I understand why Rishi Sunak and the UK government have come up with a scheme to incentivise people to go out – not because going out is a great thing per se, given that it will increase your chances to catch Covid, but at least because it will support the economy and the restaurant sector, which has been absolutely hammered by the pandemic.
The intention, of course, is a good one – families are struggling, they get a discount to eat a meal, and restaurants make a little money. All that is good.
What is not great is that inevitably, struggling families will be highly incentivised to have an even cheaper fast food meal. I don’t mean to take a cheap shot at every fast food, nor to assume that all fast food is bad – it’s not and especially it shouldn’t be. But generally, what is bad, is the uninformed customer choice of food – that ends up causing more damage in an already fragile situation.
If a key priority of the UK government is to tackle the obesity epidemic, which also increases your likelihood of dying of Covid, you definitely don’t want to give away a 50% discount to eat more junk. Rather, you’d be selective and careful about the incentives you want to create.
And here the conversation becomes real tricky. What is healthy? What should people know? What should restaurants do to improve the health of their food? And lastly, what should the UK (and frankly the US government) do?
First of all – obesity has almost nothing to do with exercise. We should acknowledge that it’s almost entirely function of our diet, possibly genetics, and only more broadly of our lifestyle.
Nutrition has become a topic almost as toxic as politics, with a huge variety of different views, and the actual goal of healthy eating is now polluted with environmental, bioethical, economic considerations that have very little to do with the actual question: what is good to eat.
I have my own theory, but I will save it for another post – what I would say is that virtually everyone agrees on what is really bad to eat, namely:
- Seed oils
- Refined carbohydrates and processed food in general.
If you just removed these things from the diet of a population, they will be at least 70% better off. Which is huge. And yes, that’s just my own unscientific estimate – the benefit is probably more than 70%.
Sugar is virtually everywhere – especially in refined products, but also in natural ones (fruit, fruit juice, dates, honey etc). Sugar is more addictive than cocaine and it’s the long-term enemy n. 1 for all health issues. Can government tax sugar, and make it much more difficult or expensive to consume?
Seed oils are one of the most toxic creations of mankind – highly processed stuff with a huge content of “bad” omega 6 fatty acids. These are the main enemy of heart and arteries. Almost everything you eat that is fried or cooked, tends to get done in rapeseed or canola oil, and it’s extremely dangerous. Also, non-dairy spreads are almost entirely seed-oil based, and are also hugely toxic. What can the government do? Tax or frankly ban these oils and spreads entirely, and refocus the market on olive oil, avocado oil and coconut oil, which should get real incentives and discounts.
Refined carbohydrates and process foods include all white flour based items (white bread and pasta) and a ton more (baked goods like cakes and cookies, sweet snacks, candies and so on). You can add to this category virtually anything that contains white flour, and anything that is made of more than 3-4 natural ingredients. If you read a food label and you have no idea what the names on it are, you probably should not eat it. Most of it is toxic stuff derived of corn or soy – not good for the environment (GMO mono-cultures), not good for you.
The problem we have with fast food restaurants is that they offer a lot of sweet stuff (sodas, shakes, cakes, donuts, desserts etc) as well as a lot of refined carbs (white bread, buns, dough) and they fry everything in cheap and toxic seed oils (french fries, meat and chicken). Basically poison, with a side of poison, fried in poison.
If all these fast food restaurants were only offering eggs, fish, meat, salads, nuts, cheese, wholemeal grains – I would not have a particular problem with them, or with the government supporting them. I don’t even think it’s about having organic food – industrial food is good enough, if it is simple and not refined. However, currently, all they serve is basically a platter of toxins that go straight down people’s throats.
My personal conviction is that the best way to lose a lot of weight and stay healthy is to eat mainly proteins, preferably animal proteins, keep carbs low and get most of your energy through fat. That’s what I have done and has worked remarkably well for me. However, if someone else prefers eating mainly plants and they get thin and lose weight that way, that’s great. Either way – can we have an open and honest conversation about what is good for a country, and how to encourage good behaviours?
The title of this article is cheeky – I do believe it’s better to Eat In, if you can (and if you know what to eat), because that allows you to really control your diet. However, I fully understand the spirit of the government initiative and I approve it – well done Mr Sunak for your effort to support the economy. It would just seem sensible for a government to be more coordinated on a topic so visible and frankly crucial that is the obesity epidemic, which kills far more people than Covid ever could.