Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Fruits of virtue

"The one thing that is in nobody's interest to say is this: fruit just doesn't provide that much nutrition in the first place. If you believe the nutrition industry, every week produces some new superfood, often a fruit: blueberries, pomegranates, acai berries. The fact is that fruit consists of water, sugars (normally about 10%), some vitamin C, and some potassium (thought to be good for controlling blood pressure). And that's kind of it. Pineapple, for example, has only got about 10mg of vitamin C per 100g (which means a 80g standard portion would only have about 12% of RDA) and is mainly water and sugar. In a typical supermarket fruit medley of 150-200g, at least 15g will be sugar, and the other major constituent water. If it's a citrus medley, there will be about 40mg per 100g of vitamin C, if not, there will be about 10-20mg.

In May, the Observer reported that dietitians have become so worried about claims being made for so-called superfoods that they convened a debate on the subject at the Science Museum. It may be claimed that particular exotic berries boost IQ, energy and immunity, but the only science even vaguely backing this up is that they contain folic acid, which does boost brainpower, but is present in many foods. The antioxidants in pomegranate juice, which supposedly fight diseases as different as cancer and arthritis, actually only last in the body for an hour. Wheatgrass, that standby of the trendy juicebar, is said to be rich in detoxifying chlorophyll, but every green vegetable and leaf in the world contains cholorophyll - which is not, in fact, absorbable by our bodies.

The added irony, in the topsy-turvy world of supermarkets, is that rich desserts often cost very little, while fruit, especially organic, fairtrade, and prepared fruit, is marked up. At the Sainsbury's where I got my lunch, I could have had four 100g creme brulees for 44p, two tiramisu for 98p, and six chocolate mousses for 69p - or a grand total of 11.5p each, making those Pink Lady slices, gram for gram, four times more expensive. We are, more or less willingly, paying through the nose for a particularly 21st-century version of virtue. "You're made to feel worthy, and therefore you're made to pay a premium for it," says Sanders. "Supermarkets have a lot to answer for in the obesity debate."

"The way you've got to look at fruit is that it's better to eat fruit than biscuits, cakes and puddings, because there's very little energy value in it and it's not fattening," he says. "A bit of sugar gives you a lift and takes the pangs of hunger away. But it's not full of all sorts of other nutrients as well. That's a myth"

Read the whole Guardian article by Aida Edemariam. (Thanks Rania)


Leila said...

I may have alerted you to this article before, but I find the premise fascinating - that to feed ourselves locally and sustainably we ought to favor growing root vegetables over grain:

"Vegeculture has several advantages over grain culture. For example, you don't have to till up a lot of ground at once, since these crops are adapted to "patch" culture. They often can be stored in the ground and dug up as needed, and can tolerate being integrated with perennial tree plantings. The tradition of planting in patches and leaving grown fallow to restore fertility in West Africa translated well in slave garden in the US and Caribbean islands because such gardens often had to be hidden. Often slave and later share-croppers had only hilly or otherwise difficult to use land, which is best served by being kept in perennial or semi-perennial root crops. Because slaves and tenant farmers had very little time to work their land, they needed high yielding crops that could provide nutrition and caloric density together.

"In her essay "They have Saturdays and Sundays to Feed Themselves: Slave Gardens in the Caribbean," Lydia Pulsipher observes that there is considerable evidence that islands that included many slave gardens didn't suffer the classic malnutrition of slavery. In fact, the available data on the history of produce sales by slaves (who sold their surpluses to both white and black customers), suggests that white people were considerably healthier on islands that had large numbers of slave gardens. The implication seems to be that the starchy, vegetable poor diet of Europeans on these islands was significantly inferior to the vegetable rich, nutrient rich diet of the slaves, and the influence of slave gardens improved the European seed diet enormously (probably to the less-than-total delight of the slaves themselves)."

and also:

"...if we are looking to home production to help end the tragic power of industrial food production with its heavy greenhouse gas outputs, water consumption and soil degradation, we need to start thinking in terms of producing more of our total calories at home. Growing our lettuce and tomatoes is a good start, but the next step is a return to home production of calorically dense foods, and to that, I am more and more convinced that vegeculture is part of the answer."

Leila said...

Casaubon's Book (ref. above) also has a post called What You Should Plant, with reasons why. Very enlightening. She is writing for a climate more like her own - northern temperate with frozen winters - but many of the crops would do well in Lebanon, and some are Middle Eastern in origin, such as chickpeas, sumac, and flax. She also recommends buckwheat, sweet potatoes, regular potatoes, beets, amaranth, a particular variety of winter squash, turnips, parsnips, alfalfa and more.
Really I think anybody interested in survival gardening and sustainable agriculture must read these articles.