Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Real food for real people

Nina Planck has a great new book out, Real Food, which is all about eating real food, instead of industrial, heavily processed, and junk foods. Anyone concerned about diet, health, and weight control should read it. It's not long, and it has great, mouth-watering pictures. Food porn, you might call it :)

I shop occasionally at Whole Foods (then wait a few months for my wallet to recover). I've thought about real food for some time now, trying to sort out the whole diet thing. I was on medications for a decade that caused me a lot of weight gain. I dropped about 20 of those pounds in 2002, but struggle to take off another 10 or so.

Real foods is the right approach, including eggs, butter, and whole milk. Don't listen to the conventional advice about dietary fat -- it's wrong. A lot of the high-protein diets (especially Protein Power and South Beach) are essentially "real foods" in a different language. The problem is the heavy addition of fillers -- starches, mainly, but also unnecessary sugar and salt, etc. -- to industrial foods. It's all empty calories. The essential point is that most body fat is not produced from dietary fat. Most body fat, in fact, comes from unburned carbohydrates -- that junk food you just ate.

I had that experience today. For breakfast, I had fresh fruit with plain, whole-milk yogurt (the only kind anyone should be eating). But then at lunch, I had a peach "low fat" yogurt (meaning, stuffed with starches to compensate for the missing fat). You can taste the bland, yucky starches. In fact, when I was on the South Beach diet, it struck me just how much most cafeterias are still loaded up with starchy, sugary empty calories.

Instead of going on a diet, you just need to permanently change what you eat to something real, then stick to that. Planck's most memorable and brilliant advice is eating around the edge of the grocery store -- that is, fruits, vegetables, dairy, meat, fish, juices, and fresh-frozen things. Eat dark chocolate instead of sugary milk chocolate; eat fresh or flash-frozen vegetables instead of the processed stuff; eat fruit instead of pastries; and eat moderate amounts of butter instead of margarine. And keep your kids off of the junk. Whenever friends talk about hyperactive kids, I ask about their caffeine and sugar intake.

Another life-transforming experience I had recently was my first trip to Italy. I spent a few days in Florence -- that's real food. The cuisine is brilliant -- very simple, as fresh as possible. (Then I noticed the pattern: the Florence cathedral, the Duomo, is the same as the cuisine -- Catholicism stripped to its essence, with no starchy additives. If you've been, you'll understand.)

I plan to get Planck's book. Sounds like a keeper.

POSTSCRIPT: There's a libertarian angle to this. Eric Schlosser's famous Fast Food Nation mentions it, but not until almost the end of the book, and Schlosser fails to understand its significance.

One of the main reasons American have been inundated with industrial food in the last 50 years is agricultural subsidies. (Most other countries protect their agriculture with tariffs and quotas, making their food more expensive than it needs to be. We mainly use subsidies and paying people not to grow.) The two most notorious cases are tobacco and corn. (Why do we keep subsidizing tobacco, then have to spend more tax money discouraging smoking and dealing with the consequences?) Most of Schlosser's book in fact is a report on the consequences of corn subsidies -- cheap corn feed, corn syrup, and corn oil are products of subsidized overproduction. That's where that bland meat, those questionable eggs, and all that terrible corn syrup come from. Sugar (in moderate amounts) and honey are better for you, but after all the subsidies, tariffs, and quotas, they can't compete pricewise with corn syrup.

Check out the podcast interview with Planck and Crunchy Cons author Rod Dreher at Instapundit.

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