The Last Supper

An interesting news story caught my attention last week. A pair of US academics analysed what the Last Supper would look like if it were painted according to today's appetites. Would it be a simple, frugal meal, or cosmopolitan and supersized, in the spirit of our times?

For this fascinating project the brothers Brian Wansink (professor of marketing and applied economics at Cornell University, New York) and Craig Wansink (professor of religious studies at Virginia Wesleyan College in Norfolk, Virginia) analysed 52 of the most famous paintings of the Last Supper painted between 1000 and 2000.

Using computer-aided design technology, they scanned the main dish, bread and plates and calculated the size of portion relative to the size of the average head in the painting.
They found that, over a thousand years, the portions of food placed before Jesus and his disciples grew astonishingly. The size of the main dish progressively grew by 69.2%, plate size by 65.6% and bread size by 23.1%, they reported in the study, published in Britain's International Journal of Obesity.

The growing size, of course, reflects the success of agriculture over the past 10 centuries resulting in far more food that's available to us today. However, it also reflects how greedy we've become. We've all turned into gluttons. Food has become available to us 24 hours a day and we're far too spoilt for choice.

The result is that we've become a generation of fat, overfed people, suffering from modern lifestyle diseases such as diabetes, high cholesterol, heart problems and more, that have all been linked to our unhealthy diets of fatty, salty and sugary foods and to our sedentary lifestyles.

Our modern day lifestyle allows for very little to almost zero exercise during the day. Just a few years ago, people still had to walk, cycle or climb stairs to get around, (there were no gyms!) but now even that daily dose of natural movement has been taken away from us. We let machines do the work - whether it's driving a car, taking the escalator and lift, or letting the washing machine do our laundry. We've become incredibly lazy.

My office building has got only three floors, but the majority of people use the lift, even to the first floor! And, when we need to discuss something with a colleague, we tend to write an e-mail or make a phone call, rather than get up and walk the few metres to their desk. Even my office chair has got wheels. Hell, I could wheel my way to the photocopy machine, if I really wanted to!

Take a moment to think about your daily routine. What can you do to add more physical activity into your day? If you are too lazy to take the stairs, or walk to the shop over lunch, chances are that you are most probably also not doing much exercise (like participating in sports) after hours either?

Also, have you had a look at the size of your meals lately? Are you eating supersized meals every day as if it's really going to be your last supper ever? Rather opt for smaller nutritionally balanced meals and snack on healthy fruit and veggies in between meals. You'll not only look better, you'll also have far more energy for that all important dose of daily exercise.

Until next time.

(Birgit Ottermann, Health24, Nutrition Newsletter, March 2010)

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