In the middle of the pre-Christmas campaign, the debate on the content that food donations should have by food banks has been revived. Do people with few resources have access to healthy food? And the real question that we should all ask ourselves: is it necessary to donate unhealthy products?
Eating to meet our nutritional needs, not just energy, must be our main objective. We cannot fight malnutrition by promoting malnutrition
Noncommunicable diseases, such as cancer, stroke, obesity, or diabetes, kill 41 million people each year worldwide. The prevalence of these diseases, preventable through a healthy lifestyle, is directly related to poor diet.
Despite these figures, there are people who still defend the argument that eating everything in moderation can be recommended. Meanwhile, we live immersed in an obesogenic environment, full of ultra-processed products, very cheap and whose consumption increases the risk of death.
Eating is not the same as eating well
Currently, the overweight and obesity rates continue to rise and are inversely proportional to income level. Low-income people often have a nutrient-deficient diet with a high intake of cheap, high-calorie, ultra-processed products, such as industrial pastries, pre-cooked food or sugary drinks.
So, we can be feeding on food that gives us excess energy, but at the same time be malnourished. Eating to meet our nutritional needs, not just energy, must be our main objective. We cannot fight malnutrition by promoting malnutrition.
Food has no magic powers
The false appearance that consuming certain food products makes us feel happier is nothing more than an invention of marketing, in which the food industry invests a lot of money through advertising. We must not forget that people love to hear only what we want to hear, and if it makes us happy even for a little while, much better.
I know this is going to raise blisters, but someone has to say it; a glass of milk with sugary cocoa and cookies is, and always will be, a poor diet option. No matter how rich you are, or how happy you make us drink it. If this mixture has any super power, it is that of malnourishing ourselves. So the arguments that try to defend its consumption, associating it with happiness or well-being, are highly irresponsible.
While doctors do what they can by giving dietary advice to people without adequate time or training. Our national health system still does not include the figure of the dietitian-nutritionist in primary and hospital care. People with few resources who want to improve their diet cannot afford to pay a private consultation with a nutritionist and this situation contributes to fostering disinformation, preventing them from acquiring the knowledge and tools necessary to improve their diet.
People with few resources who want to improve their diet cannot afford to pay a private consultation with a nutritionist and this situation contributes to promoting disinformation
Making good food choices depends on many factors. People know full well that it is better to cook your own food at home than to buy it pre-cooked in a supermarket. But if they cannot do it due to lack of time, it is very easy for them to turn to ultra-processed products that, in addition to being bought ready to consume, are usually very cheap.
The way of eating does not depend solely on the economic resources that are available, but it is something much more complex. If we want to contribute to improving people’s nutrition, we must promote policies and measures that promote and encourage the choice of healthy foods, clearly informing consumers about the ingredients of the products and controlling the advertising of ultra-processed foods.
Resorting to charity to solve the food problems of people with few resources should not be the only option, but if we do it better do it well. In this infographic, created by dietitians-nutritionists Lucía Martínez and Aitor Sánchez, healthy options are proposed if you want to donate food to food banks.
Laura Saavedra (@laurascasanova) is a dietitian-nutritionist, advocate of real food and advice based on scientific evidence.
NUTRIR WITH SCIENCE is a section on food based on scientific evidence and knowledge contrasted by specialists. Eating is much more than a pleasure and a necessity: diet and eating habits are currently the public health factor that can most help us prevent many diseases, from many types of cancer to diabetes. A team of dietitians-nutritionists will help us to better understand the importance of food and to destroy, thanks to science, the myths that lead us to eat badly.