You’ve probably heard the phrase, “you are what you eat”. But when you stop to think about it the phrase holds a lot of meaning.
Food is our fuel. If we put in less than optimum quality fuel, can we expect top performance?
Having recently read In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan, his message about the quality of our food and the choices we can and should make, resonated deeply with us at Smart-Heart-Living.com.
A society that is obsessed with nutrition
Pollan highlights the irony that North Americans are absorbed in the idea of food as a combination of nutrients, and not simply as food.
Modern science has dissected our food to look at a large number of individual nutrients and tried to determine what each is good for and how much we need of each one.
And yet, as a whole, society is getting sicker... this approach doesn’t seem to be working!
Naturally occurring (whole) foods contain a complex set of nutrients, some we know about, some we don't understand and, undoubtedly, some we have not yet isolated. These nutrients work in synergistic ways we can’t begin to replicate.
To think the food industry can process food in such a way that most of the nutrients are destroyed or removed, then put a number of vitamins and minerals back and expect these items to be a healthy choice is, at best, irrational and at worst, dangerous to our health.
Why have we become so unhealthy?
Surely food, or the highly processed commodities that we have come to call food, is partly to blame.
Pollan points out that we consume edible food-like products. These come in the form of highly processed, packaged products, many of which have health claims on the package, but are of questionable nutritional value. Many of these highly processed foods are downright unhealthy.
Consider the controversy that swirls around many additives in use by the food industry. If we assume that foods would not contain an additive unless it was thoroughly tested and proven to be safe, we are deluding ourselves. Time and again an additive or process has been deemed safe, received "official approval", then, years later found to be unsafe for one reason or another, and taken off the market (anyone heard of trans fats?).
Another consideration is that these products may be tested in isolation, not in the combinations you are consuming.
What does the label tell you?
Reading food labels is something you should do if you are going to buy processed or packaged food. But do you really know what the list of ingredients is telling you?
Are you knowledgeable enough to determine whether you should consume foods that contain things like
and on and on?
Pollan suggests not eating anything that contains ingredients you cannot pronounce and avoid foods with ingredients that are unfamiliar to you.
What is the alternative?
Pollan recommends sticking to whole, unprocessed food as much as possible while avoiding packaged and processed foods.
The Smart Heart Living recipe page stresses the use of fresh and whole foods wherever possible.
When you shop, try to go to a farmers’ market to buy fresh and to shorten the food chain. The fewer steps between the producer and your table, the better!
When at the supermarket, avoid the center isles with all the packaged goods and stay on the periphery where most whole food is displayed (although you’ll still find many processed products and foods with additives even there... especially in the dairy section). Another suggestion is, if at all possible, to establish relationships with those who produce your food.
We know (and have visited) the farmers who grow our chicken, beef, bison, and eggs. We buy in-season fresh fruit and vegetables from a small local grower.
Is organic better?
The organic debate rages... you'll have to make up your own mind. We have come to believe that foods that are free of chemical pesticides and fertilizers are better for our health.
Considering that fresh fruits and vegetable lose their nutrients over time, this is something to bear in mind.
Remember too, that many small producers do not or cannot go through the expense of becoming organically "certified" but they are organic in all but the official designation.
Also, “organic” is fast becoming a marketing buzz-word that is applied to all manner of products, many being highly processed.
Yes, something may be labeled organic, but that is no assurance of it being a healthy choice. I've seen Oreo cookies that say on the box "Made with Organic Flour and Sugar". Organic or not, it is not a health food. How long will it be until we see organic cola?!
What you’ll learn from this book
In his book, In Defense of Food, Michael Pollan has done extensive research into our relationship with food - how it's produced, our attitudes toward it, its impact on our health, and how we consume it. He gives his readers many suggestions to overcome some of the great challenges he exposes.
This is a highly readable, well-researched, and fascinating book.
It will likely make you think about what you eat in new and healthy ways! You can order a copy for yourself by clicking here.
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