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The Unsteady Diet: The Perfect Formula for Maximizing Benefits While Minimizing Risks

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Are you overwhelmed and confused by the endless stream of information on health in the media? New scientific evidence is continually unearthed about what we should and shouldn’t eat.

Perhaps one of the only facts about diet we can know for sure is that the experts always disagree, as has often been said. One expert condemns a certain food even as another praises its virtues.

We want answers, but the answers we get are clouded with the fact that researchers need to get funding. They need to make news.  Methods and conclusions can be colored by researchers’ own personal biases. Then there’s the inherent impossibility of getting much accurate data on what people eat and how it truly affects them. Contradictions, errors, oversimplifications, over- and understatements, half-truths and fallacies abound in diet research, according to Barry Glassner in The Gospel of Food: Why We Should Stop Worrying and Enjoy What We Eat.

So we end up going to extremes.  People hear about the current demon, whether it’s fat, salt, cholesterol, eggs, red meat, or carbs, and grab hold of eliminating it, as if to a lifeboat, as the hope for health. Others might hear that a certain fruit or fish is safe and beneficial, so they start eating it all the time.  We grasp at tidbits, looking for that miracle food or diet or cure, The Answer to What Ails Us, from flax seeds to goji berries. Others end up disregarding all recommendations, even the sound ones.

So all this information isn’t helping.  Whatever it is we know or don’t know, we seem to keep getting fatter and sicker.

What we need is a clear, unifying principle to be our guiding our star in navigating the fluctuations of “expert opinion” and the inconstancy of “facts.”

That guiding principle exists.  It is Strictly Everything under the sun. Instead of worrying about particular foods to eat or avoid, we need as many different whole foods (fruits, vegetables, meat, fish, poultry, eggs, nuts, grains) as possible.  Most experts seem to be able to agree on the point that whole foods are probably generally better for us than processed foods.

Variety is a great answer for everything we don’t know. As varied a diet as possible is “good insurance” in our position of “extraordinary ignorance” about diet, states medical writer Marcia Angell. Putting your eggs in as many different baskets as you can is the best way to dodge the risks and maximize gains, she explains.

Variety is an equally safe answer to problems we really are sure about. The evidence is good enough for me, for example, that many of our food sources are contaminated with some amount of toxins, carcinogens, pathogens, bacteria, coatings, colorings, flavorings, GMOs, chemicals and allergens.

I believe that hormones and antibiotics infect our meat, not to mention extreme cruelty and filth in industrial production. Fish is affected by polluted waters or harmful farming practices. Pesticides and herbicides contaminate vegetables and fruits. Cow’s milk may not be beneficial for most humans.  There is plenty worth worrying about and avoiding if we are so inclined. I’ve even heard that even the best of celery has its own natural poisons.  Even water can kill you if you drink too much at a time.

Thank goodness, even a child’s body can process a certain amount of toxins, and buying at least some organic produce may help.

Happily also, different foods come with different types of toxins. Shaking things up nonstop allows you to get as many different nutrients as possible while diluting the poisons.

It’s the steady diet of anything that present a great danger. Making variety the ultimate goal in meal planning throws up a solid roadblock against overdosing on any particular evil.

On the flip side, our need for a wide variety of nutrients gives us another reason to diversify.  While a steady diet of anything is bad, that doesn’t mean going without that thing is good. Suspect foods, at least among whole foods, are a mixed bag, also offering some good stuff. You may swallow some hormones and antibiotics, but you also get some protein and vitamins with it. Pesticides may be part of the package, but you get some fiber and minerals in the same bite. Pleasure is also worth something, as it helps us get the most good out of a meal.

For optimal nutrition, children need to eat 20 different foods per day, according to French Women Don’t Get Fat author Mireille Guiliano.  Eating the greatest possible variety of good foods is the best way to avoid nutritional deficiencies and not miss junk food too much, she adds.

In spite of all the disagreement on what we should or shouldn’t eat, we can bank on not only the principle of variety, but yet another big, broad answer to the question. I don’t think any researcher has ever come out and said, “After all, don’t eat vegetables and fruits, because we just found out they’re bad for you.”  So old news or not, fruits and vegetables, especially organic, may still be our safest bet, at least until further notice.

© Sacred Appetite  / Anna Migeon / 15 May 2009 / All rights reserved

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Counsel to Cavemen: Moderation in All Things

February 2, 2009 Leave a comment

Caveman2 If the cavemen were here today, I think that they would jump on the easy food like the rest of us. With their children, they would probably go hog wild for awhile on foods new to them: potatoes in any form, soft white bread, lovely noodles, cheesy pizza. I imagine they would also gorge themselves on dessertspastries, chocolate, ice cream.

Because its all so tasty and easy to get, they would get fat and feel terrible, and try to cut back to their original diet. Though theyd probably compromise on hunting and gathering it all, it would still be too hard to stick to in the face of so many other tempting possibilities. So they would give up, starting the whole cycle over again.

Somewhere between the two extremes is a broad and varied diet of Real Foodwith moderation in all thingswhere the cavemen and the rest of us would do well to meet.

I would encourage our newly arrived cavemen families to eat everything they could get their hands on of their original diet, though Id advise some cooking, especially the meat.

While I would caution our new arrivals against more than an occasional taste of those edibles developed by the current generations (manufactured, processed, imitation foods), I would suggest they not hesitate to include a reasonable amount of the decent Real Foods introduced by Neolithic humans, their closer descendents: whole grain rice, wheat (pasta and breads), beans and lentils, potatoes. Though less perfect than the diet of the cavemen, these foods were gifts to early humans, as they are to us. Though not to be abused, all Real Foods provide variety and nourishment.

I would tell the cavemen that the best diet is vastly varied, that its more important to eat a lot of different things than to work at avoiding the worst things. By eating everything under the sun, increasing the number of Real Foods you eat, you wont be able to eat so many bad ones and wont miss them so much. What we lose in eating the less-perfect Real Foods we gain in variety of nutrients, not to mention enjoyment, which counts for a lot for our health. Furthermore, variety is good insurance, in that we avoid too much of the bad effects from any one thing. We diversify our risks and multiply our streams of benefits.

The cavemens amazing health, rather than leading the rest of us to deprive and deny ourselves, should inspire us to expand our tastes and to discover other, more healthy and delicious foods.

More vegetables, and more of them raw. The unknown, the untried, the untasted. No reason for any of us to feel dispossessed. So many leafy greens await our attention: lettuces beyond iceberg, like arugula and endive, greens beyond spinach, like kale, Swiss chard, bok choy. And the root vegetables, the knownturnips, beets, radishes, garlic, onions, gingerand the unknown (maybe even to cavemen): parsnips, celery root, rutabagas.

As for the cavemen, they may became a little less lean, a bit more slack, but moderation in all things, not a limited number of foods, will keep them, and the rest of us, in a healthy balance.

 

To read more about the Caveman Diet: http://www.earth360.com/diet_paleodiet_balzer.html

 

©  Sacred Appetite / Anna Migeon / 2 February 2009 / All rights reserved

 

Feeding Kids: a few enjoyable, specific ways to build positive, nutritious eating habits in 2009:

January 7, 2009 Leave a comment

1.    Try a new recipe weekly or monthly with a vegetable you never eat, or a new salad that sounds yummy.

2.    Serve whole grain, organic rice once a month (instead of white)

3.    Set a pretty table once a week.

4.    Make something that’s good-for-you and delicious (instead of bad-for-you and delicious or good-for-you and unappealing).

5.    At the table, talk about something pleasant and interesting (instead of bugging your kid about what they are or aren’t eating).

 

 

The Perils of Monday Meatloaf: A Recipe for Disaster

December 15, 2008 1 comment

Janet makes meatloaf every Monday. Every Tuesday it’s spaghetti. And so on and so forth. Ad nauseum. It’s no wonder she doesn’t enjoy grocery shopping, making dinner, or eating it, either, truth be told. It’s just a job. Just think how her children feel.

“The wise mother does not say, ‘I always give my children so and so,’” wrote educational reformer Charlotte Mason. “They should not have anything ‘always’; every meal should have some little surprise.”

Too little variety in the diet week after week makes for a child who is “inadequately nourished, simply because he is tired of it,” according to Mason. 

One study indicates that at least to some degree, food is only good for you if you enjoy it. (https://sacredappetite.wordpress.com/2008/12/06/it-doesnt-matter-if-she-likes-brocoli-as-long-as-she-eats-it-or-does-it/).

Enjoyment of food is actually essential to good digestion. Just as with genuine learning, which Mason declared only takes place when the mind processes material voluntarily and with delight, children need a wide variety of the best quality food we can give them.

“Gastronomic boredom leads to lots of unhealthy eating,” agrees the author of French Women Don’t Get Fat, Mireille Guiliano.

It’s a shame to eat the same few things over and over when we are so blessed a vast variety of good, quality, delectable foods, with flavors, textures and colors in the thousands. It’s an insult to God. How would you feel if you created ten wonderful gifts for someone you love, who was willing to accept only one or two of them, refusing to even open the others?

Like with the oxygen masks on an airplane, feel no guilt in taking care of yourself first, before you try to please your family. It’s one of the privileges of the head chef. I flip through my recipes and ask myself, “What do I feel like eating? What do I feel like making?” https://sacredappetite.wordpress.com/2009/02/27/having-trouble-getting-kids-to-eat-feed-them-but-cook-for-yourself/

As you go, you will build an ever-growing list of great finds worth making again. Dinner, instead of being a necessary drag, can be an endless flow of novelty and discovery.

 © Sacred Appetite / Anna Migeon / 15 December 2008  / All rights reserved