Category Archives: Eating Well

How we Eat Today and What We Need to Change for a Better Tomorrow

Springtime in the garden

Who would have guessed that the abundance of available food would hearken our nation’s and perhaps the world’s biggest health crisis. Until the mid 20th century almost every country on the planet grappled with food insecurity and as populations continued to increase, governments looked to scientists to help solve these problems. Rather than enlisting the help of farmers and food producers, we looked for answers from people who did not have a relationship that bound them to the earth or the bounty nature provided already. While I have no problem with science and the amazing strides the past 65 years have brought in technology, healthcare and other vital areas, I struggle with the connections between science and food in recent decades.

The problem I have is with the fact that science looks for answers and solutions that are measurable and can produce data; we are a data driven society these days in case you hadn’t noticed. However nutrition is often individualized, think blood type, or dictated by the environment. People who live near the equator on the coast are going to have very different diets than those who live in the mountains to the North. As a result of the environment they live in, their diets will vary and thus their bodies will react differently to different foods. This is not news and their have been several books recently published that talk about blood types and the types of food those particular individuals should eat, all of which stems from the types of food their ancestors from the region have been eating for centuries or more.

I want to interject here with the reminder that in the hundreds of thousands of years humans have existed, it is only within the last 100 years or less that we have significantly changed our diets. In fact until we started to focus on the science of food production, we simply used to grow our own food or raise our own livestock for consumption. Ironically during that time we had far fewer chronic illnesses that were linked to poor diet even though many faced starvation.

To respond to food insecurity we started to change not only the foods we grow, but how we grow them. Family farms that fed their communities started to fail as government subsidies started propping up mono culture industrialized growing practices designed to feed the masses. For the regular citizen out there these farms could not exist without those government subsidies so if free market forces were the real driver, these farms would cease to exist. The masses these farms feed are actually just another step in the food chain since most of the corn and soy grown on these farms are for animal feed. So here is simply another step in the huge modern agro-business.

Here is the funny thing, we all know that these practices are making us sick. We know that eating processed foods made from refined grains, most genetically modified, mixed with copious amounts of refined sugars leads to inflammation, making us unhealthy. Yet as a nation we are slow to change. Since embracing the scientific approach towards feeding ourselves, rather than the practical, we now require data to prove it is in fact not healthy for us to consume particular foods. So we are more likely to believe some new product all wrapped up and packaged in a way that appears healthy is better for us than that knobby potato sitting in the bottom of your produce drawer. But that is simply NOT TRUE.

The only foods that are healthy for us to eat are those that grow in the mineral rich soil nature intended. Fruits, vegetables, grains and the animals that feed on these foods are what we as human omnivores are meant to eat. Does this mean you should shift and buy all the food you eat from your local farmer’s market, well YES. But don’t worry, I am pragmatic if nothing else and affordability and accessibility is key, so if shopping in conventional markets drastically reduce your meat consumption, which we should all do anyway, and buy as much fresh produce as possible. If your budget allows for organic, great, if not follow the rules of the dirty dozen and buy those organic whenever possible.

In most countries 20-25% of an individuals earnings goes towards food. In the Untied States that number is on average less than 5%. We want cheap food and have been willing to pay with our health for the past 5+ decades, but as you can guess this is not sustainable. Healthcare in this country is in crisis, much of this connects with all of the chronic diseases plaguing our population. All of these diseases are connected to the foods we eat so how is it as a nation are we not outraged by this? Change how we grow and eat our food returning to the ways of the past and many of these diseases will simply vanish, along with the expensive pharmaceutical interventions.

Most would consider these ideas alternative or even slightly radical, but returning to the ways our grandparents and those before us does not seem like a radical idea to me. For those of you there so ingrained in the scientific, just look at the Amish and how adhering to their historic traditions of feeding themselves, they have managed to avoid being plagued with modern day diseases like cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. In fact try and find an obese member of the Amish community, I guarantee it will be a challenge. So try to be a part of a positive change and take small steps to improving your health, the health of your family and the health of the environment. Each small step we make has a ripple effect and can make waves in ways we simply cannot measure.

 

The Challenge of Healthy Eating

Perhaps it is due to my chosen field,  but everyday my Facebook feed is bombarded with images and stories about how  this food can promise weight loss or increased libido or whatever health issue they are focusing on to sell their product.  Remember in the end they are almost always trying to sell you a product.  First off let me tell you, I am not trying to sell you anything and secondly most of these promises are simply bogus.

Bizarrely enough the world of nutrition is a fairly new science, pretty incredible when you think about the fact that we have been eating, well FOREVER! But here is the thing , how we as a nation feed ourselves has dramatically changed over the past 75 years or so.  All I can speak to is the past 45 years since that is my lifespan but, wow have I seen some huge shifts.

Let’s think about how we shop. I am a city girl so large supermarkets were never where my family shopped, but even those stores in the 1970’s and 80’s were a fraction of the size they are today offering a lot fewer choices to the consumer.  So we shopped at the butcher, the fishmonger, the baker and the green grocer for most of our food.  Sure we went to the grocer for household products, orange juice and pet food but not much else.  Things are much different today in the world of giant super stores.

If you find yourself shopping in these stores, going up and down each aisle filling your cart, that is the first mistake you are making with your health.  If you purchase anything in a bag or a box, you are putting your health at risk on some level, and the environment but that is another issue for a different day.  Now I am a realist and I know there are many of you out there that can’t fathom filling your cart with nothing but whole, fresh foods that actually have to be washed, prepped and cooked, but for centuries, this is how humans ate so it should not surprise any of us that they way we are eating today is not just unhealthy, but truly unsustainable.

On an evolutionary level, and let us remember that 75 years is a blink on the evolutionary scale, our bodies simply cannot adjust quickly enough to all the dietary changes we have seen and our ballooning weight and rise in obesity as a nation is simply one example of that.  What is worse is that we keep creating products that we think will solve these issues only to find out given time that we made a colossal error.  A great example of this is margarine.  I remember margarine rising in fame in the 1980’s as a way to combat that demonic butter that leads to high cholesterol.  Boy were we wrong there! Studies now show how margarine is in fact one of the WORST things you can eat and butter and even lard are coming back in favor.  Well let’s just say humans have been eating lard every since we began eating meat, 100,000’s of years ago ,and we have been eating butter for around 10,000 years, so we can prove that on an evolutionary scale we are designed to eat and even thrive eating these foods.

Here is the thing though, feeding ourselves shouldn’t be this hard.  Life is stressful enough with out adding the challenge of feeding ourselves and our families healthy foods.  So the best advice I can give for anyone out there who wants to improve their health through the foods you eat remember this; there are no magic potions or super foods that on their own will dramatically change the shape of your body or your overall health.  Eating well takes some effort and if you simply hate to cook you better find a prepared food store that makes healthy foods from scratch, because shopping in the freezer section of your grocery store or relying on take-out doesn’t cut it.  Eating well is a challenge, but dealing with a chronic illness due to poor diet is a lot harder to deal with, so why not take a pro active stance now and try to improve your everyday diet.

I will make it easy for you since actionable steps are the best way to attain success.  Here is a goal for your next shopping trip; TRY TO CUT BACK ON YOUR PROCESSED FOOD PURCHASES BY HALF,  AND — USE THE MONEY YOU SAVE TO BUY FRESH PRODUCE.  This one step is a great start and check back in a couple of days to see what new suggestions the Optimal Kitchen has in store for you.