Regain lost dietary wisdom at this buffet

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Welcome to the knowledge buffet. Please take a seat in the comfortable booth over there and relax your mind. Your waitress will be with you shortly. For your dinner today, allow me to first offer you a hot, spicy appetizer, a tasty food-for-thought: What would you do if science had proven that the diet most Americans are eating, the so-called Western diet, was directly linked to the following five disease states — obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes type 2, heart disease and colon cancer?

Once you have digested this question, the chef will serve you an incredibly delicious main course: new knowledge about a healthy diet, called the traditional diet, which is now being used for disease prevention. But wait — you still have room for dessert. Yes, try this small but potent mental morsel: You will that by taking total responsibility for your health, you can open the door to the creation of a healthier you, in mind and body. Helping the chef today are two great and newly published books, “Food Rules, An Eater’s Manual,” by Michael Pollan and “Understanding Your Health,” 10th edition, by Wayne Payne.

The food we eat in America is called the Western diet, and it is defined by Pollan as “a diet consisting of lots of processed foods, and meats, and lots of refined grains, lots of everything except vegetables, fruits and whole grains.” Pollan does not consider processed foods to be real foods. His term for any food which has been changed by a manufacturing process is “an edible, food-like substance.” Processed foods are those which have been altered from their original state in one of two basic ways — removing something or adding something. That is, the original food has been tinkered with to either make it taste better or to have a longer shelf life (think preservatives) or to make it more attractive to the eye (think colors).

Whenever basic properties of a food are altered, its nutritional properties are, therefore, also altered. The processing of a whole grain is an example of this. Whole grains, like oats, have an outer layer or husk which surrounds each grain. This husk contains vitamins and fiber. The fiber in the grain has many benefits: 1. Your stomach feels fuller, so you eat less. 2. Fiber slows sugar absorption, thereby helping to keep blood sugar levels steady. 3. It lowers harmful cholesterol. 4. It provides bulk and protects our colon. Processing removes this husk, and removes the benefits the husk provides.

What to do? What foods to eat? Pollan’s book argues that the traditional diet, developed many millennia prior to industrial food processing, contains the collective food knowledge passed down by tradition and culture. Here are some of Pollan’s “food rules” to help us reclaim the lost dietary wisdom which has kept our society healthy for thousands of years:

1. Avoid food products that contain high fructose corn syrup or other forms of sugar. A great way to spot processed foods is to look for HFCS added to its ingredients.

2. Avoid food products containing ingredients that a third grader can’t pronounce.

3. Eat only foods that will eventually rot. Pollan states, “Food processing began as a way to extend the shelf life of food. The longer the shelf life, the less nutritious it is.”

4. Buy your snacks at a farmer’s market. Eat dried fruits and nuts.

5. Treat meat as a special occasion food.

6. Eat your colors. The colors of vegetables reflect good nutrition.

7. Buy a freezer. This gives you the ability to store fresh food bought at the height of the season.

8. The whiter the bread, the sooner you’ll be dead.

9. Don’t eat breakfast cereals that change the color of the milk.

10. Eat all the junk food you want, if you cook it yourself.

Nutritional science has given you the knowledge that a traditional diet leads to a healthier body. But there is only one person who carries the responsibility for each food you eat. Your health is in your hands!

The content of this article is for educational purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for treatment by a professional.

Dr. Richard Elghammer contributes his column each week to the Journal Review.


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