Friday, April 27, 2012

In Defense of Food

Last night at book club my friends and I were discussing some of the pros and cons of trying to eat a bit healthier. The subject came up because one of the moms had recently eliminated dairy from her diet to help her nursing child. There was talk about soy and various options for getting that taste that you want from dairy without actually consuming any real dairy.
I had just finished reading In Defense of Food (the same author wrote The Omnivore's Dilemma). I shared some of the information that the author provided that had stayed with me. He provided many studies that show that no matter where it is introduced the "Western Diet" always leads to health problems and is completely unsustainable by any culture. By Western Diet he was summing up how many Americans eat in our day. He cited the French diet as being one that shouldn't work--they eat tons of butter in their pastries and drink lots of wine, but the flip side is that the French don't consider eating seconds--apparently it's anathema for them. He also cited other cultures that consume much more meat than we do yet still don't suffer from the problems that we do. How could that be? Well, while various other cultures may consume more meat, they are also typically people who are more active and are killing the meat they consume--a connection to the land--a circle of life type idea. Even the Mediterranean diet which has gained huge popularity in recent years is not perfect--it's high in oils and the Mediterranean people of the time period who were considered so physically fit were much more physically active than their predecessors.
One of the reasons Mr. Pollan believes that we are suffering from so many health problems is that we aren't eating real food. Did you know that margarine used to be colored red/pink to differentiate it from butter? Well, once the food industry was able to get that removed and also the label of processed foods, it's been all downhill for our American diet ever since. He said that if you were to go shopping at look at the aisles of food, hardly any of it really is "food." He said that for many Americans we would have to look at food from the viewpoint of our grandparents and even great-grandparents. Would they look at what we are looking at and recognize it as food?
So, you think soy is so wonderful for replacing your dairy? Did you know that all that estrogen found in so many soy products is causing adverse effects on our bodies? Boys are developing later in life and men that consume large amounts of soy (milk on your cereal, in your smoothie, tofu) start to experience hormonal imbalances and other health issues. I found this paragraph (from Men's Health) quite startling:

A whopping 35 percent of bottle-fed babies in the United States receive at least some of their protein from soy. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is taking steps to change this: It recommends that all infants who cannot be breastfed be given cow's-milk formulas as the first preferred alternative. Healthy full-term infants should be given soy formula only when medically necessary, the AAP's 2008 report states. Babies with an extreme form of lactose intolerance fall into this category, but many others who suffer from colic and excessive crying are switched to soy formula despite a lack of proven benefits.

Paul Cooke, Ph.D., a reproductive biologist at the University of Illinois, has studied mice raised on enough genistein to make their blood levels comparable to those of human infants fed soy formula. Among other worrisome findings, he discovered significant shrinkage of the thymus gland, a key part of the immune system. "The thymus," says Cooke, "is like a finishing school for white blood cells—it's where they go to mature."

Whether the same effect occurs in human infants is difficult to say, but a 2001 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association surveyed over 800 adults, ages 20 to 34, who were fed either soy-based or cow's-milk formulas during their infancy. One of the few differences to emerge was that the group raised on soy formula regularly used more asthma and allergy medications in adulthood. Was this just a quirk of the sampling—or could it represent a subtle impairment of immune function?

Or, if you have never taken to soy, perhaps you've decided that you need to drink Skim Milk instead of a higher fat milk. I know I did several years ago. It seemed like an easy way to eliminate some fat from my diet. However, studies have shown that the extra fat in say 2% milk allows our bodies to absorb the vitamins and minerals that drinking milk provides. In other words, decrease the fat=decrease your vitamins.
The book also delves into other interesting findings and studies, more than I care to write on, but it did make me think. 
While I think that most of us that simply cook dinner for our families using fresh vegetables and fruits are doing more than most, I think I could still do better for my family. Mr. Pollan also made a big push for buying in season and buying locally. He said that organic doesn't really mean all that much, but buying from local sellers ensures a fruit that's vine ripened and that in itself presents more nutrients. Speaking of nutrients, that's a whole other section that he discusses quite deeply that is also quite informative. 
My new goal is to visit our local farmer's market. I'm excited to see what's there. I remember going to the one that happened on Saturday mornings where I grew up, but I've never gone here and I'm curious to see what I may find. I know that when citrus is in season here, I never buy it from the grocery store. I drive to a stand that I absolutely adore and everything I've bought there is absolutely delicious. There is no comparison between an orange that has ripened on a tree vs. an orange picked early and stuck in a box and shipped across the country. 
I also have a small garden that doesn't grow a wide variety, but does produce lots of what I do grow. I have been amazed at how fast those zucchini and tomatoes can grow and ripen. We've already had some green beans with our dinner this week. I love how it feels to grow and eat something from my own ability. I think that more than just the nutrition, there must be a psychological satisfaction as well. 


Lacey said...

The Superstition Springs Farmers Market is AWESOME! I love going there.

Mariley Johnson said...

Thanks for the info. It made me feel good about what we're trying to do and how we eat at our house. Im feeling frustrated with all of the food crazes, mostly the extremes. I especially loved what you said (that the author said) about eating organic. Good stuff.

DKAZ said...

Beautiful garden Audrey-great info too!

Jacqueline said...

I read in defense of food. What I liked was all the things that make up a healthy diet. Even the manner in which you eat (slowly with family and friends rather than on the go). Also how he said that science had tried to take things out of food. Like one vitamin or one product (like soya) and putting it into processed food as if just one thing makes the food good. he talks about how science only knows what it knows and not how everything in a particular food works together rather than one thing in isolation.

sarah said...

You guys should try the superstition farm, they have a farmers market every thursday. It would be a little bit of a drive for you but they have a petting zoo,hay rides and other fun farm things for the kids :)
I think I need to read this book, thanks for the info.

Marisa said...

Yay for breastfeeding! It's great to have reminders of why we do it.

Trevor said...

Thanks for needed motivation to eat healthier. Your garden looks great.

Annie said...

So glad you liked the book. I'd love to go with you to find farmers markets! I am envious of your garden!

rachel said...

I have been really thinking about this since we have this awesome growing season here with almost 24 hours of sunlight. There are so many people here who try so hard to grow, can/bottle and live on what they grow. I have grown up that way but who knew it was so healthy. I just thought it was because there were so many of us and it was less expensive. I guess there are benefits. Soy is also used in other countries as a form of birth control. I thought that was really interesting and in line with what you had read.