Understanding the shifts in Human Nutrition (1) – The way we ate

horn-of-plentyIf you monitored this site over the past few months you would have seen quite a few discussions on the effects of food on our emotional and physical well being. We specifically discussed the positive impact that a Low-GI diet can have on the life of someone dealing with the symptoms of ADD/ADHD. We also tracked some of the not so positive effects of the ‘blood sugar rollercoaster’ that is an unfortunate part of the experience of way too many people. Over the next few weeks we will take all of this information to the next level by looking at practical ways in which you can make ‘Low-GI’ part of your life.

It may be good, before we focus on some details, to briefly consider the role that food plays in our lives and how this relationship is often one that is characterised by ignorance and tension. I believe that understanding, and reforming if necessary, our relationship with food is one of the keys to a healthier life. It is also my conviction that it is one of the key building blocks in an effective anti-ADD/ADHD strategy.

One way of analysing our relationship with food is to take a look at the way in which this understanding has changed over the years. It is perhaps tempting to think of the past as some kind of ‘Golden Age’ where everybody ate super healthy diets. This is obviously not the case, people in ages past had their own ‘food issues’ (although in most cases this would have been to do with the lack of food rather than the superabundance that most of us have to deal with today). What is incontestable however is that past generations did not suffer anything like the kind of widespread diet related health problems that we have come to see as almost ‘routine’. Obesity is but one case in point. As recently as 1960 only about 10% of adults could be classed as obese: Today the figure is hovering around 35%!

It is quite clear that something happened that redefined our relationship with food, and that that ‘something’ was certainly not for the better! Before we begin to analyse the elements of our current relationship with food it would perhaps be good to take a look at the way in which food was traditionally viewed. I am convinced that the breakdown of some of these elements is at the heart of many current health problems, including ADD/ADHD. Some of the elements of this traditional view were:

Food was scarce: In ages past all but the very rich experienced a lack of consistent food security. This does not necessarily mean that everybody wondered where the next meal will come from, rather that food was much more valued as a precious resource than it is today. This meant that our ancestors made their food choices much more carefully as they knew they were dealing with a finite resource.

Food was seasonal: Previous generations ate certain foods at certain times of the year, more or less in line with when Mother Nature provided them. This meant that different types of food were ‘averaged out’ in the diets of most people through the fact that it was practically impossible to survive on just one type of food for the whole year.

Food was fresh: The advent of cooling technology and chemical food preservation means that our food takes much longer to reach our plate than was the case with our ancestors. While it is true that they also made use of preservation methods (e.g. storing hams in brine or drying meat) these methods were much less radical and invasive than what is used today.

Food was natural: This is perhaps the biggest difference between our diets and that of our forebears. The complex chemicals and even harmful pesticides that form a part of most modern diets are a world away from the natural cultivation and preparation principles that were followed in the past. The alphabet soup of chemicals and additives that we take in with almost every bite has a significant impact on many areas related to our general health and wellbeing, an impact that previous generations would have found almost unimaginable!

Food was hard work: The time that it takes to prepare an average meal has dramatically decreased over the past century. In most cases this is simply because we have access to better technology (e.g. we don’t have to light a fire to boil water!). This was not without consequences however. The fact that we can prepare food at lightning speed often means that our preparation methods are less than ideal (e.g. microwaving or deep-frying) or that it relies on massive amounts of chemicals and additives to preserve our ‘ready meals’ until they can be brought to the table (or more likely television!) at the drop of a hat.


It does not take a genius to work out that none of the above statements are still descriptive of how most modern people view the food on their plate. The shift that occurred was so far reaching and radical that it brought with it a slew of health related problems. I firmly believe that the rising incidence of ADD-ADHD could also be at least partly explained by this. Next week we will look at exactly how most of us view food these days and how our perceptions are harming us. See you then!