Thursday, February 9, 2012

Food For Thought (and Health)

What to Eat? This is not only a question every person asks themselves every day, it’s also the title of a wonderful book I’ve been reading. It was a gift from my oldest son. He of the inquisitive mind must have been intrigued by the questions that pepper the cover. Questions like,
“Is organic always more nutritious? How fair is fair trade coffee? Farmed fish or wild fish? White, whole wheat, or multigrain? Are there pesticides on that apple? Are vitamin supplements safe?”
Or maybe he was just responding to his father’s nudge, “Your mom would really like that book,” when they were out Christmas shopping on a crowded afternoon and he was in a hurry to get home to his friends.

Either way, love the book. It asks all the questions I ask and some I never thought to ask. Marion Nestle is a nutrition professor, and author of two other books (soon to grace my shelves or my kindle) – Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health and Safe Food: Bacteria, Biotechnology, and Bioterrorism.

In her book, What to Eat, Marion addresses the things that plagued the concerned parent when she or he enters a grocery store. How do you sort through all the confusing messages and buy what’s best for your family and your health? The book literally takes a tour of the grocery store expounding on every aisle with helpful, clear information.

I want to share some excellent ideas I found in the introduction. All of us struggle with the immense amount of information and the almost daily new studies that tell us what we should and shouldn’t eat to avoid health issues like cancer and heart disease, have more energy, live longer, and maintain a healthy weight. Although I’m certain there are a few factors out of our control (heredity and all the stuff we already ate that we shouldn’t have before we knew better), Marion’s simple directions make sense -

Eat less, move more, eat lots of fruits & vegetables, and go easy on the junk food.

This is a mantra we can all embrace. If we keep it in mind as we make our food and activity choices each day we can feel we’ve done all we should. Sure, the details like organic, fair-trade, GMO, locally grown, sustainably-harvested will play in to your choices, but bottom line start by eating right before you stress the rest.

Another point Marion makes in the introduction is that it’s very easy to be overcome by the marketing of food. Companies, grocery stores, and even our own government encourage us to eat things that are not good for us. As Marion points out,

The produce industry does not advertise fruits and vegetables much because its profit margins are low and its constituents are fragmented and competitive (broccoli growers versus carrot farmers, etc.). …the government does not subsidize fruit and vegetable production the way it supports corn, soybeans, sugarcane, and sugar beets….the lack of profit means that less effort goes into making sure these foods are as fresh, tasty, well prepared, and easy to use as they might be.”

I want to share one last powerful point Marion makes. It’s been darting around my mind ever since I read it. She asks the reader to consider this question:

“What industry or professional organization might benefit if you ate more healthfully?”

Like Marion, I struggle to come up with even one. I want to say the government, because then it wouldn’t have to spend nearly as much on medicare and Medicaid. But that’s a stretch, huh? In my fantasy world I would also say the government because it wants what’s best for the people. But I still reside in the real world.

Here are the industries she lists that benefit from all the confusion and bad decisions we make about nutrition and health: food, restaurant, fast-food, diet, health club, drug, and health care industries.

Food for thought. Be aware of the motivation behind the claims. And remember: eat less, move more, eat lots of fruits & veggies, and go easy on the junk food. Words to live by. Literally.

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