Defining The Problem: Poor Diets

After discovering a 45-minute swim doesn’t even burn enough calories for a Mars bar, Bags of Taste founder Alicia Weston realised that something needed to be done about diets.
This is the first in a series of four blogs that explores the concepts behind Bags of Taste that contribute to its success
A market stall with many colourful and exotic fruits and vegetables

“Eat real food, not too much, mostly vegetables”.  – Michael Polin

Evidence shows that the key to losing weight is your diet.  It contributes about 80% to weight loss vs 20% for exercise.  Thanks to my involvement in Bags of Taste, I have had to dust off my medical sciences background and learn more about nutrition and diet.

Nutrition is an area that is mired with claims and counter claims, and things we thought we “knew” years ago – for example, that margarine is better for you than butter, because of saturated fats – has been called into question.

First, it turned out that margarine had trans fats – very bad for you – and now we have moved onto the debate about saturated fats, that I won’t even get in to.

With so much disagreement in this area, it can be a minefield.  If it’s confusing for me, what on earth is it like for those without my background? We had to make this simpler.

It turns out that there is one thing that pretty much scientists and nutritionists seem to agree on.  A diet of home cooked, real food is much better for you than processed. As Michael Pollan put it; “Eat real food, not too much, mostly vegetables”.

But what do we mean by real food?  Broadly speaking it’s the stuff that your grandmother would recognise as food.  This is food that humans have evolved to eat; our bodies are designed to deal with it and that is a good thing. But we don’t seem to be eating enough ‘real’ food.

A processed meat pie

How much actual meat is there in a cheap meat pie?

In the UK, we have the highest consumption of ultra-processed foods in Europe, making up fifty per cent of what we eat. Ultra-processed foods are often high in salt, fat and sugar, low in nutrients, and ultra-profitable, enabling still-profitable discounting.

Producers pad out their processed foods with calorific fats and nutritionally empty starches and gums, which are far cheaper than the real thing, and then liven it up with some salt, sugar and flavouring. How much actual meat is there in a cheap meat pie?  A lot of pastry, tasty salty gravy, but little actually recognisable meat.  Even labelling doesn’t always make it easier to understand how processed your food is. (Check out the phenomenon known as “clean labelling” for how this works in detail).

When we look at diets and nutrition, we need to understand that ultra-processed foods’ convenience, availability and strong flavours all create barriers that limit people in poverty chances of accessing real food. People on low incomes are driven by taste, cost, and convenience in that order.

Ultra-processed convenience foods are very tasty, cheap, quick and heavily marketed, often with promotions.  Most “special offer” products in supermarkets are ultra-processed – and if you’re on a tight budget these are particularly tempting.  40% of all the food we buy in the UK is on special offers.

At Bags of Taste, we spend time understanding the people we work with, learning what motivates them, and idenitfying the barriers they face everyday when it comes improving diets and changing lives.  Our approach uses this information to transform how they cook, shop and eat, on a long term basis, reducing their reliance on takeaways and ready meals by 85% and saving £1,350 per household in food and takeaway savings.

Read the next in this series of blogs where we talk about the underlying causes of the problem here

Previous Blog Posts

Class Meal

How to achieve scale and impact

Replicability is the key to scaling. Yet so many interventions are small scale and highly personalised; it takes enormously tailored, intensive interactions to effect change in people who need a high degree of support. We should know.
can opener or tin opener

“I don’t have a tin opener”

Talking with our participants has been one of the most important things behind the success of Bags of Taste.  We’ve always been really interested in why they are not cooking – we’ve frankly surveyed the hell out of them (our pile of forms is almost 3ft high!!)