Friday, April 2, 2010

Eat Food. Mostly Plants.

So while you can't really go wrong when you're eating real foods, it turns out that some foods are better for you than others. This section is probably the hardest for me. It tells me to eat things that I don't mind eating, but aren't my favorite. But since I've cut out 90% of the things I was previously eating, I had to eat something. A lot of the rules in this section I've heard before and ignored, so I'm leaving out some of the common ones (especially since I'm still ignoring them!).

Rule #22- Eat mostly plants, especially leaves.

There are scores of studies demonstrating that a diet rich in vegetables and fruit reduces the risk of dying from all the Western diseases; in countries where people eat a pound or more of vegetables and fruits a day, the rate of cancer is half what it is in the United States. Also, by eating a diet that is primarily plant based, you'll be consuming far fewer calories, since plant foods- with the exceptin of seeds, including grains and nuts- are typically less "energy dense" than the other things you eat. (And consuming fewer calories protects against many chronic diseases.) Vegetarians are notably healthuer than carnivores, and they live longer.

So this is what my diet needs to consist of. I'm not a huge fan of leaves; I don't really know what to do with them except stick them in a salad. I need to find more recipes... Even though I don't follow this one very well, I'm including it because it's important and I need to start. Don't get me wrong, I primarily shop in the produce section (or at this time, I think it was frozen and canned foods), but I could definitely use more variety in my diet even now.

I also thought the bit at the end about vegetarians was interesting. I've heard that eating a lot of meat can be unhealthy, but I've also heard that vegetarians are unhealthy. I suppose the difference is the types of meat the majority of Americans are eating are really unhealthy, and that's causing health issues whereas vegetarians that eat a diet based on foods are much healthier. Vegetarians eating cheese pizza, chips, and cokes are the ones who have nutritional deficiencies.

Rule #23- Treat meat as a flavoring or special occasion food.

It turns outs that near vegetarians, or "flexitarians"- people who eat meat a couple of times a week- are just as healthy as vegetarians.

Success. I enjoy meat, so I didn't really want to become a vegetarian. I don't buy meat at grocery stores either, so unless I ate meat at a restaurant, I was already halfway there.

Rule #27- Eat animals that have themselves eaten well.

The diet of animals we eat strongly influences the nutritional quality, and healthfulness, of the food we get from them, whether it is meat or milk or eggs. This should be self-evident, yet it is a truth routinely overlooked by the industrial food chain in its quest to produce vast quantities of cheap animal protein. That quest has changed the diet of most of our food animals in ways that have often damaged their health and healthfulness. We feed animals a high-energy diet of grain to make then grow quickly, even in the case of ruminants that have evolved to eat grass. But even food animals that can tolerate grain are much healthier when they have access to green plants- and so, it turns out, are their met and eggs. The food from these animals will contain much healthier types of fat (more omega-3s, less omega-6s) as well as appreciably higher levels of vitamins and antioxidents.

Aaaaand this is what made me want to stop eating meats in restaurants. I'm pretty sure a lot of restaurants don't care where their meat comes from. I can't swear to anything unless I research each individual store, but I'm betting the chain on the corner isn't looking for meat that's raised in a humane environment, given a proper diet, and sold locally to ensure quality and nutrients. I mean, maybe they do, but I doubt it.

I started looking for vegetarian options in restaurants. Most restaurants suck. There are one or two choices on the menu, and it's usually really bland. At some places, it was easier to order a regular meal and just eat around the meat.

I wasn't looking to give up meat altogether. I was perfectly fine with meat in general, except for the small fact that I don't like handling or cooking it. But I decided that was going to change. I would find a farmer's market and buy some meat product and cook it. Easier said than done.

Rule #35- Eat sweet foods as you find them in nature.

In nature, sugars almost always come packaged with fiber, which slows their absorption and gives you a sense of satiety before you've ingested too many calories. That's why you're always better off eating the fruit rather than drinking its juice.

So I heard someone mention on a talk show a few months ago that orange juice was bad for you. I couldn't figure it out. Orange juice? Bad? I tried looking it up, but all I could really find was that it was full of sugar. But I suppose Michael Pollan makes an excellent point. Fruit was going to make more of an appearance in my diet.

Rule #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 a soda every now and then...

If you made all the french fries you ate, you would eat them much less often, if only because they're so much work.

Yum, yum, yum. I remember making french fries at home when I was a kid, and they were delicious. I'm throwing this rule in here so everyone knows this isn't some super strict diet I'm on. I DO have a coke every so often, and I do sometimes eat at McDonald's. But I don't feel guilty about it because not only am I not doing it every week, but I'm also not getting 10 Big Macs at a time.

Rule #41- Eat more like the French. Or the Japanese. Or the Italians. Or the Greeks.

People who eat according to the rules of a traditional food culture are generally healthier than those of us eating a modern Western diet of processed foods. Any traditional diet will do: If it were not a healthy diet, the people who follow it wouldn't still be around.

In borrowing food from a culture, pay attention to how a culture eats as well as to what it eats. In the case of the French paradox, for example, it may not be the dietary nutrients that keep the French healthy (lots of saturated fat and white flour?!) as much as their food habits: small portions eaten at leisurely communal meals; no second helpings or snacking.

I've always loved French food so I decided to adopt a French diet of sorts. Michael Pollan also mentions that it's important to pay attention to how traditional diets have paired foods together (i.e. you can't take corn from Latin America without lime and beans). It's definitely something to consider when I'm looking for good, cheap Mexican options.

Rule #43- Have a glass of wine with dinner.

What better rule to follow when I'm pretending to be French?

I don't think anyone can argue that red wine is bad for you, especially since I'm only having one glass. My biggest problem with it is having the bottle spoil before I get to all of it!

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