Student - November 8, 2007

‘Bread is losing out to sugars and fat’

In the history of mankind, our daily bread is a relatively recent phenomenon. Of the 200 thousand years or so that humans have walked the earth, we managed for most of it without this food.

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Since then, however, bread has become so important that it represents a reflection of society, according to Professor Louise Fresco. The famous distinguished professor of Wageningen University, until recently Assistant Director-General at the FAO, gave a lecture on Monday 5 November for the KLV alumni association. Addressing a packed room in Hotel De Wereld, she talked about the changing patterns in nutrition and agriculture, using bread in all its forms as an example.

For a long time bread was the most important source of carbohydrate in the western diet, but this has changed rapidly in the last few decades. At the start of the last century, the average French person ate about one kilo of bread a day. Now the figure is just 165 grams.

Fresco has observed a change in the appreciation of bread since the nineties. Around then, the relationship between nutrition and certain chronic diseases became clear. The idea arose that bread was unhealthy because it was thought to make you fat. Rubbish, says Fresco: it’s not the fibre, protein or carbohydrates in bread that make people fat, it’s the sugars and fats in other foods that are the cause of obesity.

The reason that we go for the fattening foods en masse is because of our genetically programmed desire for fats and sugars, a hangover from the times when we had to eat what was available to build up reserves for leaner times.

As these fattening foods are relatively cheap, it is among the poor that the most obesity occurs. There are now 1.6 billion overweight people in the world, twice as many as the number suffering from malnutrition and hunger. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that most of these people live in the rich west. In China and India obesity looks set to become an even bigger problem than in the US or Europe.

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