The emergence of the ’30 plants a week’ plan has the backing of eminent medical scientists and doctors specialising in that field.

I told you that this dietary plan is a lot more feasible than it sounds. This is because your 30 plants can include black tea, coffee, dark chocolate, nuts, seeds, and spices. When you add in your regular fruit and veg… seems to me that we are there already.

Then, as in most findings, there are the contradictions.

Rice was the staple diet of half the world’s population for 10,000 years. In the south of ancient China, the people ate hardly anything else but rice. How come that many of those people lived to be a ripe old age? Traditional Eskimos of the frozen northern regions of our planet ate hardly anything else but fish. Early reports describe these people as looking ‘beautiful and athletic’. So where do our balanced diets fit into all of this? To me it serves as a testament to the strengths and adaptability of the human species.

Everyone knows about the potato famine in Ireland. To add insult to injury, we were looked down upon in certain quarters for our dependence on the potato; but do you know that the humble spud is the one food which comes close to being the only ingredient you can survive on long term? The fact that the potato has Vitamin C singles it out as a unique food. Also, the egg is said to be the only complete meal all in one.

I’ll leave the final word to my late father: Not scientifically corroborated – but it gave succour to us non-greens eating creatures; ‘If you like it, it’s doing you good, and if you don’t, it’s not!’. Maybe that is why I am not really a sensible eater!

Don’t forget

Happiness is like a potato salad – when shared with others, it’s a picnic.