“Eat food, real food, mostly plants.” Thank you to Michael Pollan for boiling it down into one easy rule that makes complete sense. The only problem, of course, is that most of us grow up in urban settings and have next to no exposure to the actual food chain and how it actually gets from farm to table.
No matter where you grow up or who raised you, you end up with a set of food quirks or food behaviors that you carry into adulthood. My grandmother used to drink a glass of buttermilk with dinner. That was her food ritual and when we looked at Collington for Parkinson’s life care that was one of the most important questions. Where did their buttermilk come from and could she test a glass. Her decision was based on the buttermilk.
Unfortunately, now most of our food quirks are built around processed foods and how they have insinuated themselves into our lifestyle. I am a coffee freak. Not meaning that I have a refined palate, just meaning that the soy milk/coffee has to have a perfect ratio. One of my friends packs her breakfast cereal when travelling. A client of mine eats a sausage, egg and cheese biscuit from Wawa when things are going really well. It’s a self sabotage measure that is rooted in his belief system that he is unworthy of happiness and health.
Food in our culture has become much more than just a means to fuel our body. Food is our entertainment, our lifestyle, and often our very identity. I asked one of my clients recently with stage four cancer what he would eat to save his life. He was unwilling to give up his daily trips to fast food restaurants. If you knew that changing what you ate (fast food, processed food, factory farmed meats, hydrogenated oils, processed sugars and flours etc) would save your life, would you do it?
You might surprise yourself with your answer.
The correlation between good health and good food is inescapable. Whether you have an anecdotal story about your uncle who drank a fifth of vodka and smoked three packs of unfiltered cigarettes a day before finally dying at 97, we all know that those are the exceptions. Looking at the historical incidence of heart disease, mental illness, diabetes and obesity in the 1880’s versus now. You will easily confirm the correlation of increase of industrialized farming and consumption of processed foods with illness of all forms. While our life expectancy is longer, we live with illnesses that inversely affect the quality of our life. We no longer die of dysentery or tuberculosis, we now eat ourselves to death.
So if we can eat ourselves to death, can we eat ourselves well?
I believe that we can eat foods that optimize health but I also believe that we can make those foods taste satisfying as well so we can meet the social need that food fills in our social interactions. The problem is that most people of my generation have not been taught how to cook the whole foods that our bodies need. We have also been taught to crave vast quantities of sugars and fats. The biggest problem I find is that most people feel completely overwhelmed when confronted with changing their diet. Most people confront the need for dietary change with an all or nothing approach. They go cold turkey on the processed foods and sugar and throw themselves into their new lifestyle, similar to the January gym membership that doesn’t get used after March. I like to start people off with the exercise in deliberate eating when they want to begin a program of recreating their diet. The same thing should be done with grocery shopping. Too often we go to the grocery store after work, when we are tired and hungry, and when we are in a rush. We don’t have a plan or a list or any idea about what we want to eat, we are just going to wait till it grabs us when we walk through the door. The only problem is that grocery stores put the junk “cart commitment” right as you walk through the door. That sugar smack snack that just screams “BUY ME. EAT ME” so that you have something to anchor you to continue your shopping.
How should we start this shopping expedition that all of us in urban setting are obliged to do? How about instead we plan around the antioxidants that we want to make sure we get into our system and shop the rainbow of fruits and vegetables before we do anything else? Let’s say for example it’s the nasty cold months of winter and everyone around us is getting sick. Kids are home more than in school. The flu is going around and everyone is sneezing and sniffling and you are afraid to even touch a door handle.
I posted on Facebook, “what do you do when you feel a cold coming on?” Most answered a Vitamin C or Zinc supplement, but how about eating foods rich in both?
We all know oranges and citrus have vitamin C, but did you know that red bell peppers and kale are AMAZING sources of C? Did you know that wheat germ is a phenomenal source of Zinc? I have posted a list below of natural sources in whole foods for polyphenols (plant nutraceuticals) or micronutrients, antioxidants, vitamin c and zinc. I have also added the dirty dozen of foods that retain the most pesticides when sprayed. Think progress not perfection when it comes to incorporating these foods into your regimen. Add a few this week and then a few more next week. Nutrition is a very big topic and it will overwhelm you if you try to do everything at once.
Papaya, Red bell peppers, oranges, citrus fruits, kale, brussels sprouts, broccoli, strawberries, guava, kiwi, butternut squash, cauliflower, cantaloupe
Wheat germ, spinach, pumpkin seeds, cashews, cocoa nibs, cocoa powder, chickpeas, mushrooms, pomegranate, seeds
Blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, beets, oranges, strawberries, plums, kale, cherries, spinach, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, bell peppers, onions, garlic, red grapes, all dark leafy greens, elderberries, kidney beans, pecans, cilantro, clove, cinnamon, turmeric, cocoa, ginger, goji berries, artichoke, cranberries, cumin
Garlic, onions (all), red grapes, coffee, green tea, red wine, cocoa, pomegranate, kale, cabbage
Unfiltered apple cider vinegar, kombucha, temphe, miso, live cultures in sauerkraut, pickles, or kimchee, umeboshi plums
This list is in no particular order of quantity and bioavailability. The important thing is to find what you like and putting it into your diet. Why force feed yourself goji berries if you hate them? Pick something else that you like and add it instead. What difference does it make how much vitamin c kale has if you never eat it? Be honest, how many bags of heavy winter greens have you let go bad in your refrigerator? You can be virtuous when shopping, but if you don’t actually eat the stuff it really doesn’t matter.
This week’s challenge is to pick three to five foods off the list and add them in this week. If you eat it all the time it doesn’t count. Try something new. Try something to add variety.