clean food, slow food

18 Aug

eating well includes fresh produceI’m always a little sad when I talk to people who adhere to one of the myriad “fad diets” that come and go, promising fast weight loss with minimal effort (South Beach, Atkins, etc.). These diets make big promises about weight, but can they really deliver a healthy lifestyle? For example, I could eat nothing but lettuce for two weeks and lose a lot of weight, but I wouldn’t have attained a state of healthful living. So much emphasis is placed on weight, that it seems we have lost sight of the real goal: whole-body health. Really, it seems a bit absurd that weight management has become so difficult at all; that we have allowed ourselves to lose touch with the fundamentals of healthy living. Truth be told, maintaining a healthy weight – and a healthy lifestyle – is not rocket science. It just takes a little thought, a lot of dedication, and a good amount of self control.

In today’s world, everything comes at us fast. Instant communication, tighter deadlines, larger workloads, and all of our basic necessities on demand. We don’t have to create our food anymore; it comes to us in neatly-packaged portions, conveniently created for us to “eat on the run”. It’s time to slow down when it comes to our food.

The “clean food” movement (and related “slow food” movement) has been on the rise in the past decade. This movement focuses on the quality of the food we put into our bodies. Essentially, the closer our food is to its clean and sustainable source, the “cleaner” our food is. The first article I can find regarding this concept is a 1996 NY Times article entitled, “Eating Well;A New Goal Beyond Organic: ‘Clean Food'” by Marian Burros. In it, Burros cites Mr. Celente, the director of the Trends Research Institute in Rhinebeck, N.Y., who describes clean-food as “a new standard for health and reliability,” and furthermore as “foods free of artificial preservatives, coloring, irradiation, synthetic pesticides, fungicides, ripening agents, fumigants, drug residues and growth hormones.”

Burros goes on to write, “clean food goes beyond organic, to include food and drink that is as pure as possible: water without harmful bacteria, chickens that are raised without antibiotics and that range freely on the farm, and fruits and vegetables not only grown without insecticides and pesticides but also picked and eaten at the peak of freshness and flavor when the nutrients are at their best.”

This makes sense in theory, but how does it look in real life? Is it realistic in today’s world to change our lifestyle?

The most basic and comprehensible truth of food is simply this: the more processed our food is, the fewer of its natural nutrients are preserved. It’s amazing to me how far we have strayed, as a society, from eating real food. So many people rely on boxed “dinners”, frozen pre-made meals, and other processed food products, instead of cooking meals from whole ingredients. A basic example, provided by Terry Walters in the book “Clean Food: A Seasonal Guide to Eating Close to the Source”, examines a common breakfast mistake:

You might be thinking, but my Special K is so much tastier than steel cut oats, and Kellogg’s says it’s good for me! Besides, I don’t have time to cook oats in the morning… You’re not alone in this thought, and it points out the three major factors contributing to our departure from real food. First, we have cultured our palettes to prefer taste-enhanced, sugary, or salty foods. Second, multi-million dollar marketing campaigns convince the unthinking masses that processed foods are both convenient AND nutritious. And lastly, we have prioritized eating well so low on our lists, that we have filled our busy lives with everything except preparing healthful food. Let’s take a closer look at each of these nutritional maladies.

1. Taste. When did we becomes slaves to our tastebuds? When did we lose the ability to acclimate ourselves to new foods? I know when I was a child, I hated onions and avocados. Those are now two of my favorite foods. It is possible to change our tastes over time, and we must do so if we ever hope to improve our eating habits. The majority of Americans grow up eating McDonald’s burgers, TV dinners, potato chips, sweetened cereals and pizza on a fairly regular basis. As a result, we develop a fondness for these tastes – greasy, sugary, highly-processed, devoid of nutrients, and “taste-enhanced” with myriad unrecognizable additives. We have to take steps to reverse this process. Keep an open mind when cooking wholesome foods, and try to enjoy the more subtle flavors of fresh vegetables or whole grains. Use onions, garlic and chile peppers liberally to add flavor to dishes. Eventually, those over-processed foods with taste enhancers will be repulsive, and you will opt for the fresher foods you have learned to enjoy. Believe me, it gets easier with time.

2. Marketing. The old axiom “Don’t believe everything you hear/see on TV/read online” holds very true in this case. We are bombarded with clever marketing campaigns aimed at telling us what is healthy, what will make us lose weight, and what is nutritious, and somehow all of that comes in neat little individualized packages. What they don’t mention when they use the slogans “No Trans Fat!” or “Lowers Bad Cholesterol” or “Only 100 Calories per serving”, is that the product they are selling has been processed to the point of being almost entirely devoid of naturally-occurring nutrients. Many foods have vitamins or minerals added to them post-process… how backwards is that? Instead of eating whole foods with natural vitamins and minerals, we process our food until nothing natural is left, and then add synthetic nutrients to them? What!? Bottom line: think for yourself. When a product claims to be “healthy” or “all natural”, ask yourself how close to the source that food actually is, and if any of the natural nutrients could possibly have survived the processing.

3. Time. We have become so accustomed to an “on demand” lifestyle; one in which we can eat red, perfect-looking tomatoes in January without a second thought as to where they came from. At any given moment we can choose from a wide array of produce, meats, preserved items, processed foods and other food products at our local grocery store. Most of the packaged foods available tout phrases on their packaging like, “Ready in 15 minutes!”. It can be difficult to spend the time selecting produce and fresh meats, preparing them and cooking them, when faced with the option of a “healthy” 15-minute meal. But understanding these choices – and that we have choices – is the first step to eating cleaner food. We can easily choose to eat food that is minimally processed, if we take the time to cook our meals instead of relying on highly processed and nutritionally lackluster packaged meals. We can even choose to eat food that is grown locally. I live in the driest North American desert, but the town I live in still has a vibrant local grower’s market with fresh produce nearly year-round. I bet your town does, too.

Here a few quick tips for eating cleaner:

1. COOK. You must cook at home with whole ingredients if you expect to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Look up recipes online. Experiment. Have fun! (Note: this does not mean you have to cook everything yourself, ie: bake your own bread, make your own salsa, etc. Although these things are delicious when you make them yourself, let’s be realistic…)

2. Read the packaging. This is a simple step we can take to ensure the packaged foods we do eat are nutritious. Avoid prepared foods with additives you cannot pronounce. Avoid obvious taste and color enhancers, like Red#40 or monosodium glutomate (MSG). Opt for refrigerated or flash frozen foods instead of artificially preserved. Avoid foods with unnecessary ingredients, like bread that uses whey, or foods that use partially hydrogenated oils in place of canola or olive oils. Eat moderate amounts of naturally-sweetened treats, instead of using sucralose, aspertame, or other artificial low-calorie sweeteners.

3. Check out the local farmer’s market or food co-op. You might be surprised at the variety of foods available, and how much better they taste than sterilized, modified foods at Albertson’s.

4. Keep a journal. While you are making changes to your eating habits, keep a log of what you are eating and how it affects you. Include details about energy levels, exercise, sleep patterns, and yes, bowel movements. What you discover about how food affects your life may shock you.

5. Slow down. You must make time to eat well. Take the time to research, to shop, to cook, and to sit down to eat and chew properly. True nutrition does not always come in 15-minute form. Sorry.

6. Change comes slowly. We can’t expect to make drastic changes overnight, nor can we expect our bodies to magically heal after two days on a new nutritional regimen. Allow yourself  and your body the time needed to adjust to a healthier lifestyle.

7. Listen to your body. Everyone’s body is different. What works for one person may not work for the next. Take note of how specific foods affect you (as listed in 4, above). If eating bread makes you feel sluggish, stop eating it. If eating dinner after 8pm makes you sleep restlessly, eat earlier. Pay attention; your body will tell you what it needs.

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One Response to “clean food, slow food”

  1. splydara August 23, 2010 at 6:03 pm #

    Great post.. I couldn’t agree more!

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