If You Are What You Eat…

Monday, March 15, 2010

By Mary Armstrong-Smith

Nutritionists love to tell us that one of the big problems with food in America is the amount of processed foods we eat. I’ve been reading a lot of food labels lately, and find myself both confused (what the heck is xanthan gum?) and depressed.

Take sodium—plain old table salt. I’m careful not to add much to my baked potato or scrambled eggs, so that’s good, right? Apparently it’s not good enough. According to the Mayo Clinic (there’s an ironic name for a health organization), only about 11 percent of the sodium we consume comes from adding salt to the food we eat. Seventy-seven percent comes from processed and prepared foods.

Various organizations have published recommended daily allowances (RDAs) of sodium, ranging from 1,500 milligrams to 2,400 milligrams. That sounds like plenty of sodium, until you start reading food labels. The emergency can of Progresso Light Beef Pot Roast Soup that I keep in my desk in case I can’t get to lunch contains 660 milligrams of sodium—almost half of the lower end of the RDA. Sheesh.

Michael Pollan, author of the book Food Rules, says that the Western diet is “the one diet that reliably makes its people sick.” Pollan, a well-known author specializing in works about food, tells how his latest book came about:

“The idea for this book came from a doctor--a couple of them, as a matter of fact. They had read my last book, ‘In Defense of Food’, which ended with a handful of tips for eating well: simple ways to navigate the treacherous landscape of modern food and the often-confusing science of nutrition. ‘What I would love is a pamphlet I could hand to my patients with some rules for eating wisely,’ they would say. ‘I don't have time for the big nutrition lecture and, anyway, they really don't need to know what an antioxidant is in order to eat wisely.’

Another doctor, a transplant cardiologist, wrote to say ‘you can't imagine what I see on the insides of people these days wrecked by eating food products instead of food.’ So rather than leaving his heart patients with yet another prescription or lecture on cholesterol, he gives them a simple recipe for roasting a chicken, and getting three wholesome meals out of it -- a very different way of thinking about health.”

Here are a few of the “Food Rules” from his book:

#19 If it came from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, don't.

#36 Don’t eat breakfast cereals that change the color of the milk. -- This should go without saying. Such cereals are highly processed and full of refined carbohydrates as well as chemical additives.

#39 Eat all the junk food you want as long as you cook it yourself. --There is nothing wrong with eating sweets, fried foods, pastries, even drinking soda every now and then, but food manufacturers have made eating these formerly expensive and hard-to-make treats so cheap and easy that we're eating them every day. The french fry did not become America's most popular vegetable until industry took over the jobs of washing, peeling, cutting, and frying the potatoes -- and cleaning up the mess. If you made all the french fries you ate, you would eat them much less often, if only because they're so much work. The same holds true for fried chicken, chips, cakes, pies, and ice cream. Enjoy these treats as often as you're willing to prepare them -- chances are good it won't be every day.

#47 Eat when you are hungry, not when you are bored. -- For many of us, eating has surprisingly little to do with hunger. We eat out of boredom, for entertainment, to comfort or reward ourselves. Try to be aware of why you're eating, and ask yourself if you're really hungry -- before you eat and then again along the way. (One old wive's test: If you're not hungry enough to eat an apple, then you're not hungry.) Food is a costly antidepressant.

#58 Do all your eating at a table. -- No, a desk is not a table. If we eat while we're working, or while watching TV or driving, we eat mindlessly -- and as a result eat a lot more than we would if we were eating at a table, paying attention to what we're doing. This phenomenon can be tested (and put to good use): Place a child in front of a television set and place a bowl of fresh vegetables in front of him or her. The child will eat everything in the bowl, often even vegetables that he or she doesn't ordinarily touch, without noticing what's going on. Which suggests an exception to the rule: When eating somewhere other than at a table, stick to fruits and vegetables

Pretty interesting rules, and they’re very different from the “diet rules” with which I was raised. I still giggle at my mother’s insistence that “grapefruit burns fat.” If that were true, I would have disappeared in a citrus-scented puff of smoke by the age of sixteen.

We don’t have to go live off the grid and raise our own vegetables in order to eat healthy. What can help us is to avoid highly processed foods. Instead of Fruit Roll Ups, eat actual fruit. Instead of canned soup, make your own.

And lay off the Lucky Charms. Milk shouldn’t be a color not found in nature.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.