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How opening a cookbook could save 11 million lives

PUBLISHED: 21:25 10 April 2019 | UPDATED: 21:25 10 April 2019

Too much salt, too much saturated fat and not enough healthy grains and nutrients. In short, not good for you on a regular basis, says Andy Newman

Too much salt, too much saturated fat and not enough healthy grains and nutrients. In short, not good for you on a regular basis, says Andy Newman

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We all know that fast food isn't healthy, so open up a cookbook and start to save your own life, says Andy Newman

I have often wondered what motivates people to go into public health research. Perhaps it really is a heart-felt desire to improve the human condition by making us all healthier. Maybe it’s the lure of gargantuan research grants and seemingly redundancy-proof research posts in taxpayer-funded universities.

If you read the stuff that these boffins put out, though, it is difficult not to believe that what these people like above all else is ruining our day.

The latest headline-grabbing report to come from the public health conveyor belt was published last week, and how the research group’s PR people must be patting themselves on the back: the study gained headlines around the globe with the claim that 11 million people are dying prematurely because of what they eat.

Whichever way you cut it, 11 million people is a big figure. Even given the world’s burgeoning population, that means that between one in five and one in six of every death anywhere in the world is caused by poor diet. It’s enough to put you off your breakfast.

And that figure is only deaths caused by the food we eat – it doesn’t include deaths through not having enough food to start with, which the World Health Organisation says accounted for another 5.4 million deaths in 2017.

According to the report, three million of those premature deaths were caused by eating too much salt, another three million by eating too few whole grains, and a further two million through eating too little fruit.

Unfortunately for the vegan activists and the sugar police, neither meat nor sugar were cited as statistically significant mortality factors.

Despite the attention-grabbing headlines, it’s difficult to disagree with anything in the report. You eat junk, your body will punish you for it. The sad thing is that we still need to spend millions of pounds on this kind of study to tell us what is already screamingly obvious: we are addicted to eating rubbish food.

There can only really be two explanations for this: either we are too lazy to make the effort to cook properly, or else we are too stupid to work out that we need to eat a balanced diet.

Either way, the proliferation on our roads of mopeds with insulated boxes on the back gives us a clue as to why as a nation we are now killing more people through bad diet than through smoking. Those Deliveroo and JustEat boxes don’t contain the whole grains, fruit, nuts, seeds and vegetables we all need to eat more of; they are delivering salt-laden, deep fried premature death in a styrofoam tray.

Not so long ago a study showed that one in six young people eat fast food twice a day, and across the population, we get through more than five billion takeaways and ready meals – easily the biggest sources of salt in our diet – every year.

For too many people, and not just obese sofa-dwellers, eating healthily is a dirty word. How often, when a modest change in culinary lifestyle is suggested, do you hear phrases such as, ‘I don’t like rabbit food’? We have somehow arrived at a situation where eating healthily is equated with flavour-free, boring, joyless meals, rather than quality, balanced and delicious food.

The knowledge about the harm smoking does to our bodies is well-entrenched, 
and many smokers have taken that message on board and given up. But you can’t give 
up eating, so tackling this epidemic of premature death through bad diet is rather more complex.

Actually, no it isn’t. If you want to be in control of what you eat, there is a simple solution: cook your meals yourself, from fresh ingredients. Yes, it might be more hassle than microwaving a ready meal or having a takeaway delivered, but the food you will eat will not just be healthier, but it will also taste better.

Less salt (so less processed food), more whole grains, more fruit, more vegetables, more fibre. These simple things could prevent millions of people from dying early; all it takes is to open a cookbook.

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