The blurry science of shopping carts

(Versión en español: pinchar aquí)

In my family unit I am the person who does the food shopping. And I have a habit of noticing what overweight/obese people carry in their shopping carts. Today, waiting for the check-out, in front of me there was a lady accompanied by who I thought was her daughter, a 10-11 years old girl. The woman wasn’t slim, but I wouldn’t say that she was overweight. On the other hand the girl had a prominent belly, similar in form to those of pregnant women.

I noticed what they were buying:

  • Paper napkins
  • Jamón serrano (1 envelope)
  • Bacon (diced, 2 Packs)
  • A carton of whole milk
  • 24 cans of beer (or more)
  • A loaf of Bread (1 pack)
  • Sliced bread
  • Potatoes
  • Ready-shaped pizza dough (I think it was a pack of 2 units)

Assuming that the child doesn’t drink beer and she is not going to eat the paper napkins, it seems to me that her diet follows quite literally the food pyramid: lots of grains, little meat and barely any fat. And her belly wasn’t the one from a healthy child.

I know I can’t draw serious conclusions from such observations, because maybe that girl is actually the woman’s niece, they are together just for the day and that food has nothing to do with that girl, or perhaps that family was eating lots of fat until a couple of days ago and they decided to base their diet on grains, because of the effect fat had on the kid, etc. It’s just a curiosity, nothing more. Moreover, those who saw me buying two packets of butter, may have thought that eating that way I wouldn’t stay thin much longer. Or they may have thought that the butter couldn’t be for me. 

What I think is evident is that the public perception of what foods are fattening or not, has changed in the last few decades. Fifty years ago it was common knowledge that bread and pasta were fattening. Breakfast cereals were not included in that thought, probably because nobody was seriously thinking of eating that «thing». Some people say that «everyone knows that bread and pasta are fattening.», but this summer, at a gathering of friends, I asked them what they thought about that topic, and most of them replied that fat was more fattening because it has more calories.

This afternoon I watched the documentary «FED UP», as suggested by Andreas Eenfeldt. I found interesting watching what the obese (very obese) children in the documentary ate: cereals. Some of those children complained that eating healthy food and exercising wasn’t changing their situation. I think it is pretty obvious that someone has lied to them, and they are still lying to them, about what is healthy eating. Clearly it is what they eat, cereals and sugar, and not what they don’t eat, fat, what has led them to their current status.

A few minutes before of the documentary ended, a couple of children were looking at cereal bars in a supermarket and they dismissed those bars because they had too many added sugars («it is the third ingredient!» said one of them). And I think that’s the main flaw of the film (and also of some well-intentioned messages about nutrition): if we know that all carbohydrates are converted into the same poison once digested, why do they focus on sugar or added sugar? Do they think that cereals «with no added sugar» are healthy? Is that some kind of «divide and conquer» strategy, planned to deal in first place with added sugars, and avoiding to fight with all the junk food at the same time? Anyhow, I don’t understand certain stances.


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