About two and a half years ago I wrote an article entitled "Thailand and Health". In that article I made an observation that it is rare to see an overweight Thai let alone an obese one! I also observed that most Thai's are not only slim but have clear complexions and are generally healthier than their western counterparts.
However, when Thai's and other Asians immigrate to western countries, they lose their clear healthy complexions, a large proportion of them put on weight, start contracting diseases which are uncommon in their own country but common in their newly adopted country
Such change is also developing fast in these Asian countries! Let me revert back to Thailand again because it is a country I am becoming quite familiar with as I spend about half my time there, as we have now established an Asian regional office in Bangkok.
I see a number of alarming trends which were not apparent a few years ago. These trends are noted almost every week in local Thai newspapers. What are they?
- Obesity. This previously unheard of condition (in Thailand) is now becoming widespread with some officials suggesting that up to 40% of Thai children (in the cities) are overweight. Whereas I can't comment on the percentages suggested I can certainly say the increase in overweight children is obvious. No longer are they a rarity like they used to be.
- Diabetes. Never used to be a problem but it is now a serious health concern in Thailand.
- Heart Disease. There have been massive increases in the amount of heart disease in Thailand.
- Cancer. All types of cancers are also on the increase.
So, What On Earth Is Going Wrong
And is there a lesson for those of us in the west to learn something from this? In my opinion a definite yes! But, like everything in life, and in particular matters of health, if you want to avoid something happening to you it is necessary to try and understand the cause. Although there are of course, exceptions (such as genetic) a high percentage of ailments are nonetheless self induced, albeit unknowingly. By having a better understanding of what they may be, you can increase your chances of living longer and healthier. (Providing you act on that knowledge)
I am firmly of the belief that the state of your health is directly related to four main factors.
- The type of food that you eat. Is if full of good nutrients, or, does it have bad fats, sugars or chemical additives?
- The degree in which you 'top up' your food with essential nutrients.
- Your mental state.
- Your environment.
Today I am only going to have a brief look at point #1: Food.
Because I think that this is the main factor in the cause of the deteriorating health statistics that are now coming out of Thailand and other Asian nations... in fact, the health of the entire world is deteriorating. (NOTE: Don't confuse life span with health. Although people in western nations are living longer they are getting sicker as each decade passes.) What has changed in Thailand over recent years?
The most obvious one is the proliferation of fast food franchises. They are everywhere! And in Bangkok I mean everywhere... and they are popular, particularly amongst the younger Thai's. The same marketing principles apply there as they do in the west. Clever promotions to 'hook' the kids in so that they pressure their parents to take them there to eat! Even though the cost of eating at the fast food restaurants is much greater than the cost of eating a traditional Thai meal!
We are all aware of the dangers of eating fast foods to excess. The biggest danger posed is the amount of transfats in fast foods. These are both unnatural and dangerous. But... that is only one component of eating fast foods. I'll tell you about another important component that is usually overlooked shortly and applies equally to the food that you buy from the supermarket.
Western style supermarkets are also on the increase in Thailand. Although there are fresh fruit and vegetable sections, the big supermarkets are dominated by processed and convenience foods. Unlike the US where the dangers of transfats are becoming well known and manufacturers are beginning to respond to consumer's demands that situation is a long way off in Thailand.
So, apart from the obvious health danger of eating processed foods and fast foods with transfats and sugars, what are the less obvious dangers but just as insidious?
Additives and Colorants
These are the hidden dangers that most people are blissfully unaware of. For example, did you realize that when you eat your favorite strawberry dish out of a packet that it is unlikely that it contains any real strawberries at all? Instead you will be eating a concoction of chemicals that taste just like the real thing! Some of these chemicals may be known carcinogens, but they are legal and the formulas and contents carefully guarded trade secrets.
Some years ago, an effort was made to ban some of these substances and a bill known as the Delaney Act was passed in the US congress, but it was never enforced and ultimately through intense lobbying by the food industry it was repealed. This is an interesting story which will shock you. Maybe the subject of a future article.
To illustrate the point that I am trying to make about these additives let me give you an example!
A typical 'strawberry' flavor consists of approximately 50 chemicals! These include:
Additives: Amyl Acetate, Amyl Butyrate, Amyl Valerate, Anethol, Anisyl Formate, Benzyl Acetate, Benzyl Isobutyrate, Butyric Acid, Cinnamyl Isobutyrate, Cinnamyl Valerate, Cognac Essential Oil, Diacetyl, Dipropyl Ketone, Ethyl Acetate, Ethyl Amyl Ketone, Ethyl Butyrate, Ethyl Cinnamate, Ethyl Heptanoate, Ethyl Heptylate, Ethyl Lactate, Ethyl Methylphenylglycidate, Ethyl Nitrate, Ethyl Propionate, Ethyl Valerate, Heliotropin, Hydroxyphenyl-2-Butanone (10 percent solution in alcohol), A-ionone, Isobutyl Anthranilate, Isobutyl Butyrate, Lemon Essential Oil, Maltol, 4-Methylacetophenone, Methyl Anthranilate, Methyl Benzoate, Methyl Cinnamate, Methyl Heptine Carbonate, Methyl Naphthyl Ketone, Methyl Salicylate, Mint Essential Oil, Neroli Essential Oil, Nerolin, Neryl Isobutyrate, Orris Butter, Phenethyl Alcohol, Rose, Rum Ether, Y-Undecalactone, Vanillin and Solvent.
In my opinion, it is all these chemicals that are added to everyday foods, plus the transfats and sugar that is the biggest single contributor to the deteriorating health in Thailand and the rest of the world. It is not just the fast food franchises that are contributing to this but food manufacturers across the board in an effort to produce cheaper, more convenient and in many cases addictive foods.
I would hazard a guess that the deteriorating statistics that are coming out of Thailand and other Asian countries are disproportionately in favor of the more affluent sector of society who can afford these western and processed foods.
Maybe someone can do a study on this one day to see if my instinct is right on this. Whether or not it is, I for one will try to avoid as much as practical the eating of chemicals and substances that have no natural place in my body.
It may be a good idea for you to do the same.