Presenting the evidence in the British Nutrition Foundation's annual lecture last month, Jeya Henry, Professor of human nutrition and head of food sciences and nutrition at Oxford Brookes University, said our eating patterns were at odds with how our bodies are designed to absorb nutrients.
Henry advocated a return to the 'grazing' habits of the hunter-gatherers. They consumed a much wider variety of low-energy-density foods as and when they were available, rather than the two or three high-energy-density meals of today's developed countries.
Henry said our eating behaviour had changed as the population had grown, from the development of basic agricultural techniques 10,000 years ago, through the industrial revolution and last century's advancements in food technology.
"There has been a remarkable truncation of what we consume," said Henry. "While our ancestors thrived on a vast array of natural, foraged and hunted foods, approximately 80% of the world now depends on just four staples: wheat, rice, corn and potato."
Citing modern calorie-dense snack foods and lower-calorie meal components, such as boiled potatoes, he explained that the vast proportion of what we eat today is high-energy density. "We produce more than 2,100 types of food from wheat alone. It is the godfather of a noodle and a strudel!" he added.
Henry illustrated his argument by comparing food consumed by three families from across the globe Germany, Ecuador, and Chad highlighting differences in quantity and energy density. He said there was a huge discrepancy in the amount each family spent on food every week, with the German family spending the equivalent of $500, the family in Ecuador $31.55, and the Chad family $1.23.
Henry concluded: "Life is a fire. By that, I mean the body needs fuel to burn, and the most appropriate and efficient fuel to keep us healthy and help address the growing burden of obesity is the low-energy-dense variety."