I get tired of hearing about the need for a balanced diet, as to most of us this has no real meaning.
But when I first became a vegetarian, whilst battling through the dinosaur traffic to get to university, we were very worried about how to keep up our protein intake, a notion very strong in a country so fond of barbecues and roasts. So I found a book which explained about complementary proteins.
Basically proteins get broken down inside us into amino acids, and are then absorbed, but I think there are something like 22 amino acids but only 8 or so uptake mechanisms. Which means that they are in competition with each other. So you can be eating enough of one type but if there is an excess of another at the same receptor, so you will become deficient. So intake doesn’t mean necessarily that you will absorb it. Hence the complementary proteins, such as eating dairy with peanuts, so there was no bottlenecks at the uptake receptors so the maximum amount of proteins are absorbed, so are in balance.
The same is true with many other things that we eat. We do not have an uptake mechanism for everything that we swallow, so an excess of one can cause a shortage of another. With our kidneys, this is even more marked. We are told that lots of salt is a bad thing, salt in this case being sodium chloride. It is removed from the kidneys using a series of exhange mechanisms, the main one involves exchanging potassium, which is found in many fruits and vegs, for the sodium. So, if you have a good intake of potassium, the effects of excess sodium can partly be lessened; likewise, a high water intake can flush some of the excess sodium out of the system.
Back in the 18th century, one of the most visible illnesses was gout, an illness we seldom hear about today. It was caused by a build up in the joints of the breakdown products of proteins, so was caused by a combination of a high protein diet with low water intake, so the salts accumulated in the joints, so causing pain.
So, what is the point of all this waffling? Well, nothing really as usual. Or perhaps some general common sense. Years ago a chef told me the key to good food was to discover what you like and cook lots of it.
The key here is in the discovery. A few weeks ago there was an article in the papers about a family who moved to France, where the kids were fed adult food at school. At first the writer’s kids – used to kids junk food – wouldn’t touch the stuff, but with encouragement to try, and being surrounded by their peers who were really enjoying it, the kids have become adventurous and discerning eaters.
They also understand that eating is about socialising as much as about nutrition. It should be about stimulating our senses, it should be about pleasure. It should add to the quality and enjoyment of our lives. Food is too often seen today as fuel, to be bolted down out of necessity. Anyone who wants to know why the French economy is doing so well when they take so many holidays, this is part of the explanation. They just do things better.
One of the most horrific documentaries I have ever seen was on obesity in the United States, and the introduction of a new anti obesity drug which holds fat in the gut so people can keep eating as normal but lose weight as the fat passes through their systems. Unfortunately it has a side effect – they always do – here it was of anal leakage. To most of us this would be a thoroughly unacceptable action, but one user claimed it was ok as it let him know when to stop eating. How on earth did the world come to this?