Eating For Optimal Health
Food is culture. To know a people, taste the flavors and textures of their cuisine. I romanticize of a time when food was delicious and nutritious; people instinctively knew what to eat, when to eat, and how to enjoy their food; people ate with their friends, slowly and for hours on end, and every bite provided their taste-buds with bliss and nourished the body and mind. This is the ideal. But instead, food and the industries surrounding it have become such a confusing, contradictory, advertising-driven machine that the average person is bewildered when trying to determine the best course of action to acquire affordable sustenance that is healthy AND tasty. Was it always like this?
Political forces and financial interests (is there a difference?) have carved the world of food into islands of misunderstandings and outright lies. What's worse - carbs or fats? Are all "simple" carbohydrates bad? What fats do I want - saturated, polyunsaturated, medium-chain triglycerides? Is milk the enemy, or eggs, or bread, or meat? Every few years it seems like the rules change. The food pyramid of my youth told us to eat mostly grains. Then the Atkins diet said to cut out all grains and eat any old protein and fat source instead. Eggs go back and forth between super-food and scary cholesterol bomb. Milk is portrayed on commercials as the best source of calcium, vegans say it is poison (and nobody mentions that HOW the cows are raised may be the deciding factor). Vegetarians say that any animal products need to be omitted, or else you will get cancer and arthritis and every disease plaguing modern society. The paleo people say that we need to return to a style of eating that mirrors how our ancestors ate. But do we know how our ancestors ate, and was it really the best way of eating? If you are trying to lose belly-fat, should you eat the same way as someone trying to put on muscle-mass? Is "organic" better? What if you have diabetes, or already have cancer or arthritis or the willies? Slow down, breathe, listen...
1. First broad-stroke: Do your own food processing. Buy food in as close to its natural state as possible. We are still experimenting with what it means for food to be "organic" and "natural," and these labels don't tell you - the average consumer - what is and what isn't allowed when a food is being raised. Can you honestly say that everything that goes into a USDA-certified-organic carrot is good for you? Or that it is better than the carrot next to it? Not really. But you can buy the carrot raw and cook it at home. You can buy whole-milk, if you chose to buy milk, maybe you can even get it non-homegenized, even non-pasteurized in some states. The best milk is from cows that ate what cows should eat - grass. If you are going to eat breads, you can learn to easily make your own. It's cheaper and fresher, with less additives. Cook your vegetables and meats and everything from ingredients that you can recognize. No more frozen Frankenstein meals. Less packaging. Buy single ingredients and put them together yourself. Frozen doesn't necesarily mean bad though. Berries are often frozen at the height of freshness, can be better than buying them at room temperature. Fish is often frozen on the ship; again, can be fresher than non-frozen.
2. Is raw better than cooked? What happened that allowed humans to build societies with thousands and then millions of members. Well, our weird brains and our upright posture allowing us to use our super-monkey prehensile hands certainly contributed. But everything changed when we discovered how to create and manipulate fire. There is evidence that at first, we used fire strictly for warmth and ritual purposes. Maybe to scare away predators. But at some point we began to cook our food. This changed everything. Cooking is like a rapid form of fermentation, transforming the hard-to-digest elements in potential foods into easy-to-absorb calories and nutrients. Unlike fermentation, cooking destroys enzymes and some vitamins, but the trade-off proved monumental to our cultural evolution. Raw isn't great, unless it is raw AND fermented. Fermented foods - real sauerkraut, kimchi, yogurt, pickled vegetables and fruits and meats, miso, natto - are prized in every indigenous culture throughout time. The fermentation process breaks down the inedible fibers in foods, increases the vitamins and enzymes and allows the body to get the most of the morels. Eating fermented foods along with non-fermented foods makes the latter's digestion easier also. But fermenting is a long process; cooking makes many foods much easier to digest and at the same time destroys pathogens. Cooking turns completely inedible grains into delicious pastas and breads. The vitamins locked-up in vegetables like carrots and tomatoes (yes, a fruit you nerd) become available after cooking. Raw is not always superior. Raw without fermentation is not even usually superior. Meat is made safer through cooking and the proteins are prepped for rapid assimilation. The best cooking is SLOW cooking. Carcinogen-formation is minimized through slow-cooking, flavor is enhanced, and some vitamins are better-preserved.
3. Is meat bad for you? I fell victim to vegetarianism for two years. There is so much propaganda against animal protein, saturated fat, and cholesterol that it is easy to assume that all this bad-mouthing is based on good science. But it isn't. As for morals, there is very good reason to believe that eating animals is MORE moral than only eating vegetable products. The best farms use the cycles of nature and raise both vegetables and animals and these produce a mutually reinforcing supply of material to feed each other. No petroleum-based fertilizer needed. What about modern factory animal farming?: horrible. I don't condone it and neither should you. But this is also true of "factory" vegetable farming - the subsidized, petroleum-driven monoculture farms of soy, wheat, and corn are a huge issue that we need to collectively care about and discuss. But what about the biology of eating animals? The few studies which are quoted as "proving" that eating meat is bad for you are so flawed and biased that they would be laughable, if it weren't for the harm they have done us. Vegetarianism was originally championed in Western culture by George Bernard Shaw, a man most notable for the numerous sayings still borrowed from him like "We don't stop playing because we get old; we get old because we stop playing," and "If there were nothing wrong in the world there wouldn't be anything for us to do." As befalls many intellectuals till this day, George thought that he would be better off as a vegetarian - to the detriment of his health. He became so ill after a time that he began sneaking himself doses of cod-liver oil, knowing in his heart that without animal fats his demise would be much too soon. His condemnation of animal products survived, the fact that his health was compromised by strictly vegetable matter and that he gave up on the effort out of necessity were less well known. The subcontinent of India is one of the few large regions with a history of vegetarianism, and also has one of the shortest life-span expectations. This is in part due to poverty, but monetarily-poor cultures can still have vibrant health if they eat nutritious foods. Why am so adamant about the folly of vegetarianism? Because I kept studying about nutrition after I experimented with an all vegetable-matter diet, and I discovered Weston A. Price...
4.Weston A. Price was a wealthy-enough dentist at the turn of the 20th century. Having the resources to fly around the world and study the remaining indigenous peoples of the Earth while they still existed, he traveled with his wife and examined the food these people ate, their health - especially dental health - and their wisdom. As a bonus, many of these groups were still eating the same foods, prepared the same way they had for hundreds and thousands of years, and they often lived close to their genetically-similar relatives whom adapted a modern, Western-style diet. Highlights of Dr. Price's findings included: Indigenous cultures everywhere around the planet prized animal foods, and fatty animal foods especially, and these were most important when a baby was being planned - both for the father and mother, and of course the baby-to-be. Sea-foods were considered to be very dense with valuable nutrients, and people would go WAY out of their way to get things like fish and fish eggs, especially when procreation time came around. Fermented foods, both vegetable and animal, were incorporated as part of most meals. The results: Eating traditional diets, people had happy dispositions, all of their teeth fit easily in their wide grins and dental cavities were rare or non-existent, and immunity to disease, to the cold or heat, and to depression were high. People eating as their ancestors had were robust and able to exist in the harshest environments. When asked why they ate as they did, people from all corners of the globe said something to this effect: "To have perfect babies." Genetically similar people nearby whom adopted a diet of processed foods - no more fermented ingredients, highly processed grains, meat from animals fed grains - by contrast were prone to depression, full of cavities and rotting teeth, prone to all sorts of diseases, and the worst part was this all happened within one generation and the propensity for ill-health was transmitted to their children (this involves the science of epi-genetics, which we are only now starting to understand). How can this be, isn't fat and cholesterol bad for us?
5. The good fats are bad, and the bad fats are good. This is only true, of course, if you believe the lies you were told. Saturated fat is NOT bad for you. Actually, saturated fats are more stable than unsaturated fats, and less likely to be oxidized - rancid - by the time they make it to your plate. Saturated fats from animals are a rich source of the wonderful fat-soluble vitamins: E, D, A, K. Many substances are best absorbed, or only absorbed, in the presence of fats. The polyunsaturated vegetable fats - like canola oil, corn oil, margarine - run havoc on your metabolism, and are a nasty source of free-radicals. These things were not intended by nature to be food. Political lobbying, statistics-deceptioning, and millions if not billions of dollars of advertising have gone into the propagation of the idea that concentrating rancid grain oils would somehow leave us better off than good old butter. Butter from grass-raised cows
is one of the best foods you can put in your body. Tropical islanders have known forever that coconut oil - another high saturated fat food - is like magic for keeping you youthful. Ancient and modern hunters prize a fat animal. Obviously. And eating healthy fat does not make you fat. Eating excessive carbohydrates does. When you eat good fat - butter, coconut, olive oil, cheeses, animal meat - your body recognizes that it is being well nourished and you rapidly become supply you with a nice dose of vitamins and energy, and make you feel nourished. And cholesterol? The idea that cholesterol from food is bad for you is ridiculous. In the future, that idea will be seen as crazy. Eat the egg-yolk. Eat it raw if you like, the chance of catching salmonella poisoning from eggs is very low, almost non-existent if you wash off the shell before cracking. The yolk has almost all of the vitamin and mineral content, half of the protein in an egg, and all of the great fat. Alright then, but isn't too much protein bad for you?
6. Ever hear that you can only eat about 25-grams of protein at a time, or that animal protein gives you gout and kidney stones and arthritis and...will kill you? Me too. Where does this information come from? I hope that now that the internet is growing up, lies cannot continue to replicate like viruses unchecked for too much longer. You can eat a ton of quality protein in one sitting, and have all of it absorb. Animal protein, when eaten with the animal fat, and coming from healthy animals, will more likely build you up and make you stronger than it will give you any disease. Kidney stones mainly come from eating raw, leafy vegetables - the calcium in these "foods" cannot be processed properly and end up solidifying as calcium-crystal chunks. Animal fat lubricates the joints, nourishes the heart (the heart's preferred energy source is saturated fats), provides the building blocks for your hormones and neurotransmitters and cell-membranes and powers all sorts of biological actions. Do vegetarians live longer than meat-eaters? NO! A few select populations of vegetarian people may live longer, when compared against similar cohorts who eat meat, but this is most likely due to the vegetarians TRYING to be healthier on many fronts, and not because of diet alone. Thinking about feeding a baby or a nursing mother an animal-free diet: see a mental health practitioner. We all should instinctively know that would be dangerous. Fine, how about milk?
7. Milk is a problem. It's not that milk is necessarily bad for you. But most of it today, from the way the dairy cows are raised and treated, to the homogenization and pasteurization of the milk, creates a killer. Milk used to be the go-to health food. Cows munched on grass, and the milk was delivered fresh and unaltered to your doorstep by the milkman. Or, you had your own cow. A mutation in the lactase (the enzyme that breaks down lactose into simpler sugars) gene a few thousand years ago made humans, maybe more-so than any other animal, capable to digest milk well into adulthood. The body is smart, and slows down lactase production when we haven't been drinking milk in a while, and will turn production back on when milk is re-introduced. But the ability to digest milk isn't the only issue: The milk from factory-farmed cows is filled with pathogens. It NEEDS to be heated to high temperatures before they can sell it to you, in order to prevent you from immediately getting sick. And to make it one consistent texture, the cream in milk is pressed through tiny-holed screens that change the fat molecules and allow the mixture to be smooth and un-separated. The milk from these poor, diseased cows is bad to begin with, and then the enzymes and vitamins are destroyed through heat. Synthetic vitamins are added and the milk is shipped to your grocer. A food once renowned for its body and mind-building properties has become a major contributor to modern diseases. If raw milk is available in your state, you can experiment with it by slowly drinking a little more each day (allowing your lactase-system to turn on). Or, you can at least try grass-fed milk (available almost everywhere now). Or, forget about it. You don't need milk as an adult.
8. How about grains? Ooh, this is the debate of the day, isn't it? The easy calories from wheat and rice and corn made it possible to sustain cities full of people, and with the invention of large-scale agriculture, history was forever altered. We should all heavy a healthy skepticism toward the intentions of the behemoth corporation Monsanto, with it's GMO crops and cut-throat business tactics. Monsanto aside, are old-timey grains and foods like bread, pasta, and rice dishes really so bad for us? I'm not sure. One fad right now is to blame gluten - the protein in wheat and some grains - for the ill-health of the world's people. Another suspected culprit is "High Fructose Corn Syrup " (HFCS). Gluten is not present in rice - which is the calorie staple for a large section of Earth's human population - but white rice is said to be filled with "empty" calories, and brown rice is said to have "anti-nutrients" (as unfermented soy almost definitely does have) that actually strip your body of vitamins and minerals and/or prohibit the absorption of such. I enjoy some bread. I like pasta. And I've been eating a ton of brown rice lately, and feel good about it. I will sometimes eat a sugary sweet. I don't think it is the things we do on occasion that are the problem, rather, it is our habitual patterns of eating that we should be concerned with. Also, and maybe most important, is what you are NOT eating. Some nutrients you simply cannot get unless you eat certain foods. The fat soluble vitamins in animal fat (whether from fish, or egg-yolk, or milk, or beef) may have some similar-sounding cousins in the vegetable kingdom, but the molecules are not the same. You don't need to eat a lot of meat or animal foods, but you need some, and they should come from a good source.
9. What about nutritional supplements? Vitamins and minerals and pro-vitamins, co-vitamins, and the like may be good to take on occasion. The problem with taking them every day is that they probably aren't balanced in a way that your body recognizes and needs. Whole foods, and cooked whole foods, have a natural balance of nutrients that support each other once they hit your metabolic system. Taking every yet-discovered vitamin at one time is not the way your body is meant to handle food. Some vitamins work together, some block each other. Some vitamins, like VitaminD3, are probably a good idea to take a few times per week, because many people do not get enough. But too much fat soluble vitamins can build up and become toxic. Water-soluble vitamins like Vitamin-C and the entire B family will normally be excreted in urine immediately if you get more than you can use. Supplements should be researched and used as an adjunct to the macro-foods in your diet. Don't depend on them. I like to take a multivitamin randomly, every now and then as an assurance policy to fill in what may be low or missing, and Vitamin-D3 a little more frequently. Creatine is also a good supplement, especially for athletes and people who think a lot. Nootropics, or "smart-drugs" are another possible addition to your usual food intake, but that's another discussion.
10. Who is the final authority on diet? When it comes to your diet and your body, you have the final say and you make the final decision. Of course, when it comes to some things - like buying or selling raw milk - the state can send you to trial and potentially incarcerate and fine you for some choices. You can't just slaughter a goat within city limits. But any one saying anything about food may be wrong. At least, when it comes to how your body operates. Don't take my word for it based on blind faith when I say something. And that goes for what anybody says. If you are really interested in nutrition, there are numerous books and millions of websites covering almost every angle. Some of it is poorly researched, some is based on religious interpretation, some is advertising, and some may be just the gems you were looking for