I am studying for my Food Chemistry midterm and I thought this would be the perfect time to share a bit of what I have learned.
For the vast majority of human existence, until the last couple hundred years, humans have relied on plants and animals for food. Everything was in its native form; no extractions, genetic modifications, or purifucations. Food was food, and people developed knowledge of food through experience through trial and error. They learned what to eat from their native land to sustain themselves and to treat illnesses. This information was passed down orally from generation to generation (think about all the weird-sounding old remedies you hear about for ailments), which is responsible for what we now think of as ethnic foods or cuisines. Humans survived and accomplished all of that without the slightest concept of fat, protein, or carbs, let alone vitamins and minerals.
In the 1900’s, science and technology made great advances. We began to look at molecules and then the atoms that make up the molecules. John Dalton created atomic theory.
This is when we started to reduce food to its constituent properties. We began to tear it apart and stare at it in a microscope. We learned about the differences between lipids, amino acids, and carbohydrates. We discovered all of the essential nutrients.
What did we do with this knowledge?
Scientists began to connect certain diseases and illnesses with nutritional deficiencies. Even some mental conditions were not mental conditions at all, but simply severe malnutrition of a particular nutrient. Curing the sick and saving lives through diet was a huge success.
We began to mildly overdose the entire population.
Iodine in salt, fluoride in water, enriched wheat flour, the list goes on.
“What better way to protect the people from illness and death than to add nutrients to their food and water supply? So what if not everyone has a nutritional deficiency, lets just take care of them all by overshooting a little bit! As long we stay within the safe range, giving them a bit extra isn’t going to do any harm.”
Except it has.
By invisibly adding nutrients to food products, the government and regulatory agencies have invisibly cured many diseases. No one in the US now is worried about getting a fat goiter on their neck or having their teeth fall out (from scurvy). We don’t even need to think about diseases related to nutrition because most of it has been taken care of for us. Adding nutrients to our food supply has taken nutrition out of our consciousness. It is elective, optional even. Now, we eat for taste. Companies sell their products for taste. As my professor puts it: “The food supply competes on an almost purely hedonistic (delicious) functionality axis.”
Of course, this has also been very good for us. The average life expectancy is now over 90 years. That is 3x longer than just over a century ago! (However, since just 1985 we are also 3x more obese.)
Even though we are no longer at risk of dying due to lack of vitamin C or protein, we now have a responsibility to take our health, education, and nutrition into our own hands.