I want to tell you about a book I recently read called In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto by Michael Pollan. If you’re like me, you strive–not always succeeding–to eat more healthfully. This does not mean eating low-fat or fat-free everything. According to the author, it means you should “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Who knew it should be so easy! 🙂
The main premise of the book is that science has driven people to look at foods not as whole foods, but rather as nutrients. Milk=calcium, fish=omega 3, cereal=grains to lower cholesterol. And the industrialization of food production in the mid-1900’s led to changes in our food that, nowadays, are resulting in life-threatening diseases that are seen primarily in Western culture: Heart disease, obesity, diabetes and cancer. All of these diseases can be linked to food–or lack of the RIGHT foods.
The book states that most of what we consume today is not food. It’s “edible foodlike substance” from which nutrients have been stripped through processing/refinement and then added back in according to what we’ve been told we need. And who really knows what we need? Remember when scientists proclaimed that margarine was the next best thing to replace butter, so people heartily made the switch? What are we recommended to use today? Butter. And take, for instance, whole grains. We’ve known for years that a diet consisting heavily of whole grains will help prevent heart disease, but scientists aren’t able to isolate it to one or two nutrients alone that are most beneficial. “A whole food might be more than the sum of its nutrient parts.” So how do they really know what to add BACK into our processed foods?
Here are some other interesting things I learned:
- We all associate omega-3 fatty acids with fish, right? Did you know that fish actually get the omega-3 from green plants, specifically algae? Omega-3 fatty acids actually come only from plants .
- “You are what you eat eats, too.” The diet of the animals we eat has a bearing on the nutritional quality of the food itself. Some animals like cows and sheep are built to eat grass, not grain. If they eat too much grain (and you know that’s all cows are fed these days to make them fat), they get sick, which is one reason they’re given antibiotics. A diet of grass generates much healthier fats, and you can even see this in the case of eggs with bright orange yolks. What you’re seeing is the beta-carotene from fresh green grass. Neat, huh?
- Crops grown organically in healthy soil (in other words, not having everything beneficial killed off through pesticides and fungicides) are also higher in several vitamins and nutrients than conventionally grown crops.
- Industrial agriculture, and its goal to grow as much as it can as fast as it can, has caused a decline in the nutrient content of many crops. For example, “You’d now have to eat three apples to get the same amount of iron as an apple from the 1940’s, and you’d have to eat several more slices of bread to get your recommended daily allowance of zinc than you would have a century ago.”
It’s all well and good to know what’s wrong with the way we eat, but how do we make the change toward a healthier, more fulfilling diet?
- Don’t buy anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize, like yogurt in tubes. If she ate yogurt back in the day, it consisted of milk with bacterial culture, not 15 different ingredients in a tube.
- Shop mostly from the perimeter of the store, where you’re most likely to get whole foods, not processed foods stripped of their original nutrients with lots of added high fructose corn syrup or sodium for flavor.
- Avoid products that contain more than five ingredients or ingredients that you can’t pronounce (this one is really difficult).
- Eat mostly plants, especially leaves. You can eat meat, but it needs to be lean, and the vast majority of Americans are sorely lacking in their leafy green intake, anyway.
- Eat less. Calorie restriction slows aging. Overeating promotes cell division and promotes it most dramatically in cancer cells. So, eat slowly so you’ll be able to tell when you’re beginning to feel full and can stop eating. Savor your food!
- Try to buy locally so your fruits and veggies aren’t decomposing and losing nutrients in the days it takes to transport them from other countries or across our own country.
- Start your own garden! That’s a surefire way to keep your foods totally organic, and you can’t get any fresher. I love what the author had to say about his garden: “None of this work is terribly difficult; much of it is endlessly gratifying, and never more so than in the hour immediately before dinner, when I take a knife and a basket out to the garden to harvest whatever has declared itself ripest and tastiest.”
Did you find this as interesting as I did? I sure have a long way to go! Here’s to happy, healthy eating!