What if eating well is actually “too easy”? The basic idea behind this goal, which we touched on in a previous analysis, is the importance of returning to a more holistic view of our foods – to stop and, in turn, reduce them to isolated, independent nutrients.
Food and general health (which includes the individual in his environment) are indeed interrelated, which we envisioned as the 3V rule: for ‘True’ (regarding the degree of food processing), ‘vegetarian’ (ratio of plant/animal products) and ‘Variety’ (food diversity) . The degree of food processing was the missing link in arriving at simple recommendations.
We were able to arrive at this observation by adopting an empirical and inductive (inductive) approach (inductive, because we start from the realist back to theory, and inclusive, to our search for connections between the parts of complex systems that are food and ‘food’).
It’s not trivial
First, the order of these three dimensions we evoke is not trivial to our food choices. To eat healthy and sustainable food, you have to respect the hierarchy that begins with the “real” base and separate “real” foods from ultra-processed foods. Then, within the so-called “real” foods, it is desirable to favor “Vegetal”, and finally, for “real” and “vegetarian” (and animal) foods it is necessary to strive for “Vary” – by giving preference, where possible, to organic, local and and/or seasonality to improve the ecological footprint and micronutrient levels.
To the “real” dimension, three sub-rules related to the degree of transformation should be added:
preference for whole starchy foods over refined foods;
- preference for solid foods to liquid;
- You don’t have a heavy hand on adding salt, sugar and/or fat (the ingredients extracted from the original matrix).
You don’t need to know more to eat well, either for you or for the planet.
The “3V” Rule of Truth, Vegetables, and Variety: A Essential Question for a Hierarchy of Healthy, Sustainable Food Choices © Anthony Fardet and Edmond Rock (via The Conversation)
Additionally, it is good to emphasize that while the “True” rule deals with the effect of the “matrix” of foods (their general structure), the “Vegetal” and “Variety” rules relate to the effect of “composition”.
Thus, the farmer-breeder produces “vegetarian” and “variety” (thereby providing nutrients and calories to the population) while the processor produces “correct” … or not. At the end of the chain, the consumer buys food from stores one by one (not directly a diet), and thus must first be concerned with the “real” base (and thus the degree of processing) of his choices. Then, to build his diet, he chooses the “vegetable/animal products” ratio and the variety (or even origin) of his foods.
In other words: the “food matrix” controls the metabolic fate of nutrients. The “matrix” commands, the feeders obey! “
Second, due to its holistic and general nature, the 3V rule is presented as a simple indicator of the overall quality control of a diet over time. Depending on the adequacy of these rules, we can determine whether or not this diet, especially on a nationwide scale (an ecological study), deviates from public health. We’ve done this work for two countries over the past 30 years: a developed country, France, and a large emerging country, China, which represents about 18% of the world’s population.
Are we heading in the right direction?
mangerbouger.fr 2019 campaign © Public Health France
The evolution of the French system (1998-2015)
In France, in 2015, young adults (<18 years old), adults (18-79 years old), and people over 65 years of age, respectively, consumed approximately 46, 35, and 27% of ultra-processed calories per day (the “correct norm” ”) and 39, 36 and 36% of animal calories per day (the “vegetarian” rule).
In terms of dietary intake (“variety” bases but also “vegetarian”), there is no widespread large deficit among the French population, but we can observe that children eat very high amounts of free sugars (>10% of total calorie intake) suboptimal coverage of fiber, linoleic and alpha-linolenic acids, EPA, DHA, vitamins A and E, copper and magnesium; in adults, suboptimal coverage of fiber, EPA, DHA, magnesium, vitamins A and C; and in older adults coverage Almost perfect with fiber, linoleic acids, alpha-linolenic acids, EPA, DHA (omega-3 essential for our cell membranes), vitamin C, calcium, iron, zinc and potassium.
Between 1998 and 2015, while children increased the portion of processed calories from 43% to 46%, and raised their plate from 46% to 39% of animal calories per day, adults reduced ultra-processed calories by 39%. % as well as reducing animal calories by 40-36%. So it is clear that children target ultra-processed products more than adults, and the same phenomenon is observed in other countries. During the same period, the prevalence of obesity and type 2 diabetes doubled.
This high consumption of ultra-processed and animal calories, far from the 3 volt limit, can be partially explained by the display in supermarkets and hypermarkets where nearly 60% of the French visit regularly.
Supermarket Shelf © PxHere – CC0
So we calculated a 3-volt sufficiency for the average shopping cart of 708 ultra-regular customers in 122 supermarkets of a leading brand to arrive at average numbers of 41% of animal calories and 61% of ultra-processed calories. Additionally, the more customers deviate from the ‘True’ rule, the more they deviate from the ‘Variety’ rule.
However, the 3V shopping cart costs about 5% less, especially by replacing the ultra-processed animal calories with True and Vegetable products.
Thus, the overall French diet is not sustainable and would require a reduction of approximately 50% in animal calories and ultra-processing per day, while increasing variety.
The evolution of the Chinese system (1990-2019)
In China (about 1.40 billion people), over the past 30 years, the consumption of industrially processed calories has been (data on ultra-processed foods not available: for information, in France, approximately 70% of processed calories are industrially processed) Animal calories decreased respectively from 9 to 30% and from 2 to 30%, respectively (see figure below).
While total calorie intake decreased by 9% with a marked improvement in the adequacy of nutritional needs, resulting in greater diversity in the diet. At the same time, the prevalence of obesity and type 2 diabetes increased by 1-6% and 2-11%, respectively, and the mortality rate from cardiovascular diseases increased by 28-42%.
During the period 1990-2019, the evolution of animal calorie consumption in China (•) and industrially processed )▲) and changes in the prevalence of weight gain (•) and obesity (▲) © Anthony Vardett and Edmund Rock/Cambridge University Press (via Conversation)
This example is interesting because the reduction in total caloric intake associated with an improvement in the “diverse” norm did not prevent the development of chronic diseases, suggesting that a gradual departure from “real” and “vegetarian” bases can be too much. More relevant in explaining this progress. So meeting your nutritional needs doesn’t seem to be enough to stay healthy if the quality of nutrients, and therefore the quality of calories, deteriorates.
Although the consumption data of ultra-processed foods is not known in China, the penetration rate of ultra-processed foods in Asia is the highest in the world. In relation to developed countries, Anglo-Saxon countries consume more ultra-processed calories per day, often over 50%.
China and Western countries combined, so we note that a large part of the world’s population is not eating sustainably, with too many animal products and ultra-processing (for which the staple diet is not sustainable), and sometimes disabilities remaining.
Reduce your consumption of ultra-processed foods © Public Health France
Nutrition and chronic disease
From the perspective of the 3V rule, we can therefore observe that eating a “diverse” and “vegetarian” enough to provide all the necessary micro-nutrients is not enough to stay healthy if we deviate from the “true” norm – and thus the matrix of calorie and nutrient quality.
The vision was centered on the only nutrients in the diet (called “nutrition”), indicating that they are sufficient to meet their nutritional needs to stay healthy, and therefore too insufficient to make informed, healthy and sustainable food choices: calorie quality is more important than quantity, and may consume One has fewer calories and more micronutrients, if it comes from ultra-processed food matrixes, then chronic diseases will continue to progress.
In short, eating a balanced diet is much more than just a matter of nutrients and calories, and obesity isn’t just about the difference between entering calories and letting them go. The quality of the food matrix, which is reflected by the degree of processing, overlaps the input and output, nullifying this reductionist and linear equation for weight gain.
However, it is true that ultra-processed foods originally drive consumption more than reason by liberating the act of eating, and thus satiety. But without exceeding the recommended calories and consuming only this type of food, you can also gain weight and/or develop diabetes…
The analysis was written by Anthony Vardet, research fellow in the Human Nutrition Unit at Clermont-Auvergne University and Edmond Roque, research director at the National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and the Environment (INRAE).
The original article was published on the website of Conversation.