When I first chose to study nutrition at Cornell so many year ago, I could not have imagined the evolution in what we think about when we think about food. Nor could I have imagined the changes in the food we eat in this country.
Food, here and now, is just so everything.
My friend, colleague and visionary Kathie Swift often quotes Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, who was right and prescient when he said: “Tell me what you eat, and I’ll tell you who you are.”
It’s the center of most gatherings of family, friends and colleagues. What we feed others communicates how we feel about them and expresses to them who we are. We have intimate dinners, casual nights, celebratory feasts. To be a good friend, feed someone. To show love, feed someone.
Growing up, the quality of food available not so directly related to income as it is today. Now we have food deserts, over-consumptive malnutrition (the real epidemic of weight, where those without eat a higher-calorie yet lower nutrient-density diet), and food marketing is disguised as real nutrition information or education. If you are poor in America, you just don’t have access to high quality nutritious food. Thank the Lord for WIC and other food assistance, which can close the worst of the gap if used well.
What you choose to eat impacts the planet and you can’t get around that. Meat is rich in every sense of the word. It is nutrient dense, resource-rich, high-impact, and energetically hot stuff. No inherently evil, but easy to overdo, and human nature seems to make us overdo it in spades. Today we eat twice as much protein as we physiologically need, yet new diet after new diet tells us we need more more more. The truth is we don’t if we cultivate a balanced whole-food active life.
Every 5 years, a big bill works its way through congress. That bill, the Ag Bill, determines to a great extent what America eats. What America eats these days is subsidized GMO soy, factory-farmed meat, dairy, corn (to be made into the high-fructose corn syrup which researchers agree is undermining health on a grand scale). We can change it – the last round had a bit of funding for organic fruits and vegetables, and linking school lunch with farmers’ markets. You can vote on this by calling your congresspeople and insisting on the funding shifts you want.
I personally have an emotional relationship with food. Changing my diet takes a long conversation, and a bargain with myself. Do this and I’ll treat myself in this way (often a massage or oil dip at Kripalu healing arts, or a new get-up).
Tactile and Sensual
Food is beautiful. It’s smells, textures, and of course, flavor absolutely thrills most of us. Yum. I’m working on a book project on whole food, and how to make it as easy as possible to eat healthfully. There’s no getting around the need to come into close personal contact with food when it’s whole. You have to cut the bottoms off asparagus and put fresh spears in water. You have to trim herbs and place them in water. You have to crack the egg, (and hopefully, put all the scraps into your compost bucket – wowsaa another spring topic!). We can do things to make cooking efficient and as easeful as possible, but ultimately, you have to revel in the sensuality of whole food.Pinterest
I could go on – it’s love! So, take a little time considering a two-way relationship with the whole food you cook and eat. As you slice a carrot or dice an onion, take a breath to wonder what the carrot would say to you if you’d listen? Who is that onion, anyway?!
This is why changing your diet is such a huge deal. Because when you change your diet, you change everything. You become someone else, bite by bite. So, be easy on yourself if you are finding it challenging. Notice what’s hard, and press on. Make the healthful choice anyway. If you fall off the wagon for a meal or a day, get right back on. Practice practice practice, not perfection.
Happy New Year! It’s that time again!
Time to review the year that was, and reset our course for the possibilities ahead. I honestly don’t know too many people who had a stellar 2016, but I know you’re out there. Here’s a round up of the top whole food & nutrition memes I see out there.
Prediction: 2017 will be the year of the skillful – we will be challenged! For those who are clear about who they are and what’s real, and roll up their sleeves to serve others and have a good time, it will be a good year.
So, let’s eat! The mega-trend is AUTHENTIC. REAL is in.
So, your practice of discernment – of separating the true from the pretenders – is the practice of the year.
Here are my top whole food memes to watch:
- Spicy shots! It all began with the re-emergence of Fire Cider (and the bru-ha-ha that followed when an upstart trademarked a beloved herbalist’s recipe – couldn’t this have been prevented with a kind and appreciative phone call?). Anyway, I just whipped up a new recipe on this concept that does not require steeping for 6 weeks. It’s not the original, but it has increased our Free Fire Cider consumption and has been keeping us warm this month. Recipe coming soon! These fun little morning shots are warming and nutrient dense – natural preventive nutrition of the very best kind. This is my favorite food trend of the year. Bottom’s up!
- Post-paleo Real-paleo – return of the (whole) grains! Paleo taught us a lot – it taught us to think about our genetic imperative (just how do we feed humans?). It taught us that refined foods (even those with a Paleo wrapper), refined grains, and refined sugar are not our friends. Paleo man (that famous 10K-year-old fellow) did not, however, eat bacon. He didn’t eat meat 3x per day. He sure didn’t eat modern grain-fed hamburgers, even without the bun. I’ve read a number of analysis suggesting he ate more than 110 gm of fiber (most Americans get 5-14 gm in our refined diets). Now that the paleo-frenzy has subsided, we are re-appreciating whole grains, and enjoying them as tolerated. Let’s hear it for balance.
- Authentic quality animal & fermenteds! As my friends and excellent nutritionists John Bagnulo and Kathie Swift say – you are what they ate. Our great-grandparents didn’t need terms like organic and grass-fed, but unfortunately, due to the duplicity of marketing, we do now. We are swimming in poor-quality food, high in calories and low in nutrition. So, to improve your diet, if you eat animal foods, choose only those that are raised as nature intended. Cows are designed by the universe to live off grass, not grain. Chickens are healthy and happy when they are eating bugs and grass. This year, try your own fermented food recipes and include a little something fermented every day.
- Revenge of self-acceptance. This year the NIH taught us a new phrase: metabolic adaptation. It means that if we gain weight and then lose, there’s a chance that, pound for pound, we will need fewer calories than if we hadn’t taken that weight gain sidetrack. Sigh. Does it go away over time? Something in me tells me that it does, but not to the degree we’d wish. So, enter self-acceptance. If you can follow a preventive health lifestyle regardless of the number on the scale, and you sustain it over time, you will win. You will look better, feel better and probably live longer. Will you reach your high school (or college) weight? Will you do it without dealing with your own hunger and satiety issues? Probably not.
- Smarter supplement use. Supplements can be powerful medicines but are generally over-used and generally of really poor quality. Taking every supplement you hear about, and buying the cheapest version you can find, is a losing strategy. I only suggest someone try a supplement to address a lab value or a symptom, find the highest quality you can find & afford, take as directed and watch to see if you get the result you are seeking. I also keep supplement use to your top 5 (and 5 is a lot!). Run from practitioners that insists you need more. The right supplement at the right time can be a lifesaver, but food is so much more important overall. A qualified licensed nutritionist can work with you to sort which are worth it for you, and how to use supplements along with diet and lifestyle effectively.
It’s that time of year again, where we look back at trends for the year that was, and set a course for a happy and productive 2016. May yours be filled with good food, good friends and family, and good work.
Here are a few of the food-related trends I see in the natural nutrition world:
- Authentically whole Many Americans think that frozen meals, take-out meals and packaged smoothies are whole foods. They may be made from whole foods, they may be made from high-quality ingredients, but if it’s packaged (no matter how pricey the package is), it’s processed. Not all processed food is bad, and we can eat some and still be vibrantly healthy. Just remember, it’s the whole produce you find at your farmer’s market and the produce isle that is the center of nutritional wellness.
- Post-paleo ancestral eating I have truly enjoyed the enthusiastic discussion about just what paleolithic man really ate. We know he didn’t have bacon (poor paleo man). Nor paleo power bars. Nor did he use those little rubber toe-shoes. But the inquiry at the root of the debate – just what is the genetic imperative for humans when it comes to food – is a true and fascinating one. For most of us, following a whole-foods, plant-based diet that contains clean protein and healthful fats, as in the Mediterranean and other ancestral diets, will do the trick.
- Beans on the rise…again Plant-based protein is finally getting its due. We are finally also getting the idea of quality, as well, since another trend is continued growing interest in GMO-free eating and labeling. Non-organic soy is now predominantly GMO, unfortunately. But, increasing the beans in your diet will bolster fiber and is in better balance with the earth. If beans give you excess gas, choose smaller varieties like lentils.
- Eat fish…consciously Fish and shellfish are the riches sources of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats, and figure prominently in patterns of eating shown to be most healthful. Yet, the oceans are not getting cleaner, and over the past decades, fishes considered high in mercury and PCBs have steadily grown. This is a great year to sample your first sardine, or herring, or anchovies. These small fishes tend to be lowest in contaminants.
- Holistic cannibus As most states approve medical marijuana, and many states eliminate all penalties for having or smoking pot, get ready to learn more about THC to CBD ratios, and what various strains of marijuana can do for various ailments.
- Mindful eating 2.0 McMindfulness. Yep, it’s the new black. Now we just need to learn what it is. Mindfulness is a form of meditation, so when the lunch line suggests the mindful choice of the day is turkey burger, just sigh. Nonetheless, as more people practice the meditation of eating more often, all of our relationship with food and with the planet will improve. One breath, one bite at a time.
Here are a couple other good trend pieces from around the web:
2015’s big moments for the natural food industry
Happy New Year! May yours be the best one yet.