What am I putting in me?
It really started after I graduated with my dietetics degree in 2009 and I had a chance to stop and catch my breath after graduation. I realized that I was not being a very good example of healthy eating, which is really important considering the profession I was going into. We started by making changes slowly. Occasionally we would cook with red meat and slowly we made the change of eating only turkey, chicken and fish. On occasion we would still eat it when we went out, but it was only a couple of times a month that we would eat it. We started using brown rice and whole wheat pasta instead of white. We stopped buying white all together and haven't looked back since. Overall, we ate way more fruits and vegetables, and really started mixing up the variety. This was all well and good, but I didn't feel super healthy or different.
Fast forward about a year and a half to when I started working for the State of Arizona. We had been watching a lot of documentaries about food. It started months before with Food Inc., and the arsenal of food driven films included Fat Sick and Nearly Dead, King Corn, Food Matters and the most recent Forks Over Knives, to name a few. I'm not going to say that I agreed with every little thing in these films, but it really got me thinking...what was I really taught about food? Was it possible that my professors were biased or programed to teach just exactly what the USDA and special interest groups wanted them to? I'm not saying that my whole education was a crock, I learned a lot about science, and how to think logically, how nutrients work in our bodies on a cellular level, how our digestive tracts work..but what about these recommendations? Yes, we do plenty of studies on individual nutrients to figure out how much we should recommend, how much is needed to survive, or how much is too much, but what about the big picture? Nutrition research is surprisingly spotty and unreliable when you know how to read it and which studies to actually trust...which studies to actually trust...but shouldn't everything published in my fitness magazine be true? Hahahahahaha...No.
The point that I'm trying to make is this; look at our food pyramid, how it's changed over the years, even the last decade. I will say, it's getting better but it's still far off from what it should be. Half your plate SHOULD be fruits and veggies, but saying that you have to have milk and not going into healthy level of proteins and protein sources...not good. It is my personal belief that the decisions made and the recommendations given for dietary guidelines for Americans are heavily influenced by politics and lobbyists.
I have a really hard time saying this because, well, I technically work for the USDA, but I can't stop thinking that we're more than just a little off in what we are telling people to eat. So I started formulating my own opinion on what we should eat...this is just a theory, but it's what makes the most sense to me with my education and the different view points I've seen..
#1. Processed foods. This is something that really bothers me. Why do we feel that chemically altering our food and adding things to them that aren't found in nature is good for us? It reminds me of the mutts from the Hunger Games, mutated and perverted versions of what they were supposed to be naturally. Genetically modified and chemically altered foods are fairly new to our society and T.V. dinners and convenience foods have not even been around for a century. We don't know for sure that foods like high fructose corn syrup are bad for us, but there's not research saying it's good for us either. America has become one giant science experiment in this aspect. Processed foods have large amounts of added sugars in them as well. What are added sugars? Just what they sound like, sugars added to foods that don't naturally occur in them. So what's the difference? Added sugars are digested and delivered to the blood stream very quickly, causing a spike in our blood sugar which results in highs and lows in our energy levels and can lead to Diabetes in some people. Foods with natural sugars (not including juice) such as fruits, whole wheat, grains, oats etc. are digested slower, releasing sugar into our bloodstream slowly and help us avoid those dangerous spikes. It's true, whether it's fruits, grains, oats, soda, candy or cupcakes, it all turns into glucose in our bloodstream, but whole foods with natural sugars in them tend to be lower in calories and high in other nutrients as well.
#2. Do we really need all of this meat? Forks Over Knives is a movie based off of a book called "The China Study" which has thirty years of research backing it. Remember what I said about nutrition research being 'spotty'? Well this is an example of good nutrition research in terms of longevity, sample size, population variants, and being controlled. It really goes on to show that animal products don't necessarily have a healthy place in our lives and shows many examples of people leading above average lifestyles without meat, dairy and the like. The son of one of the doctors from the China Study wrote his own book called The Engine 2 Diet, which I have read and agree with a LOT of what he says.
When I was in college, we had to do a lab where we tracked everything that we ate and measured our protein intake versus our output to see how much we were really absorbing. If we were taking in over the recommended amount we were told to try a low protein diet the next week, if we were under the recommended amount we were supposed to eat more protein the following week. I ended up having more than double the recommended amount in my diet so I had to go on a low protein diet (this is an occasion where the word diet is appropriate). What I found is that even without eating any meat, and little dairy, it was SO hard to only eat the recommended amount, there's protein in EVERYTHING! What this showed me was that our protein crazed society is probably consuming WAY more that we need to on a daily basis, and those supplementing that aren't professional athletes are probably killing their kidneys in the process.
A lot of people argue that eating a vegetarian diet won't give you all of the necessary amino acids and the protein that you need..in my opinion, it simply isn't true. If you need convincing, read the Engine 2 Diet, it's a simple, quick read and will put your worries to rest.
#3. Eat Organic. No really. The only way to be sure that you are not ingesting harmful chemicals and potentially hazardous genetically engineered products is to eat organically. Again, why do we think that adding all of these chemicals and changing the nature of our food is the right thing for our bodies? Wouldn't the right thing be what nature gave us to being with? And even when you buy organic you may not be buying organic. Labeling laws are very finicky when it comes to this. Manufactures are allowed to put organic and natural on their packaging without them actually having to be 100% organic and nothing close to natural. If a label says 'natural' I would actually be more skeptical of it. If it says USDA certified organic, it still only has to be 95% organic. Does it not bother you to not know what you're putting into your body? Well it bothers me to have manufactures who have never met me, never seen my face or the faces of my family, decided what to put in their products to save money and their bottom line...but wait, I have a choice of what I buy and to educate myself.
Sooo...If you're still with me on this post I commend you. I'm approaching the end and wrapping up my big 'ol long point. How have Jim and I changed our lifestyle? Well, we started by cutting out some meat. After watching Food Inc. in the spring of 2010, we started cutting meat out one day a week, which turned into two and over time has increased to most of the week. I rarely buy meat anymore and if I do, I'm very careful about knowing where it comes from and how it was treated. We tried going vegan and it was really hard. Again, I'm not big on processed foods therefore the fake meats were not an option for me. I would rather eat all vegetables, but that became really hard if we wanted to eat out or have something other than a salad at a restaurant. Don't get me wrong, there are some great vegan restaurants out there with tons of options, but I really found it to be a strain to follow this lifestyle. With that said, we still eat a lot of vegan dishes, and most of the time if a recipe can be made without meat, cheese or dairy of any kind I go for it. We prepare meat at home or eat it at a restaurant usually 1-2 times a week. I will say that my small vegan stint made me feel great and I did lose weight.
After thinking all of these factors over and over, and having some big inner turmoil about my beliefs which ultimately made me come up with some heavy questions considering my line of work and everything I've been taught, I came up with this philosophy: in our society, it will probably be impossible to completely cut out processed foods. For most people, including myself, there just isn't time in the day to cut them out completely; so drastically reduce them, making as many things from scratch as possible. Reduce the amount of meat in your life. When we were hunters and gatherers, there was not meat available every day and when there was it was obviously hormone free, unprocessed and lean. Both of these actions will ultimately lead to a greater consumption of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds. Eat variety! Try new things, experiment, become a recipe fiend and MAKE TIME FOR YOUR HEALTH, when it comes down to it, that may be the only thing in life that you can truly control..for now. Bottom line, eat whole foods! We are big foodies, so giving up processed foods and eating out completely was too hard for us, but we generally follow these principals and try to eat out in moderation.
Something that has always bothered me as I go to schools and review their lunch programs is that those schools that truly try to change and offer healthy options are often very unsuccessful. This is because children see this food and refuse to eat it. They are fast food babies with lifestyles built on convenience foods and processed JUNK. They don't know what real food is and their taste buds have been lied to and overstimulated for years. It's time to take our health back into our own hands as individuals and teach our children what whole foods are and how we should treat our bodies. Be good examples so that we birth a generation that creates a demand for real food instead of processed slop and then maybe we'll stand a chance to swing the direction of industry.
Wow, that was intense.
Keep it real,