Finding lost dietary wisdom at this buffet

Up close with Dr. E

Welcome to the knowledge buffet. Please take a seat in the comfortable cabin over there and relax. Your waitress will be with you shortly. For your dinner today, let me first offer you a hot and spicy entree, some tasty food for thought: what if science had proven that the diet of most Americans, so-called Western diet, was directly linked to the following five disease states: obesity, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and colon cancer?

Once you have digested this question, the chef will serve you an incredibly delicious main course: new knowledge about healthier food, called traditional food, which is now used for disease prevention. But wait, you still have room for dessert. Yes, try this small but powerful mental piece: you will learn that by taking full responsibility for your health, you can open the door to creating a healthier you, in mind and body. To help the chef today, there are two excellent books recently published, “Food Rules, An Eater’s Manual”, by Michael Pollan and “Understanding Your Health”, 10th edition, by Wayne Payne.

The food we eat in America is called the Western diet, and it is defined by Pollan as “a diet of lots of processed foods, meats and lots of refined grains, lots of everything except vegetables, fruits and whole grains”. Pollan does not consider processed foods to be real foods. His term for any food that has been altered by a manufacturing process is “an edible, food-like substance”. Processed foods are those that have been altered from their original state in one of two basic ways: removing something or adding something. That is, the original food has been modified to make it taste better or to have a longer shelf life (think preservatives) or to make it more appealing to the eye (think colors).

Whenever the basic properties of a food are altered, its nutritional properties are therefore also altered. Processing a whole grain is an example. Whole grains, like oats, have an outer layer or husk that surrounds each grain. This envelope contains vitamins and fibers. The fiber in the grain has many benefits: 1. Your stomach feels fuller, so you eat less. 2. Fiber slows sugar absorption, helping to keep blood sugar stable. 3. It reduces harmful cholesterol. 4. It provides volume and protects our colon. Processing removes this envelope and removes the benefits the envelope provides.

What to do? What foods to eat? Pollan’s book argues that the traditional diet, developed millennia before industrial food processing, contains the collective dietary knowledge passed down through tradition and culture. Here are some of Pollan’s “Food Rules” to help us reclaim the lost dietary wisdom that has kept our society healthy for thousands of years:

1. Avoid food products containing high fructose corn syrup or other forms of sugar. A great way to spot processed foods is to look for the HFCS added to its ingredients.

2. Avoid food products with ingredients that a third grader can’t pronounce.

3. Only eat foods that will eventually spoil. Pollan says, “Food processing began as a way to extend the shelf life of food. The longer the shelf life, the less nutritious it is.

4. Buy your snacks at a farmer’s market. Eat dried fruits and nuts.

5. Treat meat like special occasion food.

6. Eat your colors. Vegetable colors reflect good nutrition.

7. Buy a freezer. This gives you the opportunity to store fresh food purchased at the height of the season.

8. The whiter the bread, the faster you will die.

9. Don’t eat breakfast cereals that change the color of the milk.

10. Eat all the junk food you want, if you cook it yourself.

Nutritional science has given you the knowledge that a traditional diet leads to a healthier body. But there’s only one person who bears responsibility for every food you eat. Your health is in your hands!

The content of this article is for educational purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for professional treatment.

Dr. Richard Elghammer contributes his weekly column to the Journal Review.

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