Carbohydrates, which now make up the bulk of most of what we eat, only became a significant part of the human diet after we began practising agriculture some 10-12,000 years ago.
Before then, our ancestors would have had a much higher protein and much lower carbohydrate intake than we do. They would also have had much more active (if considerably shorter) lives than us.
The one thing they did not have was an obesity epidemic, a phenomenon that began in the early 1980s.
It so happens that this was around the time when so-called “low fat” processed foods began to feature heavily in our diet, accompanied by a profusion of books and magazine articles promoting variations of the “low-fat” diet.
Four decades later, and despite all these low-fat foods and low-fat diets, our average weight has ballooned dramatically. An alarming majority of the population is now overweight or obese, and a growing percentage have Type 2 diabetes.
How did this happen? Is it possible that there a connection between these low-fat foods and low-fat diets and the obesity crisis? Have we – all this time – been encouraged to eat the very foods which are making us fat? Could the fact that we have been replacing fat in our diet with (more) carbohydrates, be the real reason behind the obesity epidemic?
The “low-fat” diet industry can be traced back to a piece of research (the veracity of which has since been called into question) by an American nutritionist called Ancel Keys. His study suggested there was a link between fatty foods and coronary vascular disease.
Keys was very active in promoting these findings, and equally active in attacking research by others (most notably by a British scientist called John Yudkin) that came to different conclusion. Yudkin, in contrast to Keys, claimed that sugar, not fat, was the real culprit.
But Keys’ findings quickly found support within the processed industry because it gave it an opportunity to replace expensive fats with much cheaper bulking agents such as sugar and salt. These “low-fat” foods were then given huge advertising budgets to promote then to the public. Diet faddists similarly saw an opportunity to pursue their agendas.
When you throw in our sedentary lifestyles, you can see how this makes for a toxic cocktail.
There is a whole panoply of vested interests behind low-fat foods and low-fat diets, and a lot of money being made out of people who are unhappy and miserable because they cannot shift their excess weight.
A big part of the answer lies not in more dieting, but in a return to good, home cooked, wholesome food. The only processed foods you should be putting into your bodies are ones you have processed in your own kitchen.
Grilling a whole aubergine until the skin becomes wrinkled, blistered and charred imparts a wonderfully rich, smoky flavour to the flesh inside.
Here it is combined with a few simple, complementary ingredients to produce a stunningly good soup.
smoked aubergine and lemon soup
600 g fresh aubergines
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 litre vegetable stock
juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp smoked sea salt
1 tsp tahini
1 tsp za’atar
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1. Pre-heat the grill to its highest setting. Use a fork to prick the aubergine skin all over. Place under the grill and cook, turning, until the skin becomes wrinkled and charred and the flesh is soft. This will take around 30 minutes. Set the aubergine to one side to cool, then carefully scoop out the flesh into a clean bowl, taking care to remove any bits of burnt skin.
2. Pour the olive oil into a large pan and place over a medium heat. Once the oil is hot, add the onion and cook, stirring, until it is soft and translucent. Add the garlic. Cook, stirring, for a further two minutes then add the aubergine flesh, smoked sea salt and the stock.
3. Bring the soup to a simmer then lower the heat and cook at a gentle simmer for 20 minutes. Remove from the heat, stir in the tahini and lemon juice and set aside to cool.
4. Once the soup is cool, blend it until smooth using a food processor or blender. You will need to do this in batches.
5. To serve, reheat the soup gently in a clean pan but do not allow it to boil. Serve in bowls with a drizzle of olive oil and a scattering of za’atar.