Do you really know what is in what you eat?

March 19, 2013

Lately I am more aware of what Alastair, Megan and I eat.  I’ve been reading books about what to feed a baby and it turns out I am fascinated by the topic of nutrition.  It never interested me before.

These books unanimously insist we should eat more organic or locally-sourced foods.  A few people have scoffed at my plan to change my family’s eating habits.  I didn’t have a solid comeback so I’ve been researching why organic/local is best and I have learned loads about food during my investigation.  The most interesting book of all is Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma.  I think everyone should read it because we are all part of a complex, industrial food chain and we must be more aware of what we put in our mouths every day.

I’ve been sharing a few interesting insights with Alastair.  After a dinner of protein-rich quinoa and organic ratatouille (a meal which he complained ‘had claws’), he drew the line and said, panicked and shrill, ‘Julie I am not becoming a vegetarian.’  I am not obsessively militant and neurotic and I don’t want to spend every moment joylessly assessing our diet.  But, for the sake of our health and the environment, we are making some changes.

images-27I didn’t realize that, in the West, we eat more maize than anyone would ever have thought possible.  All processed food contains corn and/or soybeans.  By processed food, I don’t mean cheese you spray out a can (I saw that in America).  I am talking about food we all eat or drink every day such as mayonnaise, margarine, sodas, cereals, biscuits, ketchup etc.  Corn and soybeans have become building blocks and food scientists use these raw materials to construct more food than you could possibly imagine.

We’ve tried to liberate food and make it less perishable.  Many of our health and environmental problems have been created by our industrialized food system where we have oversimplified nature’s complexities at the growing and eating ends of the food chain.

images-28I always believed that low fat is better for my health than a full-fat version.  I always buy low fat food and it turns out that there is little scientific evidence that this option reduces heart disease.  We have been conditioned to believe that fats are evil.  In many cases, we have replaced saturated fats (for example in butter) with trans fats and polyunsaturated fats (such as in margarine) and these are worse.   Often suppliers will reduce fat but they then include other unhealthy additives to maintain the taste or texture of the food in question.

I could go on and on …

Today I finished Michael Pollan’s book called Food Rules, which is brilliant.  I have listed most of his rules below.  This is the best weight-loss and healthy eating/diet advice I have ever heard:

What should I eat?

  • Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.
  • Avoid food containing high-fructose corn syrup (eg Coke)
  • Avoid food products containing ingredients that no ordinary human would keep in their pantry
  • Avoid foods that have sugar (or sweetener) listed in the top three ingredients
  • Avoid food products that contain more than 5 ingredients
  • Avoid food products that contain ingredients that a 10 year old can’t pronounce
  • Avoid foods that make health claims
  • Avoid foods that are pretending to be something they are not (eg margarine)
  • Shop the peripheries of the supermarket and stay away from the middle (which is where you find the processed foods)
  • Avoid foods that contain the words ‘lite’, ‘low fat’ or ‘non-fat’ in their name
  • Avoid foods you see advertised on television
  • Eat only foods that will eventually rot
  • Eat foods made from ingredients that you can picture in their raw form
  • Eat only foods cooked by humans
  • Don’t ingest foods made in places where people must wear surgical caps
  • If it came from a plant, eat it.  If it was made in a plant, don’t eat it
  • It is not food if it arrived through the window of your car
  • It is not food if it is called the same name in every language (Big Mac, Pringles, Coco Pops etc)

What kind of food should I eat?

  • Eat mostly plants, especially leaves.
  • Eat your colours
  • Eat animals that have themselves eaten well
  • Eat like an omnivore
  • Eat well-grown food from healthy soil
  • Don’t overlook the oily little fish
  • Sweeten and salt food yourself
  • Eat sweet foods as you find them in nature
  • Don’t eat breakfast cereals that change the colour of the milk
  • The whiter the bread, the sooner you’ll be dead
  • Favour the kinds of oils and grains that have traditionally been stone ground
  • Only eat junk food when you cook it yourself.
  • Have a glass of red wine at dinner

How should I eat?

  • Pay more, eat less
  • Stop eating when you’re full
  • Eat when you are hungry not bored
  • Eat slowly
  • The banquet is in the first bite
  • Spend as much time enjoying a meal as you took to prepare it
  • Buy smaller plates and glasses
  • Serve a proper portion and don’t go back for seconds
  • Breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper
  • Eat meals, not snacks
  • Limit snacks to unprocessed plant foods
  • Don’t get your fuel from the same place your car does
  • Do all your eating at a table (a desk is not a table)
  • Try not to eat alone
  • Treat treats as treats