Friday, August 1, 2008

Back to Basics

When I was in high school, like many teenaged girls, I was obsessed with weight. Ice skating further fueled this obsession. I counted fat calories and followed the number on the scale. When it came to food, I was only concerned with caloric intake. I frequently ate pasta, pierogies, soft pretzels and bagels and diet coke was my drug of choice. These "foods" were convenient, easy to make and fat-free. Cha-Ching!

Looking back now I can't believe I ate that stuff on a daily basis! In grad school I became much more mindful about food and especially it's connection to the lack of energy and anxiety I felt, which I had just attributed to the grad school experience. I realized I was at a point where my bad eating habits had finally caught up with me.

Andrew Weil, M.D., in his book Eight Weeks to Optimum Health, writes that the body is incredibly kind to us, working tirelessly to keep us in check even when we consume large amounts of not-so-great (ok, awful) "foods". While this is quite a generous act it is also very unfortunate. Many people will eat poor diets for years without any idea of what's to come. And while disease becomes inevitable as we age, healthy choices now can play a huge role in determining how long we maximize well-being and ward off illness and injury.

Sometimes we may not even think our diets are as poor as they are. This may be due to the way we view food and the measurements we use in classifying good health. Is good health based upon weight and the Body Mass Index? Can it be based upon calories? Clearly there is more to the picture. As I used to say to a former colleague who teased me about eating carrots while weighing 120 lbs, "It could be ugly on the inside." It probably was! The carrots and salads had been no match for my pizza and coffee.

It has been three years since I experienced the consequences of poor food choices and I consider my health issues to be a gift and lesson. Had I not been sick I wouldn't have forced a new view on what food is and what it does to the body. For me it was all about getting back to basics and questioning the origin of the species (in this case, food). What constitutes food? Where does my food come from? Answering these questions can be overwhelming but here's a great starting point. Tip #1 is quite useful and courtesy of Mehmet Oz who happened to make an appearance on the one and only Oprah show I've seen in years. Coincidence? I think not.

Tip #1 - Pitch the "food" if the first four ingredients are:

1) salt
2) sugar
3) high fructose corn syrup
4) partially hydrogenated oil

They have been designed to withstand a long shelf life. Sometimes identifying these ingredients is not so simple. For example, there are many names for sugar (look for anything ending in "ose" - dextrose, fructose, sucrose). There are other creative names like maltodextrin. Buyer beware!

Tip # 2 - Say "sionora" to anything that is enriched (despite how nice "enriched" sounds) - pasta, bread, cereal. Go for whole grains.

Tip # 3 - Parameter shop. Generally try to avoid the aisles of boxed and processed "foods". Repeat Tip #1 if needed.

Tip #4 - Stock up on organic produce. If the only option is conventional, try to avoid any fruits and veggies on the
Dirty Dozen list. They have high pesticide or insecticide residue. A conventional apple a day may not keep the doctor away. ;)

Stickers on the produce hint at agricultural integrity - stickers starting with a #4 are conventional; #8 are genetically engineered, #9 is your golden ticket - organic!

These tips involve steps towards incorporating more whole foods into the daily diet and in creating a path to optimum health. And while eliminating certain foods takes a little getting used to, it's motivating to think of the body like you would a car, an intricate machine. There are select fuels meant for cars and the body requires select fuels too. High fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated oils sound more like things to put in a car, not a human. If you can't pronounce the ingredients or they sound like something foreign, they should probably be avoided. By selecting the right fuels, we make a choice to invest in our personal vehicle and keep it well-oiled and running for years to come.


Jana said...

Oprah recently had Michael Pollan on the same show she had the creator of Chipotle. Now, I know Chipotle's burritos are good, but I can't imagine Mr. Pollan was happy about this connection. I think Chipotle is also owned by the McDonald's corporation. (Not to mention it's FATTENING.)

Jen said...

Hey Jana! I need to check out that episode. Sorry to have missed it.

You'll be happy to know that Chipotle and McDonald's are no longer involved with one another. They went their separate ways in 2006! Seemed like a weird partnership to begin with, considering they both approach meat-making differently.