Who has recently opened their fridge, contemplated the contents and pondered: “What shall I eat?” Naturally, you can only eat what is in there. What was in there? If you have been inspired by the SCPN’s #HealthyShelfie campaign, there is a good chance you could pick from fresh wholesome foods. If you really nailed it, the contents of your fridge could tell the season of the year or even which country, or part of a country, you live in.
F Marian McNeill described the times pre-Agrarian Revolution (pre 1750s) in her book The Scots Kitchen: Its Tradition and Recipes: “In the olden times, when the population was small and parse – by the beginning of the sixteenth century it did not exceed half a million – the means of sustenance were on the whole plentiful. The moors and forests abounded with game; elsewhere ‘herds of kye nocht tame’ with flesh of a marvellous sweetness, ‘of a wonderful tenderness, and excellent delicateness of taste’ ranged the hills. Rivers, lochs, and seas teemed with fish. Sheep were valued mainly for their wool, cows for their milk. Butter and cheese were in use in the earliest times and the oat and barley crops have always provided the staple bread”.
She painted a beautiful picture of the Scottish food heritage. Two centuries later, Lord Boyd Orr, director of the Rowett Nutrition Institute gave a different account of the Scottish diet: “Up until the middle of the last [nineteenth] century, the people of Scotland were eating natural foodstuffs. With the introduction of machinery, this has been changed… Natural foods have been changed into artificial foodstuffs, with the very best substances purified away that the Almighty put there to keep us in perfect health.”
Today, Scottish land, waters and resources combined with a reviving food culture and cutting edge research have the potential to make the Scottish diet one of the healthiest in the world. Unfortunately, this is not the case. In Scotland, diets are shaped on the one hand by eating too little nutritious food, such as fruit and vegetables, oil-rich fish, nuts and seeds, and high-fibre carbohydrates, and on the other by eating too much fat, sugar and salt. The outcome is an overconsumption of energy and nutrient-poor foods such as heavily promoted confectionery, cakes, biscuits, pastries, savoury snacks and sugary drinks. These foods, historically considered as treats, are now eaten frequently as snacks. Sadly, many Scottish adults do not recognise the problem believing their diets to be healthy. The question is: What can we do about it?
In 2014, the Brazilian government introduced very different dietary guidelines which focused on environmental sustainability and in which food was framed as a cultural and social value. The guidelines categorise foods according to the extent of processing rather than recommending levels of separate nutrients. This approach encourages fresh and minimally processed foods and actively discourages consumption of ultra-processed foods and drink products. The guidelines recommend traditional, healthy foods and give ideas for healthy breakfasts, lunches and dinners. They give ten recommendations and one Golden Rule: “Always prefer natural or minimally processed foods and freshly made dishes and meals to ultra-processed products.”
Anyone, when asked ‘What to do to eat healthily?’ could come up with most of the Brazilian dietary recommendations:
- Make unprocessed or minimally processed foods the basis of your diet
- Use processed culinary ingredients in small amounts for seasoning and cooking foods and to create culinary preparations
- Limit consumption of processed foods
- Avoid ultra-processed products
- Eat regularly and carefully in appropriate environments and, whenever possible, in company
- Shop in places that offer a variety of natural or minimally processed foods
- Develop, exercise and share cooking skills
- Plan your time to make food and eating important in your life
- Out of home, prefer places that serve freshly made meals
- Be wary of food advertising and marketing
Could we use a similar guide in Scotland? Would it be more effective at improving national diet or perhaps the contents of your fridge?
One thing is certain: Scottish diet is poor and we need to do whatever we can to improve it. Getting inspiration and directions from our amazing food heritage and culture could lay the foundation to Scottish diet becoming one of the healthiest in the world.