Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Confused by Food, Part I

*If you read this entire post, I will be very impressed, and you will win a prize.* (a gold star by your name)

Oh, my friends, I am SO CONFUSED. I hardly know where to begin.
I did an adventure with unprocessed foods, which you can read about here, by trying to eat no processed sugar or flour for 10-14 days. Well, I made it 7 days, which I'm pretty satisfied with. I honestly don't know how I did it. Okay, I do. I did eat 1 slice of a friend's homemade bread made with 1 Tbsp of sugar and whole wheat flour. And I did eat copious amounts of "cookies" made with brown rice cereal, agave nectar, natural peanut butter, and semi-sweet chocolate chips (I couldn't make them ever stick together, so I ended up eating it with a spoon). Anyway, I am satisfied with my attempt, and I proved to myself that I could do it.
However, looking at labels during that week was really depressing. For example, I used a bouillon cube in a soup. Did you know that SUGAR is the second ingredient in a bouillon cube? In a bouillon cube?? Yup, that's right. Sugar is in salsa too, and even my Trader Joe's hummus! It's in everything. Kinda disturbing.
We also watched a documentary called Forks Over Knives (available on streaming on Netflix). It talks about "The China Study," about the incidence of cancer, which followed hundreds of people, watching their eating habits and testing various health indicators. Basically, they found that animal proteins cause cancer cells and lead to heart disease and diabetes. It's a whole book, which you can order here.
The documentary also talked about a study in mice. When mice were fed higher levels of animal protein had more cancer cells. When the same set of mice were fed fewer animal proteins for 2 weeks, their levels went down. I am not able to find a link for this study.
We also watched a documentary called Simply Raw: Reversing Diabetes in 30 Days. Truly fascinating, this movie followed 5 type II diabetics who ate raw (no meat, no caffeine, no sugar, no foods cooked over 118 degrees, etc) for 30 days and ALL of them stopped taking insulin, most within a week. You can see more here.
But here's where confusion begins to set in. There's this website, which says that Dr. Campbell's China study is wrong. And this scholarly article that says soy proteins cause cancer.
It seems that a whole-foods-plant-based-diet is the best, the most all-around healthy. That's how it was the Garden of Eden. But then again, I believe that after the Garden, God meant for us to eat meat. Not in the amounts we Americans eat today (bacon for breakfast, a hamburger at lunch, and grilled chicken at dinner). And definitely not corn-fed, abused, mis-treated, brutally slaughtered, hormone-filled animals who live their lives in tiny pens crowded together lying in their own excrement. (Reading The Omnivore's Dilemma is very disturbing!)
In the old days, let's say Adam's family (not to be confused with the Addam's family) killed a deer. No refrigerator, so it must be eaten that day. They share it with their family and family's family (community life!), so portions are small. They eat it all and then don't eat meat again until a week later when Adam gets lucky and chases down a wild boar.
Maybe silly, but they were probably mostly eating fruit and veggies. Maybe they even had a domesticated cow and drank milk. Or at least a goat with goat milk.
Here are some of the questions that kept me awake for an hour last night.
1. Meat or no meat? Is it better to eat (free-range, hormone-free, humanely-treated) unprocessed meat or the over-processed soybean that is turned into tofu? Do I want cancer cells from the meat, or cancer cells from the soy?
2. False sweeteners or real sugar? I love that Splenda has no calories, but it's processed and not "natural." But white sugar is processed too. I suppose the answer to this would be stevia, which I do love.
3. Is it even possible to eat raw and whole in America? We are thwarted at every turn: fast food joints on every block (that is no exaggeration in my town), grocery stores' merchandise, the food at my son's school's cafeteria, other people who don't even question what they put in their mouths (no judgment, I've been one of those people most of my life), the FDA (which approved "pink slime" for school cafeterias), genetically modified corn (did you know that farmers order the corn they plant by numbers such as "Pioneer Hi-Bred 34H31" [Pollan, The Omnivore's Dilemma, pg 63]). The people in the Simply Raw documentary lived for 30 days on a remote ranch with a gourmet vegan chef who prepared everything for them. I'm simply not sure that such a whole, raw diet is possible in urban America. Perhaps it is if you live rurally.
4. Vegan or vegetarian, or neither? I love to bake and cook. Can I really go without butter in my cookies? Or eggs in my cakes? Or cream to make a rich cajun pasta sauce? Or ... I could go on and on.
5. Is it healthy to eat proteins that are also carbohydrates as opposed to lean proteins? I love beans and sometimes lentils, barley, bulgar, edamame, and some whole wheat couscous. These have protein in them, but are also carbs. Will I become ever fatter if I don't eat lean meats?
6. Is there real truth when it comes to healthy foods? Or is there relative truth for each person. Shonda can never be vegan because she's allergic to soy. Diabetics have a conundrum: eat lean meats that have no carbs, as most doctors would recommend, or follow the whole-foods-plant-based diet, which does keep blood sugars more regular. I have high cholesterol: should I eat real butter which is natural, or margarine, which is processed and might have hydrogenated oils? Chad and I had an interesting philosophical, non-heated conversation this morning (rare!) about this: true truth or subjective truth when it comes to diet. He says it depends on each person's body make up, genetics (such as my high cholesterol), tolerances, allergens, etc. I'm not sure what I think.
7. Cow milk or soy, coconut, almond, or rice milk?
Let's just talk about milk for a minute. For many years, I've been wary of how much cow milk is pushed on children. An average pediatrician will tell you to put your weaned-from-breastmilk one-year old on to 2-3 cups of whole milk a day. "They need the calcium," I've been told. But whole milk comes from a 500-pound cow and was created to nourish and fatten a 90-pound calf. Not my 18-pound one-year old.
I'm not saying cow milk is bad, but is it good to push cow milk on these little kiddos? I'm just thinking out loud here; there is NO JUDGMENT coming from me.
God made everything good. If God made it, why can't we eat it (here, Chad played devil's advocate and said, "Well, God made opium, and we can't eat that." Thanks, Chad). Why not eat meat if God made it? Why not drink milk if God made the cow? Again, not the milk from the cow who spends her life eating corn, being injected with hormones, is confined to a tiny pen, walks in her own poop, and is hooked up a milking machine twice a day -- and then that milk is pasteurized, where it loses 20 % of its iodine and most of its other vital qualities.
Soy milk has more calcium than cow milk and has no casein in it. But soy milk is a false estrogen, potentially dangerous.
Coconut milk seems like a good option. So does almond milk. But both are pretty pricey. Not sure about rice milk. And Chad says, "Why drink milk at all?" I say, "Because it's delicious, especially chocolate milk." And do you really expect me to drink coffee with no creaminess in it?? Come on. And children do need calcium ... Right?
I also went to a women's health class last night. FASCINATING! Have you heard of the Diva Cup? Or a sea sponge? Or Glad Rags? Imagine all the landfill space we can save using natural and reusable options like this! And did you know that most lipsticks that have red coloring in them are cancer-causing? What? I've never thought about the cosmetics and skin care things I apply, but the skin is the largest organ of our bodies. I better think twice about what I put on my skin, face, and lips. The teacher gave us this to start with: http://www.ewg.org/.
That will have to be a part II of this.
I have now spent the last hour of my life compsosing this novel. I better go attend to my children, one of whom is up on the counter trying to get jelly beans from the cabinet, the other of whom is crying beside me and hitting my leg to get my attention. Poor things.
Your job: GIVE ME FEEDBACK ON THIS FOOD CONUNDRUM. Is there truth out there? Where do I find it? What should I eat?


Bridget said...

Hey friend!

I get a star! :)

You know this has long been an interest of mine. And I have a ton of unprocessed (pun intended;) thoughts about this. I think there are a ton of fads out there right now. And I think a lot of them are completely ridiculous. The copious amounts of processed soy, for example, that vegetarians eat cannot be healthy. That said, soy is in almost all processed foods americans eat in the form of an emulsifier called, "soy lecithin." The soy bean, much like the corn you were talking about, has been GMed and *patented* and is in everything! This, my friends, is crazy!

On another note, sugar is in everything! It's in our granola bars, cereal, peanut butter, yogurt. I could go on! I recently read a study that Americans in the 50's ate about 40lbs of sugar a year (per person). The average American now eats 90 lbs of sugar a year!!! It's nuts!

I think you should read Michael Pollen's, "In Defense of Food." I haven't read it (and would be willing to read it with you), but his basic thesis is that the human body is amazingly adaptable. There is no *one* healthy diet for the human. He cites the example of the Inuit diet is made up mostly of seal blubber and they are actually relatively healthy! But, Americans don't actually eat *food*. They eat hyper-processed food-like products and this is very unhealthy. He says you should follow three rules:

1. Eat food (he means real, actual food ;)

2. Mostly plants

3. Not too much!

Here is a bigger list that explains some of the things he means:


I think he's right about these rules. I also think he's right about breaking them every now and again. (Have that piece of chocolate cake once a week as a treat!)

The raw stuff, the vegan stuff, no carb, no meat... that to me all seems like fads. I think the MAJOR point we need to focus on, is that as Americans, we have stopped eating real FOOD and replaced it with this other stuff (think go-gurt, fruit snacks, hyper-processed granola bars, margarine). Again, I could go on!

Let's eat real food. Limit our meat. Eat just enough to be full and enjoy it!

Jen Marie said...

Hi Hope.
Christ is Risen!
I have watched "forks over knives" and all the other food and heath documentaries I could find on netflix as well as reading a Sally Fallon book called "Nourishing Traditions". I have also enjoyed Tom Naughton's blog and documentaries ie: "Fathead". I am still a bit frustrated and confused but starting to draw some conclusions. It has been helpful to look at this issue from many different perspectives.
I miss you.

Kirsten said...

First, I've thought about all of this a lot, too. Unfortunately, I've not come to any grand conclusions. But I agree with the concepts in "In Defense of Food" as Bridget mentioned. Also, as Mormons, we believe in the Word of Wisdom, which is most commonly known as us not drinking coffee or tea, not smoking, etc. But there are also some "do's" in terms of our diet - eat healthy grains, fruit and vegetables, and eat meat sparingly. It's left pretty open, but David and I are trying to get better on track, avoiding so much sugar, etc.


Katie Jones said...


I am not sure if the above is password protected, but it is the best lecture that I have ever heard on food and diets. Really, I still go back to it even years later. I wish I followed his advice more. To give some context, it is a lecture by an Orthodox man to student at a Protestant university (Biola).

It is crazy out there. All the information on what to eat, how to eat, etc.. is just insane.

Personally, I am trying not to think too much about it. Reading the Little House books to Luke has led me to think that the simpler the better. I try to make as much from scratch and not get too fancy.