Every year in March, National Nutrition Month focuses our attention on how and what we eat, exhorting us with awareness-raising campaign slogans to "bite into a healthy lifestyle," or as in this year’s theme, to "savor the flavor of eating right." Appealing and important as the messaging is, it does beg the question that what tastes good to us, may not necessarily be good for us.
Too many of the flavors we savor are artificial and too many of the foods we have become accustomed (or addicted) to are loaded with hidden sugars and additives. Add to that the over processed, hormone-fed, genetically modified "fake foods" that have infiltrated our food supply, and one can argue that the standard American diet has lost its power to nourish us.
Consider that 56% of our calories, according to David Servan-Schreiber in his riveting book Anti-Cancer, come from three "food" sources that were once nonexistent:
- refined sugars (cane, beet, high fructose corn syrup)
- bleached flour (white bread, pasta)
- Trans fats and vegetable oils (soybean, sunflower, corn)
"It so happens that these three sources contain none of the proteins, vitamins, minerals or omega-3 fatty acids needed to keep our bodies functioning," he writes. "On the other hand they directly fuel the growth of cancer."
From Staff of Life to Stuffed for Life
In the last 20 years, bread and its carbohydrate cousins, cereals, pastas, pastries etc., have been hybridized into insulin/fat raising foods that have engulfed us in a tide of obesity and diabetes. Books like Wheat Belly, by William Davis, M.D., go a long way towards explaining how today’s wheat is not the wheat we once knew, but a high-yield, gluten-boosted variety that undermines intestinal health. Nothing attests to this more than the explosion of gluten-free foods catering to those who can so longer eat wheat without serious repercussions. After reading this and also Grain Brain, by David Perlmutter, MD., one comes away with the conviction that not just obesity but common health problems, from fatigue and foggy thinking to headaches and anxiety, may originate with that innocent bowl of cereal or slice of toast in the morning.
So how do we learn the lessons of good nutrition so that we don’t end up obese, insulin resistant, gluten-intolerant or diabetic?
Colliding with the hybridization of wheat was the publication of the 1992 USDA Food Guide Pyramid that instructed Americans to eat more grains than ever – a whopping 9 to 11 servings a day - compared with a paltry 2 to 3 servings of fruit and vegetables. Nutritionists working on the project warned at the time that making grains the basis of the pyramid would cause obesity and diabetes rates to skyrocket, but their words fell on deaf ears.
It's no coincidence that since then, both obesity and diabetes have become epidemic in this country. And while the good news is that the food pyramid has morphed into MYPlate elevating vegetables to the largest plate portion, grains are still a close second. (Much to the dismay of some nutrition experts and critics who view this as a concession to the corn and wheat industries.)
Finding our Way Back to True Foods
So how do we learn the lessons of good nutrition so that we don’t end up obese, insulin resistant, gluten-intolerant or diabetic? By finding our way back to "true foods," suggests Andrew Weil, who has written a great cookbook by that name. Described as fresh, local, sustainable, organic produce in sync with an anti-inflammatory diet, Dr. Weil talks about true foods being not just for vegans and vegetarians, "but also for people who want a good meal that happens to be good for you. The first point was always that it has got to taste right."
That brings us right back to the message of National Nutrition Month - that we can learn to enjoy the taste of eating right. And if blind taste tests are anything to go by, there are those researchers who would tell you that our taste buds can be taught to recognize what is good for our bodies.
Start with SUPERFOODS
These are the nutritional powerhouses, rich in fiber, vitamins, antioxidants and plant nutrients that will restore taste buds that had long forgotten natural flavors - always best when organic of course. Reject those sprayed with herbicides and pesticides that bankrupt their nutrient stores.
- low-fat plain yogurt
- sweet potatoes
- strawberries and blueberries
Pair Superfoods with Phytonutrients for Hormone Balancing
These standouts among food sources also make great nutrition partners with plant-based phytonutrient-rich foods known to support hormone balance. These in order of amount include:
- flax seed and breads
- beans and legumes
- soy milk, yogurt and tofu
- sesame and sunflower seeds
- multigrain (in moderation and or gluten-free alternatives) and flax breads
- mung and alfalfa bean sprouts
- dried apricots and dates
- olive oil
- green beans
For more information about eating right for your lifestyle check out the new Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020 at http://www.choosemyplate.gov/