A BIT OF HISTORY
In the 1950s meals were a central family activity. Parents and children sat down and ate together. Proper nutrition was about recommended food groups, meals were primarily in the home and restaurants were for special occasions. Obesity was an uncommon problem and dieting was for slimming a woman’s figure.
Today there are fewer intact families. Many meals are prepared by others: take-out, fast food or microwavable dishes. Restaurant eating occurs much more often and is about caloric excess or some gourmet palate experience. Obesity is epidemic, dieting is now widespread and about diabetes complications and ill health.
How did it come to this? In part because of well intentioned but misguided government recommendations. To a large measure it is also because of the success of American food industry marketing and addictive ingredient manipulation.
Government began promoting a change to the American diet in the 1970s. Saturated fat was the focus and recommendations were to reduce it. The unintended consequences were profound. Calories from animal fats were replaced with excess calories from refined carbohydrates (flour and sugar). Animal fats gave way to vegetable oils containing trans fats. An even higher daily calorie count was the result.
The food industry responded by shifting to scientific claims about the benefits of the contents of their products. They funded nutrition research to provide a basis for these claims. Some examples: “Less Saturated Fat”, “Lowers Your Cholesterol”, ” Boosts Your Immunity”, and “A Better Source Of Calcium.”
At the same time, the industry began adding sugar, salt and fat to refined carbohydrate products and fattened beef and poultry with new animal feed. This brought customers back for more. High fructose corn syrup did not exist before 1970 and now is ubiquitous on nutrition labels. Such additives to natural foods are ingredients studied by food companies using taste testing. Their goal is to sell their products and they have become expert at it no matter how dietary recommendations may change.
Finally, the food industry and government interact to control new dietary guidelines. The first major report was that of the McGovern Commission in the 1970s and its recommendations were revised and watered down after industry lobbying. Subsequent attempts to periodically revise dietary advice have met with intense lobbying resistance by the food sectors affected. As a result, there is really no public understanding of how nutrition and diet affect the cardiovascular health of the nation.