our food – the times they have a-changed

Have you ever wondered how our diets have changed since refined food started making its way into our pantries and onto our plates?

iStock_000010707424XSmallThe Industrial Revolution started in England in the 1780’s and with it came drastic changes to our food supply. Certainly modern farming and new distribution networks have led to drastic improvements in the quality and variety of food items available. Unfortunately, the abundance and variety of food now available has also caused many of the health problems we are now facing.

Today, highly refined grain flour which was unavailable prior to the 1780’s accounts for 85% of the cereal content and 20% of the total energy intake in the North American diet. The overabundance of refined carbohydrates in our diet has led to an increase in the glycemic load of our food. The chronic over consumption of refined grains and sugars eventually leads to insulin resistance, obesity, diabetes and heart disease. Refined sugar consumption has increased dramatically from two kilograms of honey per year in hunter-gatherers to 6.8 kilograms per person in England in 1815 to a whopping 40 kilograms per year in Canadians currently. Not surprisingly, obesity has become our greatest health problem with 52% of Canadians being overweight or obese in 2012. Refined grains have also reduced the fiber content from an estimated 42.5g per day to the current 15.5g intake. This shift in fiber intake is clearly responsible for the jump seen in the incidence of colorectal cancer which is now the most common cancer in Canadian men and women.There was also a major shift in the intake of lipids with negative consequences for our cholesterol levels. The ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids in the diet has changed drastically. This ratio has now reaches a 10-20:1 proportion whereas ancestral diets probably approached a more reasonable 1-3:1 ratio. Excessive amounts of omega-6 and a high omega-6 to omega-3 ratio promotes several diseases such as heart disease, cancer, inflammatory and autoimmune disease.Our salt intake has also increased dramatically with 90% of the salt in our diet being added to our food. With the advent of refined salt sodium consumption went from around 768 mg per day to 4000 mg per day in North Americans. Salt leads to water retention and is known to have a direct effect on blood pressure.

The shift that has occurred in our food supply is alarming.

The consequence has been a reduction in the nutrient density of our diet. Diets with a higher nutrient content are known to reduce illness. Together refined oils and carbohydrates now constitute 36.2% of the energy in the average North American diet. We are now at the point where more than 70% of the energy in our diet comes from food which would not have been available prior to the Industrial Revolution.

So how do we change this unhealthy situation? The answer is simple – chose unrefined foods, eat at home whenever you can and select fruits, vegetables and ethically raised animal products whenever possible.


Ludovic Brunel, ND

Ludovic BrunelLudo is an exceptional physician with strong clinical skills grounded in scientific knowledge. He has helped design and formulated several dietary supplements for some of the most advanced nutraceutical companies in Canada. Dr. Ludo has also helped develop and implement wellness strategies for corporations and businesses looking to improve the health and happiness of their employees.

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