Did the reduction in food intake occur on poor foods or on foods rich in vitamins and minerals?

Health Care

Currently, the French consume on average

  • Did the reduction in food intake occur on poor foods or on foods rich in vitamins and minerals?2 times less bread than 40 years ago;
  • 2 times less potatoes than 50 years ago,
  • 7 times less pulses than 50 years ago;
  • Twice as much sugar as at the start of the century;
  • Twice as much meat as 50 years ago;
  • Twice as much cheese as 20 years ago.

This development mainly leads to a considerable increase in lipids at the expense of complex carbohydrates. In 1939, fats represented 28% of the calorie intake of the French, in 1980 they represented 42%. However, complex carbohydrates are accompanied on average by more vitamins and minerals than lipids.

So, not only has the number of calories decreased, but the nutritional quality of calories has decreased.

Today, about 60% of energy intake comes from foods high in calories and low in minerals and vitamins. Jean Trémolières had already, twenty years ago, tried to alert us to the risks of the rise of what he called “empty calories”

However, this phenomenon is largely amplified by the simultaneous increase and in considerable proportion of the part, in our food, of the products treated by the agro-food industry which now reaches 85%. Other modifications: reduction of the time spent cooking, increase in the number of meals eaten outside the home, destructuring of lunch, extension of “snacking”, Americanization of tastes, especially among adolescents, overwhelming growth in retail distribution. supermarkets, help to reinforce this trend.

For example, the consumption of potatoes fell between 1965 and 1989 from 92.5 kg to 34.7 kg per person per year, but at the same time the consumption of products processed from the potato (French fries , crisps, mashed flakes) and ready to use… has gone from 50,000 tonnes to 1 million tonnes per year.

In the same period, the consumption of fresh vegetables, a major source of vitamins and minerals, decreased from 72.1 kg to 59.2 kg per person per year, which the increase in the consumption of frozen vegetables did not. has only very weakly compensated.

Fruit consumption did not change, except that of exotic fruits, which increased slightly. On the other hand, that of jams, in which cooking and the addition of sugar considerably reduce the micronutrient density, has practically doubled.

However, some messages on health and nutrition have passed. The housewife buys much less sugar: 20.9 kg per person per year in 1965, 8.6 kg in 1989.

But the purchase of industrial sweet products brings real consumption to 35 kg per person per year. The

most of the sugar is hidden (like that of salt).

The two most encouraging trends are that of the increase in the consumption of yoghurts, from 600 million pots in 1960 to 6 billion pots in 1987, and that of the consumption of mineral water. Unfortunately, the quality of the yoghurts and mineral waters consumed is far from equal. In 2005, the situation changed a lot, with the continuous rise of organic products, the overtaking of sunflower oil by olive oil, the explosive increase in the consumption of tea, and even green tea …

On the other hand, fish consumption remains extremely low in France, 80.6% of men and 77.9% of women eat fish less than twice a week.

It is the same for the consumption of almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts and other oilseeds rich in minerals and essential fatty acids or the consumption of pulses, soybeans, seaweed …

As for the use of oils, it is particularly unbalanced, providing an excess of cis-linoleic acid (predominantly in sunflower and corn oils) and hardly any of the most important essential fatty acid, alpha acid. -linolenic (present in walnut, rapeseed and soybean oils). Fortunately, however, there has been a strong increase in olive oil and a beginning of growth in rapeseed oil.

Oils that should be reserved for seasoning (such as rapeseed oil) are cooked, resulting not only in the destruction of part of the polyunsaturated fatty acids and vitamin E, but the supply of transformed molecules with negative effects about health.


In technical terms, the micronutrient density of our food is too low. (Micronutrient density is represented by the amount of a vitamin or mineral provided per 1,000 calories.)

For example, in France, in a woman between 18 and 50 years old, 1000 calories provide an average of 5.5 mg of iron, 120 mg of magnesium, 5 mg of zinc, 0.5 mg of vitamin B1, 0.8 mg of vitamin B6, 200 micrograms of vitamin B9, 50 mg of vitamin C, 3 mg of vitamin E. In men, this micronutrient density is slightly lower.

Women consume an average of 1,736 calories per day, which therefore provides:

  • 9.55 mg of iron (recommended intake 18 mg);
  • 225 mg of magnesium (recommended intake 330 mg and during pregnancy 480 mg);
  • 8.68 mg of zinc (recommended intake 12 mg and during pregnancy 15 mg);
  • 0.87 mg of vitamin B1 (recommended intake 1.3 mg and during pregnancy 1.8 mg);
  • 1.39 mg of vitamin B6 (recommended intake 2 mg and during pregnancy 2.5 mg);
  • 347 micrograms of vitamin B9 (recommended intake 300 micrograms and during pregnancy 500 micrograms);
  • 86.8 mg of vitamin C (recommended intake 80 mg and during pregnancy 90 mg);
  • 5.21 mg of vitamin E (recommended intake 12 mg).

To obtain the recommended intakes, they would need to ingest a daily amount of:

  • 3,272 calories in iron;
  • 2,538 calories and during pregnancy 3,692 calories in magnesium;
  • 2,400 calories and during pregnancy 3,000 calories in zinc;
  • 2,600 calories and during pregnancy 3,600 calories in vitamin B1;
  • 2,500 calories and during pregnancy 3,125 calories in vitamin B6;
  • 1,500 calories and during pregnancy 2,500 calories in vitamin B9;
  • 1,600 calories and during pregnancy 1,800 calories in vitamin C;
  • 4000 calories in vitamin E.

It is obvious that very few women could afford to consume so many calories normally, and even more during pregnancy, without gaining grossly excessive weight.

Moreover, even for those who, due to their genetic background, do not gain weight despite significant caloric intake, many experimental and epidemiological arguments suggest that this higher caloric intake accelerates aging and promotes degenerative pathologies linked to aging such as cancers.

In any case, in fact, French and Belgian women between the ages of 18 and 50 consume on average only 1,736 calories per day. This means that many of them consume even fewer calories on a daily basis. And we also know that, to fight against the tendency to overweight, another large proportion of them still periodically or periodically reduces their caloric intake during diets.

This limitation of caloric intake probably brings health benefits, but at the same time leads to a worsening of the micronutrient deficit which leads to other risks.

As for men aged 18 to 50, if the same calculation is made for them using recent data from the Val-de-Marne Study, they consume an average of 2256 calories per day, which provides:

  • 11.73 mg of iron (recommended intake 15 mg);
  • 282 mg of magnesium (recommended intake 420 mg);
  • 10.8 mg of zinc (recommended intake 15 mg);
  • 1.08 mg of vitamin B1 (recommended intake 1.5 mg);
  • 1.69 mg of vitamin B6 (recommended intake 2.2 mg);
  • 383 micrograms of vitamin B9 (recommended intake 300 micrograms);
  • 90.24 mg of vitamin C (recommended intake 80 mg);
  • 5.86 mg of vitamin E (recommended intake 12 mg).

To achieve the recommended intake of iron, they would need to ingest a daily amount of 2,884 calories:

  • for magnesium, 3,360 calories;
  • for zinc and for vitamin B1.3 125 calories;
  • for vitamin B6, 2,933 calories;
  • for vitamin B9, 1,764 calories;
  • for vitamin C, 2,000 calories;
  • for vitamin E, 4,615 calories.

However, they consume an average of 2,256 calories per day, which means that many of them consume fewer calories. In total, as for women, the nutritional density of their diet remains too low to ensure daily the recommended intakes of many minerals and vitamins.

Author Jean-Paul Curtay

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