Engineering food for health?

Agricultural economists have suggested that if everyone were to comply with government dietary guidelines, significant changes would be required in the global agricultural system. 

For example, if everyone ate less sugar, there would be serious ramifications for sugar cane plantations and sugar beet growers.  Maize production would also be affected as corn syrups now account for more than half the total energy-containing sweetener consumption.

At present, at least one-third of cereal grain production is fed to animals.  If the demand for lean meat increases, retail prices would rise, and higher fat products would shift to pet food or industrial uses, or be shipped to export markets.  A reduction in total fat consumption would reduce the requirement for soybeans by 36 per cent and countries exporting tropical oils would also be affected.


If everyone ate more fish, as dietary guidelines suggest, there would be serious implications for fish production.  According to experts, the oceans have already reached their maximum productivity and the quality of available fish has declined markedly.  Fish farming is of concern due to its damaging effects on the environment.

National Diet and Nutrition Surveys in the UK show that the population is consuming much less fish than is necessary to supply the essential omega 3 fatty acids to the diet.  Deficiency of omega 3 oils and the high level of saturated and trans fats in the diet has been linked with many physical health problems, including heart disease and stroke, cancer, inflammatory conditions and auto-immune diseases. Research also shows that a lack of omega-3 may increase the risk of depression and other mental health conditions.

Some scientists and economists believe that the changes to global agriculture necessary to meet dietary requirements would be so expensive or disruptive that they cannot be contemplated.  Instead of trying to encourage healthier eating in the population, they propose improving existing food using biotechnology, nutrient fortification and development of ‘functional’ foods with added nutritional value.

Food scientists at the University of Massachusetts have recently reported investigations into more economical and reliable ways to incorporate omega-3 fatty acids into foods.  They are developing new microgel capsules to trap the omega-3 fatty acids, chemically stabilize them to prevent spoilage, and allow them to be easily incorporated in beverages, yogurts, dressings, desserts and ice cream, for example. All this apparently without sacrificing taste, appearance or texture.

Other research is looking into the possibility of time-release nanolaminated coatings around fat droplets for delivery at different levels in the human body. For example, coating droplets with dietary fibres so some will break down in the mouth to deliver flavour immediately, while others break down in the stomach or small intestine to deliver peptides that signal fullness or satiety.

Still others might be designed not to break down until they reach the large intestine, where the laminated droplets would deliver anti-hypertensive or cancer-fighting food compounds that can’t survive digestive acids in the stomach. By manipulating food structure, food scientists are also exploring ways to increase solubility in the small intestine so more of the nutrients are absorbed.

Altering food in this kind of way takes us even further from the natural foods our bodies evolved to depend on and raises a whole new set of ethical questions.  Importantly, will such changes to the structure of food have unintended consequences for human health?  Or is this the only way forward in a world with a burgeoning population facing a burgeoning health crisis?

If you would prefer to eat natural whole foods, why not come along to a Cooking for Health course, held throughout the year in the UK.  Whether you are young or old, male or female, ominivorous, vegetarian or vegan, if you are looking for a natural approach to your health and well-being, you will find this course fascinating and potentially life-changing.


Cook your way to a healthier life

Ancient wisdom and modern science teach us that the quality of the food we eat is intrinsically linked with our level of health and well being.


The development of agriculture 10,000 years ago and the radical changes in the production and processing of food  which have occurred in the last 200 years, have led to our diet moving further and further away from the natural foods which sustained our earliest ancestors 2.5 million years ago.  From an evolutionary perspective, these changes have taken place too rapidly for the human genome to adjust.  Biochemically and physiologically, we are virtually identical to the hunter-gatherers who roamed the earth 20,000 years ago[i],[ii].




There is growing scientific evidence that the evolutionary collision of our ancient genome with the nutritional qualities of recently introduced foods may underlie many of the chronic diseases of Western civilization, such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer[iii], as well as problems such as depression, mood swings, PMS, hot flushes, chronic fatigue, inability to cope with stress, allergies and susceptibility to illness and infection.


In particular, food staples and food-processing procedures introduced during the Neolithic and Industrial Periods have fundamentally altered seven crucial nutritional characteristics of the ancestral hominin diets of the Paleolithic era: 1) glycaemic load (or the impact of food on blood glucose levels), 2) fatty acid composition (the balance between good fats and bad fats), 3) macronutrient composition (the proportion of energy coming from carbohydrates, proteins and fats), 4) micronutrient density (the amount of vitamins and minerals per calorie), 5) acid-base balance, 6) sodium-potassium ratio, and 7) fibre content.




Today, a few societies in the world are noted for their healthy longevity, including Okinawans in Japan, Hunzans in Pakistan and Vilcabambans in Ecuador[iv].  Scientific studies have shown that these people consume a predominantly plant-based diet high in whole grains, locally grown vegetables, beans, fruits, nuts and seeds, with small amounts of animal foods, sea vegetables, natural sweeteners and condiments.  In other words, natural, unprocessed foods similar to those consumed by the earliest human beings.


We too can be full of energy, in excellent physical health and with minds as sharp as razors into advanced old age if we move away from eating refined, processed foods and return to a more natural diet.


You can learn how to cook with these natural ingredients at Cooking For Health courses held throughout the year in Somerset, UK.   The classes cover the basics of healthy eating and focus on different aspects of the link between nutrition and optimum health and well being.  Topics include Managing Your Weight Naturally, Food and Emotions, Balancing Your Hormones, Beating Stress and Fatigue and Boosting Your Immune System.


The classes not only include cooking healthy and appetising recipes, but also slowly unfold a fascinating and comprehensive study of the healing power of food.


Whether you are young or old, male or female, vegan, vegetarian or omnivorous, a novice or an experienced cook, if you are seeking a natural approach to health and well being, you will find these classes valuable, interesting and potentially life-changing.

[i] Cohen MN (1989): Health and the Rise of Civilization. New Haven: Yale Univ. Press

[ii] Eaton, SB; Eaton SB III and Konner, MJ (1997).  Paleolithic nutrition revisited: A twelve-year retrospective on its nature and implications.  European Journal of Clinical Nutrition (1997) 51, 207-216

[iii] Cordain L.; Eaton,SB; Sebastian A.; Mann,N.; Lindeberg,S; Watkins,B.A.; O’Keefe,JH; Brand-Miller, J. (2005).  Origins and evolution of the Western diet: health implications for the 21st century American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2005), 81, 341–54.

[iv] Robbins, J. (2007).  Healthy at 100.  Ballantine Books.