The Food Connection
Growing up in a restaurant family, I’ve always been surrounded by good food and good cooks. Even after I left the restaurant life to pursue my education, food has been an important theme in my life. I’ve always felt it important to eat well and that food plays a pivotal role in our lives. We must eat regularly to nourish our bodies and thrive. What food we eat determines what nutrition we receive and how well we can maintain our health.
You are what you eat
We obtain the nutrients we need to live from the food we eat; food is an integral part of our being. Our health and well being is intimately tied to the food we eat. Unfortunately, what we choose to eat sometimes (perhaps too often) only loosely qualifies as food.
The hectic pace of modern life has made fast, convenience, and junk foods a fixture in our lives. Unfortunately, these industrialized foods are not designed for providing the highest quality and most nutritious foods. Rather, they are geared towards minimizing costs and maximizing profits. Achieving those goals means sacrificing flavor and nutrition in favor of transportability, shelf life, and lower cost (i.e. lower quality) ingredients.
The industrialization of our food has been a mixed blessing. Our food is now cheaper and more readily available. On the other hand, our food choices are now often less nutrient dense, higher in calories, more homogeneous tasting, contain artificial additives, and less like actual food. We do less food preparation ourselves than our parents and grandparents, and have become disconnected from our food. We have instead come to rely on the black box of large scale commercial, agri-industrial production for our dietary needs. This has given us a host of undesirable consequences:
- the prevalence of highly processed products full of high fructose corn syrupand all manner of industrial ingredients (preservatives, artificial flavors and colors, partially hydogenated oils, etc.). These “food” products are calorific and shelf stable, but otherwise nutritionally void.
- grain fed, antibiotic pumped meat unnaturally high in saturated fat and low in several nutrients (omega-3, vitamins, and various antioxidants).
- hormone injected dairy cows producing high estrogen content milk. Commercial dairy products are implicated in disrupting normal endocrine function and promoting cancer.
- industrially farmed and imported produce which is unripe, insipid, less nutritious, and more monocultured than locally grown fruits and vegetables.
Combine suboptimal dietary choices with increasingly sedentary lifestyles, and it’s unsurprising that health problems are rising. We’re seeing high rates of obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and food sensitivities among other disorders.
Healing power of food
Fortunately, positive changes in diet can be readily implemented and effect significant health improvements. Just as eating poorly throws a wrench into your system’s gears, eating well returns your body to the well oiled machine it was meant to be. Properly fueled, the human body has an amazing ability to heal itself.
Many of the diseases we suffer in the modern developed world are preventable with simple lifestyle choices–most notably diet and exercise. Just eating well has positive effects on digestive tract health, blood pressure, cholesterol levels, bone health, body weight, immune system function, mental alertness, and energy levels.
How do we go about eating well? There is already a cornucopia of available material on the subject, but I think a quote from Michael Pollan summarizes the general strategy nicely: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
Minimally processed whole foods are superior to the cardboard and plastic packaged convenience food. Finding these foods means shopping on the perimeter of a grocery store where the fresh foods are instead of towards the center where the processed, prepackaged, and artificial stuff usually is. If possible, it is even better to shop at a local farmers’ markets or grow some of your own food. With real food in hand, do as much meal preparation yourself as you can. By reconnecting yourself to the creation of your food, you will enjoy healthier, more nutritious, and more flavorful meals.
Not too much
Fast and prepackaged foods are designed for parting consumers with their money. They are nutrient sparse and designed to encourage overeating. They do not fully sate you or adequately nourish you, but they addict you to eating them; consequently, you become programmed to crave and eat more. That’s wonderful for corporate bottom lines, but not so great for your bottom (or midsection as the case may be).
In contrast, eating high quality, nutrient dense foods satisfies your body’s needs, requiring less consumption for satiety. After a few weeks of eating a nutritious dietof fresh, whole foods, portion control becomes more natural as you deprogram the commercial food cravings and truly satisfy your body’s nutritional needs.
Humans are omnivores with an amazing digestive tract that can derive our nutrition from a multitude of flora and fauna. However, we still need to remember to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables; just because we can survive on a carnivorous diet doesn’t mean that we should. The human digestive tract works optimally with plant food sources (e.g. fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, etc) and can be supplemented by animal sources (e.g. meat and dairy). A diet rich in plant foods provides essentials like fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants which help us stay healthy and thrive.
We cannot remain unaware of the source of our food, how it is grown and processed, and how it is prepared. To disconnect ourselves from the creation of our food means paying a hefty long term nutrtitional and health price. We must instead strive to be mindful of our food choices. Paying attention to our food reconnects us to the vital process of nourishing ourselves building strong, healthy bodies.
NOTE: As anyone will tell you, always consult a physician when concerned about your health, diet and direction of your wellness plan. As for ANY nutritional and dietary information on this site (or ANYWHERE), please use your own good judgement. The authors of this website, are not registered dietitians, but have a strong background in health, wellness & exercise. Proper nutrition just goes with the territory.