Eat food, not too much, mostly plants…

“In Defense of Food” by Michael Pollan.

Warning! This book will make you re-assess all the foods in your life… How & where they are grown. Was this cow fed grass or corn? What kind of soil was this spinach grown in? It’s even making me re-assess the dog food I feed Bailey. Seriously.

“The idea that you would need to write a book telling people where their food comes from is just a sign of how far removed we’ve become.” ~Michael Pollan

The book explains how we (Westerners) became such a processed-foods eating nation, what it has done to our bodies and how to reverse the effects and get back to eating whole foods.

Something to think about… eye-opening points from the book

  • Nutritionism… There is a movement called “nutritionism” that focuses more on the nutrients in food than the food as a whole. “The problem with nutrient-by-nutrient nutrition science is that it takes the nutrient out of the context of the food, the food out of the context of the diet, and the diet out of the context of the lifestyle” (Marion Nestle, a New York University nutritionist). This is why eating “clean” stresses eating whole foods.
  • The low-fat mystery… Foods that have been modified to be “low-fat” aren’t necessarily good for your health… In this case, the nutrition scientists have isolated the fats and taken the “bad” fats out of the food (and sometimes add in carbohydrates). But who’s to say what fats are good and which ones are bad? In 2006, the results of a low-fat diet study in women made the front page of the New York Times: “Low-fat diet does not cut health risks, study finds.” Why is this? Maybe the answer to your health problems isn’t to modify the fat level in your favorite foods, maybe it’s too add other foods into your repertoire. Most people that are told to lower their fat intake simply reach for the low-fat version. Since that has been proved to have no significant benefits, this book proposes that adding more whole foods (i.e. vegetables, fruits & whole grains) and lowering the meat intake (to a reasonable portion) will yield more healthful results. Example: I was purchasing cream cheese at the grocery store and I immediately reach for the no-fat version. However, after reading this book I question my choice. So I reached for the “regular” and the ingredient list was cut in half. Guess which one I purchased?
  • Fat is a nutrient… “Most people believe that a diet absolutely free of fat – a nutrient, lest you forget, essential to our survival – would be better for us than a diet containing even just ‘a pinch’ of it.” A scenario was posed to a group of Americans recently about survival. “Assume you are alone on a desert island for one year and you can have water and one other food. Pick the food that you think would be best for your health. The choices were corn, alfalfa sprouts, hot dogs, spinach, peaches, bananas, and milk chocolate.” (Don’t peak… which one do you think would be best?) Bananas were the first choice, followed by spinach, corn, alfalfa sprouts, peaches, hot dogs, then milk chocolate. Which one could you actually survive on?… hot dogs or milk chocolate. Why? Fat. We need fat to survive.
  • The main features of the Western diet… “lots of processed foods and meat, lots of added fat and sugar, lots of everything except fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.”
  • The proof is in the native populations… Many researchers have traveled all around the world studying the native populations. “All of the researchers compiled lists, many of which appeared in medical journals, of the common diseases they’d been hard pressed to find in the native populations they had treated or studied: little to no heart disease, diabetes, cancer, obesity, hypertension, or stroke; no appendicitis, diverticulitis, malformed dental arches, or tooth decay; no varicose veins, ulcers, or hemorrhoids.” Why is this? They do not eat the “store food” we westerners have grown to love. The only thing the industrialization of the U.S. has done for us is make us fatter.
  • What does processing do to our food?… “By the 1930s, it was already understood that the processing of foods typically robs them of nutrients, vitamins especially. Store food is food designed to be stored and transported over long distances, and the surest way to make food more stable and less vulnerable to pests is to remove the nutrients from it. Modern civilization had sacrificed much of the quality of its food in the interests of quantity and shelf life.” Doesn’t this bit of information make you want to head straight to the farmer’s market??
  • Flour used to be yellow… “Refined flour is the first fast food.” The history of refining whole foods has been a history of figuring out ways not just to make them more durable and portable, but also how to concentrate their energy, and, in a sense, speed them up. Rollers were introduced in 1870 for grinding grain (as opposed to stone-ground). This is the only way to get white flour so white. Stone grinding removed the bran from the wheat kernel but couldn’t remove the germ, which contains volatile oils that are rich in nutrients (thus making it yellow). This yellowish-gray flour had a short shelf life because of the oil, once it was exposed to the air it soon oxidized. People didn’t like the color or smell but what they didn’t know was that the smell (germ) contributed some of the most valuable nutrients to the flour, including much of its protein, folic acid, and other B vitamins; carotenes and other antioxidants; and omega-3 fatty acids. Guess what happened next? After turning the flour a nice, pretty, white color epidemics of pallagra and beriberi soon followed. Both are diseases caused by deficiencies in the B vitamins that the germ had contributed to the diet. In the 1930s, with the discovery of vitamins, scientists figured out what had happened, and the millers began fortifying refined grain with B vitamins. This took care of the most obvious deficiency diseases. More recently, scientists recognized that many of us also had a deficiency of folic acid in our diet, and in 1996 public health authorities ordered millers to start adding folic acid to flour as well. Wouldn’t it just be easier not to refine the grain?? Studies have shown that subjects getting the same amounts of these nutrients from other sources were not as healthy as the whole-grain eaters.
  • Why?… If it’s so bad for our health, why is all of this done in the first place? “The big money has always been in processing foods, not selling them whole.” Put simply, greed. Greed is why we are the fattest nation in the world.
  • Orthorexia… An eating disorder not yet recognized by the DSM-IV, but some psychologists have recently suggested that it’s time it was. They’re seeing more and more patients suffering from “an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating.”
  • Americans on snacking… “American gas stations now make more money selling food (and cigarettes) than gasoline.” And we wonder why we’re fat. Think of what kind of food gas stations sell… highly processed nonperishable snack foods and extravagantly sweetened soft drinks in hefty twenty-ounce bottles. There is a healthy way to snack, but this is definitely not it.
What to eat…
  • Eat food… Well, duh. What else am I going to eat? One of the points I liked most about this book was that it labels processed foods as food-like substitutes, not food. The foods you consume should have no more than 5 ingredients. For example, bread. Bread was traditionally made with 4 ingredients: flour, yeast, water, and a pinch of salt. Go look at the bread in your kitchen, go ahead, count the ingredients. All ingredients should be familiar and pronounceable (and not include corn of any fashion).
  • Eat in season… “When you eat from the farmer’s market, you automatically eat food that is in season, which is usually when it is most nutritious. Eating in season also tends to diversify your diet – because you can’t buy strawberries or broccoli or potatoes twelve months of the year, you’ll find yourself experimenting with other foods when they come into the market.” Find your local farmers market (and farms, CSA, healthy restaurants, etc.) with this great website:
  • Eat well-grown food from healthy soils… Yes, this also means organic. But there are also exceptional farmers in America that are not certified organic and the food they grow is just as “organic” as the ones labeled that way. “Also, the supermarket is brimming with processed organic food products that are a little better, at least from standpoint of health, than their conventional counterparts. But Organic Oreos are not a health food… Many consumers automatically assume that the word “organic” is synonymous with health, but it makes no difference to your insulin metabolism if the high-fructose corn syrup in your soda is organic.”
  • You are what you eat eats too… “That is, the diet of the animals we eat has a bearing on the nutritional quality, and healthfulness, of the food itself, whether it is meat or milk or eggs.” The quest of the industrial food chain has “changed the diet of most our food animals from plants to seeds, because animals grow faster and produce more milk and eggs on a high-energy diet of grain. But some of our food animals, such as cows and sheep, are ruminants that evolved to eat grass; if they eat too many seeds they become sick, which is why grain-fed cattle have to be given antibiotics… For most of our food animals, a diet of grass means much healthier fats in their meat, milk, and eggs, as well as appreciably higher levels of vitamins and antioxidants… It’s worth looking for pastured animal foods in the market and paying the premium they typically command.”
  • Not too much… Quality over quantity. “The American food system has for more than a century devoted its energies to quantity and price rather than to quality. Turning out vast quantities of so-so food sold in tremendous packages at a terrific price is what we do well.” If we compare ourselves to the French (as nutrition scientist have for decades) who eat their meals slowly and even sensually, we fall far behind in calorie consumption, time spent preparing and eating food, and time spent enjoying our food. The French eat less food and take more time to do it. Why? How? When they eat slowly they give their bodies time to feel full. And not to mention, they enjoy the company they keep much more. “Americans pay much more attention to external than to internal cues about satiety.” That is, we eat “until our plate is clean” instead of when we feel full. “Calorie restriction has repeatedly been shown to slow aging and prolong lifespan in animals, and some researchers believe that it is the single strongest link between a change in the diet and the prevention of cancer.”
  • Mostly plants… “In countries where people eat a pound or more of fruits and vegetables a day, the rate of cancer is half what it is in the United States. We also know that vegetarians are less susceptible to most of the Western diseases, and as a consequence live longer than the rest of us.”

In addition to many books, Michael Pollan also consulted for a movie named Food, Inc. (And so my eyes have been opened to food documentaries…) This movie will make you a) cry, b) never eat meat again OR find a local humane meat farmer, and c) never visit the grocery store again (I’m headed to the farmer’s market…). Watch at your own risk. Although, I do highly recommend it. This movie is available as a play-it-now on Netflix, and/or you can purchase it here.

“We have allowed ourselves to become so disconnected and ignorant about something that is as intimate as the food that we eat.” ~Joel (Polyface farms)

This documentary was also recommended to me and it looks very inspiring… Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead.

Go to this website to find the farmer’s markets in your town!
Find great in-season recipes from Grow Alabama. One of my favorites!
The next book on my list… Food, Inc. (Yes, there is also a book!)

Foods that Fight Cancer…

I was at the hair salon reading Health magazine and this article caught my eye. There are scientific studies that prove certain foods can help fight cancer! I love that modern medicine is starting to incorporate holistic healing methods.

The research is in: Here are six of the most potent weapons against the big C.
To reduce your risk of cancer, look no further than your fridge. “All the studies on cancer and nutrition point to eating plant-based foods for their phytonutrients and other special compounds,” says Richard Beliveau, PhD, chair in the prevention and treatment of cancer at the University of Quebec at Montreal and author of Foods to Fight Cancer. Aim for five to nine daily servings of all kinds of fruits and vegetables – especially these six superstars.

All cruciferous veggies (think cauliflower, cabbage, kale) contain cancer-fighting properties, but broccoli is the only one with a sizable amount of sulforaphane, a particularly potent compound that boosts the body’s protective enzymes and flushes out cancer-causing chemicals. A recent University of Michigan study on mice found that sulforaphane also targets cancer stem cells – those that aid in tumor growth.
Helps fight: breast, liver, lung, prostate, skin, stomach, and bladder cancers.
Your RX: The more broccoli, the better, research suggests – so add it wherever you can, from salads to omlets to the top of your pizza.
(Based on research by Jed Fahey, ScD, who studies cruciferous vegetables at the Johns Hopkins Chemoprotection Center)

All berries are packed with cancer-fighting phytonutrients. But black raspberries, in particular, contain very high concentrations of phytochemicals called anthocyanins, which slow down the growth of premalignant cells and keep new blood vessels from forming (and potentially feeding a cancerous tumor).
Helps fight: colon, esophageal, oral, and skin cancers.
Your RX: Concentrated berry powder is used in studies but a half-cup serving of berries a day may help your health, too.
(Based on research by Gary D. Stoner, PhD, a professor of internal medicine at The Ohio State University College of Medicine)

This juicy fruit is the best dietary source of lycopene, a carotenoid that gives tomatoes their red hue. And that’s good news, because lycopene was found to stop endometrial cancer cell growth in a study in Nutrition and Cancer. Endometrial cancer causes nearly 8,000 deaths a year.
Helps fight: endometiral, lung, prostate, and stomach cancers.
Your RX: The biggest benefits come from cooked tomatoes (think pasta sauce!), since the heating process increases the amount of lycopene your body is able to absorb.
(Based on research by Beliveau)

Their phytosterols (cholesterol-like molecules found in plants) have been shown to block estrogen receptors in breast cancer cells, possibly slowing the cells’ growth.
Helps fight: breast and prostate cancers.
Your RX: Munching on an ounce of walnuts a day may yield the best benefits.
(Based on research by Elaine Hardman, PhD, associate professor at Marshall University School of Medicine in Huntington, West Virginia)

Eating it may not do your breath any favors, but the protection it offers against digestive cancers just might be worth the smell. Phytochemicals in garlic have been found to halt the formation of nitrosamines, carcinogens formed in the stomach (and in the intestines, in certain conditions) when you consume nitrates, a common food preservative. In fact, the Iowa Women’s Health Study found that women with the highest amounts of garlic in their diets had a 50% lower risk of certain colon cancers than women who ate the least.
Helps fight: breast, colon, esophageal, and stomach cancers.
Your RX: Chop a clove of fresh, crushed garlic (crushing helps release beneficial enzymes), and sprinkle it into that lycopene-rich tomato sauce while it simmers.
(Based on research by Beliveau)

A study out of Michigan State University found that black and navy beans significantly reduced colon cancer incidence in rats, in part because a diet rich in the legumes increased levels of the fatty acid butyrate, which in high concentrations has protective effects against cancer growth. Another study, in the journal Crop Science, found dried beans particularly effective in preventing breast cancer in rats.
Helps fight: breast and colon cancers.
Your RX: Add a serving – a half cup – of legumes a few times a week (either from a can or dry beans that have been soaked and cooked) to your usual rotation of greens or other veggies.

What NOT to eat
While researchers are still trying to determine which foods have the most cancer-preventing benefits, we do know what not to eat if you want to protect yourself, says Cheryl Forberg, RD, author of Positively Ageless.
Animal Fats: Meat, cheese, and butter can be rich in saturated fat, which has been linked to obesity – a big cancer predictor. Opt for leaner protein sources, such as fish, low-fat dairy, and those good-for-you beans.
Processed Meats: A ballpark hot dog or a few slices of bacon once in a while won’t kill you, but don’t make them a staple of your diet. Some cured meats tend to be high in nitrates and nitrates, preservatives that can, in large amounts, potentially increase your risk of stomach and other cancers.
Excessive Alcohol: Stop after one drink! Too much tipping is associated with an increased risk of cancers of the mouth, esophagus, and breast.

I hope this article was as eye-opening to you as it was to me. Age-old holistic healing at its best.

Article from Health Magazine, November 2010.

How much fruit is too much fruit?…

I love eating fruit in the summer, it’s light, sweet and makes you feel great. But as I was at the grocery store today getting my weeks worth of fruits and veggies I started wondering, “Is there such a thing as eating too much fruit?” Nonsense. So I got home and started researching and found out that it actually is true.

Fruits are full of natural sugars. Yes, it’s better to eat a bowl of strawberries than a jar of cookies but you still have to limit your fruits. If fruit replaces sweet foods like candies and muffins, indulging is OK. Fruit may be safer to eat in excess than other foods, however, fresh fruits contain 15-20 calories per ounce. A medium sized apple contains about 120 calories, for example. Calories are calories, they stick around unless you burn them off.

There are a group of people that only eat fruit, called fruitarians. Fruitarians eat nothing but raw fruit and experience all sorts of health issues such as, dental decay, osteoporosis, chronic fatigue, skin problems, thinning hair, and more. This proves that a balanced diet is important. Especially for us yogi’s, we need carbohydrates to be able to practice for 2 hours, right?

So how much fruit is right for me? For most adults the recommended amount is 2 cups per day. It’s not bad to eat more, just know that you will have to spend some extra time on the mat.

In addition to eating a balanced diet it’s also important to have a balanced exercise routine. Use yoga as your daily centering and then get outside! Go for a walk, hike, bike ride! It’s good to get our bodies all sorts of exercise and it’s always good to be outside and connect with nature. It’s not necessary to do a 2 hour yoga practice every day, actually if we all did that we would be burnt out! Remember, a yoga practice can be as simple as sitting and meditating for 5 minutes. No one ever said it had to be physical.

Click here for a great website called the Dietary Guidelines for Americans

Yoga is about treating our bodies like a temple, so being conscious of what you eat is of much importance! Remember, we are supposed to eat to fuel our bodies, not for recreation.

Happy eating!