In theory, it is possible to live entirely on convenience foods…

I I was recently asked to comment on the statement below, so I thought I would share my thoughts with you…

“In theory, it is possible to live entirely on convenience foods, without suffering from any nutritional deficiencies. However, in practice, most people would not be able to tolerate such a diet and it would become monotonous.  In terms of flavour, texture and appeal, there is no substitute for fresh foods.” … Extract from Food & Nutrition by Anita Tull.

Given the broad range of produce now deemed to be convenience foods, one could easily agree with the statement that, in theory, it is possible to live entirely on convenience foods.

And given the size of the convenience food market, one can assume that a significant proportion of the UK population does in indeed live on a diet made up almost wholly, if not entirely, of convenience food.

  • fast food industry has doubled in growth over the past three years and is expected to be worth £9.8bn by 20211
  • food to go market is set to reach a value of £21.7bn in 2020 – with a forecasted growth rate of +2.7% vs. 2019, the sector will continue to outperform the wider eating out market1.
  • annual average spent on take away meals was £265 in 2018. Office of National Statistics2
  • British consumers are expected to spend 22% more on takeaway deliveries by the end of 2020, valuing the market at £5.8bn1

The ever-broadening choice and variety of convenience foods available and the ease of availability (e.g. on line ordering, home delivery), one could argue that, nowadays, a diet comprising solely of convenience foods is far from monotonous.

Based on these statistics, it’s fair to say that a significant percentage of the UK population are living on convenience foods, but to what detriment?

If it is in fact convenience food that are the primary source of the nation’s nutritional intake the statistics below lay bare that it is far more serious than a just monotony that is the problem with such a diet.

  • 10% of five-year-olds are obese3
  • 20% of 11-year-olds are obese3
  • Children are currently consuming more than the recommended daily limit of sugar and this is a contributing factor to excess weight gain. The National Diet and Nutrition Surveyfound that sugary drinks account for 30% of 4- to 10-year-olds’ daily sugar intake 4
  • 1 million people are registered with diabetes, up from 2.4 million in 20103
  • Overall, 67% of men and 60% of women were classed as overweight or obese5

These statistics would suggest a correlation between the diet of the nation and the worrying state of the nation’s poor health.

Convenience foods are defined as those that are “fully or partially prepared foods in which a significant amount of preparation time, culinary skills, or energy inputs have been transferred from the home kitchen to the food processor”. Traub & Odland, 19796

This definition highlights why convenience foods cannot substitute fresh foods:

Processed foods, The Additives and The Missing Nutrients

Food processing, refining, cooking and microwaving are detrimental processes that are causing dramatic changes to the food we eat7.

Almost all convenience foods have been heat treated in some way; enzymes, which are absolutely vital to our health, are completely destroyed in all foods that are canned, pasteurized, roasted, baked, stewed fried – everything from fresh milk, to breakfast cereals.

Many convenience foods are now deemed to be ultra-processed – “industrial formulations with five or more ingredients.” 8 When talking about today’s convenience food market you cannot ignore the NOVA spectrum and the sheer scale and levels of processing many foods undergo.

With processing comes additives, colourings, preservatives, salt, sugars, hydrogenated fats and artificial sweeteners. Many of these synthetic substances which can mimic some effects of natural substances in our body, but in other ways are quite different from natural substances are likely to misfit our body’s enzyme architecture.9

We do not even know the long-term effects on our health of many of these industrially made compounds, nor do the manufacturers have to disclose them with the consumer, due to lax labelling regulations.

These chemical substances in our food could well be the cause of the increase in allergies – particularly noticeable in the West. Food allergies now affects about 7% of children in the UK 10.

Even partly processed convenience foods are devoid of essential live nutrients. Relying on a diet devoid of micro-nutrients, trace elements, essential fatty acids and enzymes, means that the body struggles to fight disease and build up a strong immunity.

On the other hand, live, fresh foods are natural and abundant sources of all these missing vitamins, minerals, EFAs and enzymes, which together allow the body to function not only well, but to thrive.

Overfed and Undernourished – Convenience Food and the Road to Obesity

Convenience foods are generally starchy and lacking in texture; having been heavily refined, they are low in dietary fibre (non-starchy polysaccharides (NSP)) – making it easy to consume large amounts and over consume one’s energy requirement.

The glands in the body are controlled by stimuli in the brain to secrete hormones – when blood sugar levels drop below normal the pancreas and adrenal glands secrete their hormones. When there is a lack of nutrients in the blood which support the endocrine glands the hypothalamus stimulates the appetite and causes a craving for food. The more that these processed convenience foods are eaten, the more there will be hormone stimulation, resulting in overeating. When you eat natural, unrefined carbohydrates their energy is released into the blood stream gradually, thereby not triggering the pancreas to release a lot of insulin in response.

Excessive eating leads to obesity… which can lead to high blood pressure, heart problems and many other diseases, including diabetes; reflected in the statistics mentioned previously.

Convenience foods create food cravings for even more sugary, starchy, fatty foods as the body is constantly in a state of need and starvation from a nutritional point of view. People are even showing cravings that can be likened to addictions, not dissimilar to that of nicotine.

Furthermore, constant rising and falling blood sugar levels in the body cause emotional swings and mental imbalances. These pendulum swings within the body means that one’s metabolism become exhausted (trying to maintain balance)… and this can be the foundation of both mental, as well as physical health problems.

Poor Diet and Mental Health Issues

Research suggests a direct correlation between poor diet and mental health issues – we have seen an increasing amount of publicity about mental health concerns in the UK over the last 18 months. Research suggests that what we eat may affect not just our physical health, but also our mental health and wellbeing. Eating well (i.e. a well-balanced diet rich in vegetables and nutrients) may be associated with feelings of wellbeing – one 2014 study found high levels of wellbeing were reported by individuals who ate more fruit and vegetables11.

Conclusion

Whilst in theory, it is possible to live entirely on convenience foods, and not suffer any monotony, one cannot agree that you would not suffer any nutritional deficiencies. And one must conclude that there is no substitute for fresh foods –  especially fruits and vegetables. Eaten in their raw form they nourish the body with a plethora of high quality macro and micro nutrients and enzymes which the mind and body needs to function properly, produce abundant energy and feed every cell of the body.

REFERENCES:

1 UK Food-to-go Market Report 2020 (6 February 2020) MCA – market research

https://www.mca-insight.com/market-reports/uk-food-to-go-market-report-2020/601749.article

2 Family spending in the UK: April 2017 to March 2018 – Office for National Statistics

https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/personalandhouseholdfinances/expenditure/bulletins/familyspendingintheuk/financialyearending2018

3 The Broken Plate Report (26 February 2019) – The Food Foundation

https://foodfoundation.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/The-Broken-Plate.pdf

4 Childhood obesity: applying All Our Health (Updated 1 May 2020) – Public Health England

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/childhood-obesity-applying-all-our-health/childhood-obesity-applying-all-our-health

5 Statistics on Obesity, Physical Activity and Diet, England 2020 (5 May 2020) – NHS Digital

https://digital.nhs.uk/data-and-information/publications/statistical/statistics-on-obesity-physical-activity-and-diet/england-2020/part-3-adult-obesity-copy

 6 Traub, Larry G. & Odland, Dianne D., 1979

“Convenience Foods and Home-Prepared Foods,” Economics Statistics and Cooperative Services (ESCS) Reports 206508, United States Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service.

7 Humbert Santilo Food Enzymes, the Missing Link to Radiant Health 1987

8 Ultra-processed foods, diet quality, and health using the NOVA classification system

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations Rome, 2019

NOVA – Prepared by Carlos Augusto Monteiro Geoffrey Cannon Mark Lawrence Maria Laura da Costa Louzada and Priscila Pereira Machado http://www.fao.org/3/ca5644en/ca5644en.pdf

9 Fats That Heal Fats That Kill Udo Erasmus, p125

10 BBC News Why the world is becoming more allergic to food (13 September 2019)

Dr Alexandra Santos is a Senior Clinical Lecturer at the Department of Paediatric Allergy, King’s College London.

https://www.bbc.com/news/health-46302780

11 Diet and mental health – Mental Health Foundation (October 2018)

Stranges, S., Samaraweera, P.C., Taggart, F., Kandala, N.B., & Stewart-Brown, S. (2014). Major health-related behaviours and mental well-being in the general population: The Health Survey for England. BMJ Open, 4(9), e005878

https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/a-to-z/d/diet-and-mental-health