Food for thought

>> Monday, February 16, 2009

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I'm reading the book Food Matters by Mark Bittman right now. I'm not sure that I completely agree with him on everything, but his book is thought provoking and I do find that I mostly agree with him. After an interesting discussion on the problems with interpreting and conducting meaningful food studies (especially when food companies themselves fund the research), there is this paragraph:

It could well be - and this is as close as I can get to Something I'm Very Nearly Sure Of - that by eating simple, natural, minimally processed foods, known to be at least benign if not beneficial, in place of foods that are suspect in any quantity (junk food, highly processed carbohydrates), or those that may be damaging if consumed in large quantities (animal products), you're going to be healthier and quite likely thinner. And if you believe me, you don't need to follow the results of any more studies.
This is all conjecture on Mr. Bittman's part, but I think that he does have a point. Our food has become processed to the point of being unrecognizable at times. Instead of reaching for an apple at breakfast, we reach for an apply-goop filled breakfast bar. If we were to reach for good, minimally processed foods - fresh fruits and vegetables, for example - instead of crackers and bars and chips and all of the other junk that is so tempting and easy to turn to, our waistlines and health would undoubtedly be better for it.

We eat more than our fair share of processed foods around here. And we also eat more than our share of meat and animal products. But it's changing. We're eating more vegetarian meals - not such a hard sell as my kids are not hugely fond of meat. My son is a champion complainer about meat dinners and vegetarian dinners equally. I hope that we can tip the balance toward fresh, minimally processed foods - fruit instead of crackers for a snack, nuts instead of pretzels, a homemade granola bar or pumpkin muffin instead of a pre-packaged bar. It's a hard sell with the kids (even with me sometimes!), but I hope that we can give them a taste and desire for fresh foods. The taste for real food will serve them well the rest of their lives.

We're striving for that balance, and we're getting there, I think. It's easier in summer than in winter, and it's easier with my daughter than it is with my picky son. And it's easier with time. I'm not looking to rid our house of processed foods - I think that would be excruciatingly hard with kids (heck, even for us adults) - just minimize their use.

What do you think? Do you agree with Mr. Bittman?

My guest poster last week, Jenna from Food with Kid Appeal, is having a giveaway herself! She's giving away the book 101 Foods that Can Save Your Life. Head on over and find out what you need to do to win.


Sagan February 17, 2009 at 8:42 AM  

Ooh a health book, I like health books:)

I certainly agree that eating food in its natural state is far, far better than eating processed food.

What are Bittman's credentials? I'm intrigued.

cathy February 17, 2009 at 8:51 AM  

Sagan - Mark Bittman is a journalist and foodie - no science background that I know of. Here's a short biography:

Mark February 17, 2009 at 8:57 AM  

Some fantastic points! I bet my son is more of a champion when it comes to complaining! :) I will check the book out! Thanks!

Amy February 17, 2009 at 10:29 AM  

I love health and food books. But Like all books that interest me, I just checked my library catalogue online, and they don't have it. Bummer.

becky February 17, 2009 at 11:25 AM  

Food Matters is the book that convinced me to change the way I eat rather than go on yet another weight loss diet. Three weeks in to a mostly vegetarian, real food habit and I've dropped five pounds!

Just by eliminating HFCS and hydrogenated whatsis, reducing meat and dairy, and changing to organic milk I've pretty much eliminated 80% of processed food from my life. I won't be making my own granola bars any time soon, but neither will I suffer through another Lean Cuisine.

Jenna February 17, 2009 at 12:14 PM  

my eating philosophy is right in line with bittman's. i center fresh, whole ingredients as much as possible at snack and meal time. but it has to be a lifestyle choice. it takes time to shop for unprocessed food, then make the commitment to be home often enough to prepare and eat it. that means i don't work outside the home full time, and we don't fill our evenings up with activites for the kids. i would need to rely on convenience foods more, or do more big batch cooking on weekends if I worked full time or had busy evening schedule.

James Hubbard M.D. M.P.H. February 17, 2009 at 7:03 PM  

From what I know, I gotta think natural is better than processed. I am not anti-preservatives for safety, and I am pretty sure organic potato chips are not much better than Lay's, but there's no way you can beat fresh fruit and vegetables.

Lori February 17, 2009 at 7:47 PM  

Great post. Thanks for sharing your opinion of the book. I haven't read it yet. One thing I like about the more recent health books emerging is that they are written by journalists (for example my recent read of Michael Pollan's books). As someone in the nutritional sciences field this is such a welcome perspective for me. They set out to do their research on topics much like the public must and they form their own opinion based on the info they have gathered.

I'm drawn to science and research by nature, but there are many times I step back and say "that is enough!" Who cares what component it is in grapes, apples or pears that works the health miracle. We know it is good for us so just eat it. Stop comparing this nutrient to that one. Just eat a well rounded diet of real food and you'll get it all in. :)

fatfighter February 18, 2009 at 8:05 AM  

That book sounds like something I would like to read! I just got "In Defense of Food" (have you read it?) - they sound similar.

cathy February 18, 2009 at 12:12 PM  

Mark - :-)

Amy - Can you request it? Small town library = many requests from me!

Becky - Great job!

Jenna - You are absolutely right. It's much easier to take on the challenge of eliminating HFCS or minimizing processed foods without the time pressures of a full-time, out-of-home job. I'm lucky enough to have the time to prepare homemade food for my family. I'm certain that I wouldn't be as inclined to go the homemade route as much if I had more time constraints.

James Hubbard - agreed on all points!

Lori - I thought you'd like this one!

Fatfighter - I haven't read any of Pollan's books yet! Soon, I hope. I have heard that Food Matters is very much in line with Pollan's In Defense of Food.

Erin February 21, 2009 at 10:10 AM  

Please read Pollan, especially "Omnivore's Delimma." Just awesome. It was my follow-up to Kingsolver's "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle."

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