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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

More Tips for Eating

Here are some more tips about how to eat from Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food.  These suggestoins not only give you ideas of how to eat a more healthy diet, but it steers you away from the Western diet that is--in many ways--literally killing us.  If enough of us really ate this way, maybe we could change the food culture in this country and reverse those health problems that the Western diet has brought upon us.
  • Eat mostly plants, especially leaves.  There are lots of good reasons to eat plants.  They give us vitamins, antioxidants, fiber, omega-3 fatty acids.  Oh, and they taste good.  The key is to eat a variety of plants to fill our bodies with a variety of nutrients, which help to make us healthy in a variety of ways.  Thomas Jefferson suggested eating meat as more of a "condiment for the vegetables".
Because plant foods--with the exception of seeds--are less energy dense than most of the other things you might eat, by eating a plant-based diet you will likely consume fewer calories (which is itself protective against many chronic diseases).  The seed exception suggests why it's important to eat more leaves than seeds; though unrefined seeds, including whole grains and nuts, can be very nutritious, they're high in calories, befitting their biological role as energy-storage devices.  It's only when we begin refining plant seeds or eating them to the exclusion of the rest of the plant that we get into trouble.

  • You are what what you eat eats too.  I love that one.  It's the whole food chain idea again.  If the animals we eat eat healthy plants, they'll be healthy.  And so will we.  For example, most of our food animals were made to eat grass, but they're being fed grains--it's cheaper and gets them fatter faster.  But it also makes them sick.  So what has to happen?  They need to get antibiotics.  Some food animals--like poultry and pigs--do OK on grains.  But they are healthier--and so are we--when they have the opportunity to eat grass.  Pollan does make the point that,
"Free range" doesn't necessarily mean the chicken has had access to grass; many egg and broiler producers offer their chickens little more than a dirt yard where nothing grows.  Look for the word "pastured."  And in the case of beef, keep in mind that all cattle are grass fed until they get to the feedlot; "grass finished" or "100% grass fed" is what you want.

  •  Eat like an omnivore.  The more variety of foods you eat, the better chance you'll receive the best nutrition possible for your body.
  • Eat well-grown food from healthy soils.  Pollan makes the point that he could have said, "Eat organic".  But there are lots of great farmers and producers who are essentially organic, but just have not gone through the fairly lengthy process of being certified as such.  In addition, there are processed foods that are labeled "organic", but are not much better than other processed foods.  They're simply processed using organic ingredients.  He talks about how if Coca-Cola used organic corn for their high-fructose corn syrup, would Organic Coke be good for you?  Ideally, find foods that are organic AND local.
  • Eat wild foods when you can.  Wild greens tend to have more omega-3 fatty acids than their domesticated counterparts.  Wild game usually has less saturated fat and more omega-3s than domesticated animals.  This is one of his suggestions that seems to be a little bit hard to follow.  I suppose seafood is the one place that you usually have your choice.
  • Be the kind of person who takes supplements.  I found this suggestion interesting. 
We know that people who take supplements are generally healthier than the rest of us, and we also know that, in controlled studies, most of the supplements they take don't appear to work.  Probably the supplement takers are healthier for reasons having nothing to do with the pills:  They're typically more health concious, better educated, and more affluent.  So to the extent you can, be the kind of person who would take supplements, and then save your money.

  •  Eat more like the French, or the Italians, or the Japanese, or the Indians, or the Greeks.  His point here is to think about eating traditional cuisines--food traditions from cultures that have been healthy for, well, forever.  In many cultures, food is pretty much the central focus of their lives--it's their livlihood, there are religious connections, it helps them acclimate to their climate, it brings people together. 
  • Regard non-traditional foods with skepticism.  Pollan uses soy as a example.  Americans eat more soy products than ever, but because of the non-traditional processing of them, we get very little of the nutrition that the soy-heavy cuisines of Asia get from the traditional ways they eat soy. 
  • Don't look for the magic bullet in the traditional diet.  We look at the Mediterranean diet or Asian diets or whatever and try to figure out what is it about that diet that makes those people so healthy?  Lots of fish?  Greens?  Garlic?  Bottom line is that it's not any one of those things.  It's the combination of foods and nutritents that create the health benefits.  Sort of the opposite of the Western diet.
  • Have a glass of wine with dinner.  As studies have recently shown, people who moderately drink alcohol live longer, have a lot less heart disease and are generally healthier than those who do not drink at all.  Drinking a little each day is much better than drinking a lot on the weekend.  And drinking with food is better than without. 
Also, a diet particulary rich in plant foods, as the French and Mediterranean diets are, supply precisely the B vitamins that drinking alcohol depeletes.  How fortunate!

Food for thought, as it were.  One more entry about this book to go.  Then we can get to work changing the way we eat!


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