If music be the food of love, shouldn’t we eat better while we’re making it?
“Eating well and keeping fit are absolutely essential to sustaining a career long‑term. I put a lot of effort into both. None of us work better when our bodies are failing us”: Tim Bazell.
In this series of articles, we’re looking at the worrying decline in our baseline level of health, and how our lives in the studio can cause harm. In the first two parts, we discussed the related issues of sleep and stress. This month we’re moving on to nutrition.
Nutrition is a hugely significant piece in the jigsaw of metabolic health, and it’s been the focus of my attention for most of the past few years. Nevertheless, I raise it with regret and trepidation. If ever a subject deserved to join politics and religion in the list of those guaranteed to plunge even the most genial of friends into an argument that would make the Hundred Years War seem like a slight misunderstanding, it would be this one. The vast majority of the messaging we get around nutrition is sensationalised by the media and comes directly, or indirectly, from the food industry. We can be more confident about what isn’t true than what is, and many of the questions we would like to ask are ethically impossible to answer.
I’d like to offer this one fundamental piece of advice that saves us from an exhausting list of dos and don’ts: Eat nutrient‑dense, whole foods.
Rather than trotting out endless pages of biological explanations, I’d like to offer this one fundamental piece of advice that saves us from an exhausting list of dos and don’ts: Eat nutrient‑dense, whole foods.
Let me briefly explain those two criteria, starting with nutrient density. Allowing a degree of simplification, we can think of our food as containing nutrients — protein, vitamins and minerals — and energy: fats and carbohydrates. The hormonal satiety signalling that prevents overeating and all its serious health consequences is skewed towards us getting enough nutrients, particularly protein. This makes sense, because not only is protein an essential building block of the body, but our traditional sources of protein are meat, fish, eggs and dairy, which offer the greatest density of micronutrients in their most bioavailable forms. If we ate enough protein, the chances are we would get everything else we needed in the process. Plant‑based messaging from the food industry might try to imply otherwise, but it’s not even close (although plants do provide some important micronutrients, and polyphenolic compounds). As the nutrient density of our meals drops, we begin to overeat energy in an attempt to meet our nutrient needs. This effect is termed ‘protein leverage’ and applies not only to humans, but widely across the animal kingdom.
What about ‘whole foods’? If a food doesn’t have an ingredients list, it hasn’t been deliberately formulated to make you eat more of it. Food companies engage in ‘food engineering’: the manipulation of certain flavours and textures to circumvent satiety. Products take advantage of the dopaminergic effect of sweet‑tasting, high‑energy foods, and our primal drive for sodium and the umami flavours that imply the presence of protein. The so‑called ‘Dorito effect’ describes the way in which a food product can be made more compulsive by tasting like it contains protein, but at the same time less satisfying by actually containing very little. Food engineering is now a relatively mature science, and it’s exceptionally effective.