Mostly Plants: What to Eat
In Part 3.1 of this Getting Over Nutritionism series, I explained why leaves are especially important to make a significant part of your diet. In this series we have learned why real food is so important, what it really is, and why cultures can thrive on healthy diets of both high-fat and low-fat. As long as the foods you eat are built on the foundation of whole foods instead of industrially processed products, your diet will most likely be a healthy one. Although almost any real food diet will be a healthy one, there are combinations of foods and ways to prepare them that contribute to your health. Part 3.3 I will talk about the last few tips Michael Pollan gives in his book In Defense of Food. You can see the first tip he gives in my previous post.
Image Credit: Austin Kleon: A Writer Who Draws.
- You are what you eat eats too.
“The diet of the animals we eat has a bearing on the nutritional quality, and the healthfulness, of the food itself, whether it is meat or milk or eggs.” This seems obvious, but unfortunately it is neglected by the industrial food chain in order for them to make huge amounts of cheap animal protein. Because of this, many of the animals we eat have gone from a diet of grass (which they are naturally meant to eat – and is the most healthy for them to eat) to a diet of seeds. Animals are fed seeds because seeds typically are more energy-rich (they have more calories), therefore the animal will grow faster and produce more milk or eggs. Unfortunately, because most animals, such as cows and sheep, are meant to eat grass, they get sick from eating too many seeds, causing them to be given antibiotics. Some animals, like chickens and pigs, do not get sick from eating seeds, but they are still much healthier if they are able to eat green plants; their meat and eggs are much healthier as well when they have been given a diet rich in green plants (therefore, we are much healthier when we eat meat, milk, and eggs that have lived their lives on a healthy, natural diet). When animals are able to eat a diet of grass, much healthier fats (more omega-3’s and CLA; and fewer omega-6’s and saturated fat) are produced in their meat, milk, and eggs, along with much more vitamins and antioxidants. At times, you can even see the difference, as in the eggs below.
Image credit: 100 Days of Real Food
- If you have the space, buy a freezer.
Pollan says, “When you find a good source of pastured meat, you’ll want to buy it in quantity. Buying meat in bulk – a quarter of a steer, say, or a whole hog – is one way to eat well on a budget.” When you have a large freezer, you can also buy a lot of produce at the height of its season and store it throughout its offseason, allowing you to eat it throughout the year without losing a ton of its health. Freezing does not significantly lose nutritional value of produce as canning does.
- Eat like an omnivore.
Whether you are a vegetarian or not, it is important for your body to have variety in the foods and species it consumes. When there is diversity in your diet, you consume much more vitamins and nutrients than if you were to eat the same things throughout the year (or every week). Another reason to have diversity in your diet is for the food chain. “Biodiversity in the diet means biodiversity in the fields. To shrink the monocultures that now feed us would mean farmers won’t need to spray as much pesticide or chemical fertilizer, which would mean healthier soils, healthier plants and animals, and in turn healthier people. Your health isn’t bordered by your body, and what’s good for the soil is probably good for you too.”
- Eat well-grown food from healthy soils.
Although it could be easier to simply say “eat organic” (and it is true that certified organic foods are better from a health standpoint), organic oreos are not a health food.
“Most consumers automatically assume that the word ‘organic’ is synonymous with health, but it makes no difference to your metabolism if the high-fructose corn syrup in your soda is organic.”
Foods that are grown in healthy soils, though, are much healthier and nutritious than any foods grown in unhealthy soils – organic or not. BUT, if the foods you are eating have come from across the country, the nutritional quality has deteriorated since the time of picking to the time you consume them. Therefore, it is best to purchase foods that are both organic and local.
- Eat wild foods when you can.
The two healthiest plants in the world are weeds: lamb’s quarters and purslane. One of the healthiest traditional (nonwestern) diets, the Mediterranean, are full of wild greens. These plants are much healthier than their domesticated relatives because they have had to make themselves stronger in order to defend themselves against pests and diseases without the help of pesticides made by people. Many crop plants are bred for sweetness, not health; many defensive compounds that plants produce are more bitter than sweet. Wild animals, as well, are generally healthier to eat than farmed animals. Wild game contain less saturated fat and more omega-3 fatty acids than farmed/domesticated animals.
- Be the kind of person who takes supplements.
Generally, people who take supplements are healthier than people who do not take supplements. BUT, in controlled studies, it has been found that supplements do not work. So why are the people taking the supplements healthier than people who do not take them? The health of these people has nothing to do with the pills themselves; people who take supplements are, for the most part, more conscious of their health and more knowledgeable about health and food. “So to the extent you can, be the kind of person who would take supplements, and then save your money.” Experts in nutrition suggest that everyone take a multivitamin, especially adults. Your diet should give you all of the nutrients that your body needs to be healthy, especially if your diet consist of mainly real foods, but as you age, your body does not absorb vitamins and nutrients as well, so taking a multivitamin-and-mineral pill is a good idea. Michael Pollan also suggests taking a fish oil supplement if you do not eat fish often. The next post in this series will discuss the last four tips that Michael Pollan gives on what to eat.