Nutrition and Health – Just the Facts

Award winning author Michael Pollan, PhD

Award winning author Michael Pollan, PhD

I have been involved in the nutrition movement since my graduate days in the mid-1980s.  When you take into account my reading of over 25 years of Prevention Magazine starting in junior high school in the 1970s (when the magazine had some of the top researched articles on health of any publication in America) – then I’ve been interested in nutrition for a long time.  Since 2001 I have spoken on medical nutrition to the Medical Wellness Association, and written about many types of nutrition issues in national publications.  So – I want you to know that I am very interested in nutrition – from a farming perspective, from a production perspective, and from an eating perspective.   Let me start with a few basics – and keep my views to a minimum regarding nutrition – and how it can have a profound effect on health.

In the past 100 years we have gone from a nation that produces its own food via the family farm, to relying on stores to supply us with all of our food needs.  According to Berkeley nutrition professor Dr. Michael Pollan – we throw away almost 40% of our food each day in this country – a shocking statistic that includes perfectly good bananas that aren’t “curved” enough, or meats that are not the right color. 

#1 – You eat three or more times a day.  You probably don’t need to.  It is from society and your traditions that you eat so many times a day, more on Thanksgiving.  In order to maintain or improve health – you need to look at what you eat, how much you eat, and when you eat it regarding your health.

Most of our nutrition “habits” are societal.  Vegans eat the way they do because of their beliefs.  Eastern Europeans eat types of meats, and recipes based on their culture. Even the Mediterranean diet (which came from Southern Italy, and Greece) evolved from a cultural standpoint.  Many people know the Eskimos eat a high level of blubber – although they would hesitate to have it in their diets. 

Making the case for a high protein and antioxidant smoothie in the morning, a salad and soup at lunch, and a protein and moderate carb meal at dinner is getting harder to argue with.  As people get older, they don’t need as many calories (even if they are maintaining a high level exercise program).  So – looking at nutrient density is more important than just getting your three squares in each day.

 #2 – We have all of the information we’ll need in order to make healthy food choices.  Most of us chose not to.  A brilliant article by NY Times columnist Jane Brody states that we seldom make good choices for foods – even though we have as much information as we have ever had regarding nutrition.  She states that the consumption of sugar is probably our worst choice regarding overall nutrition, and that efforts in cities across the US to curb its use have been met with resistance by the food industry.

New York Times best-selling author Jane Brody

New York Times best-selling author Jane Brody

So – if we have all of the information we need today – reading labels on food, great web sites, lots of health food stores, and the amount of organics in our grocery stores, then why do we have so many health issues related to foods?

I think Jane Brody is trying to tell us something.  We like sweet foods.  We like the “convenience” of restaurants and pre-packaged foods.  We make excuses about not having enough time to eat (let alone eat well).  We criticize vitamins and powders in favor of “real” foods – not understanding that over 60% of these foods contain unwanted hormones, GMOs, pesticides, and additives that may make us sick, fat, tired, or even increase our risk for chronic diseases. 

So why then are we doing this?  For anyone who is younger than 60 – it’s a matter of all of the media we’ve been exposed to – and NOT told ourselves that it’s all a lie. The crux of this article is that you – while at your office, or in the grocery store, or at home, can make good food choices, and maintain a healthy weight, feel more energy, and eat really tasty meals.  As I’ve said – we have all of the information we’ll need in order to make healthy food choices.  Let’s make the choices.  In my humble opinion – it all starts at the grocery store, farmer’s market, health food store, or online shopping.  Some resources are listed below.  

#3 – Speaking of the food industry – for 100 years they have been trying to change our minds in terms of what’s good food vs. what’s not.  In that time they have convinced us that eating stuff out of a box, or going to a restaurant where a bunch of kids preparing your food is better for you than eating at home has been instrumental in changing the waistlines of millions of Americans.  With the advent of genetically modified foods (GMOs), we’ve seen a whole new level of poison heaped on our public.  My advice is to look at the meals you eat during the day – and figure out where you can eat foods that are not coming from a box (or if so – would be the most beneficial for you – like eating oatmeal vs. boxed cereal).

#4 – Throughout my professional career, I have seen people criticizing the vitamin supplement industry.  Since the 1930s when JI Rodale (Publisher of Prevention Magazine) wrote about the benefits of bone meal for health bones, the medical profession has done everything in their power to convince us that vitamins are no good, while taking pharmaceutical drugs is the best for you.  On the contrary – if we look at

the benefits of vitamins, and the issues with illness – we can find that many (if not all) are nutrition related.  Diabetes?  More of a 40-30-30 diet, and taking Vanadium to lower blood sugars.  Muscular Dystrophy?  Large doses of Selenium have been shown to mitigate symptoms.  Cancer?  Vitamin D has been shown to lessen symptoms, reduce tumor size, and return the body back to a more normal status.  For many senior-related issues, immune vitamins, higher doses of vitamin C and other nutrients have been shown to return the body to a healthier state.  I recommend to people to look at a multi-vitamin, an immune system vitamin, an anti-oxidant, and a super green formula.  These types of vitamins play a critical role in keeping the body healthy.

At a time when seniors need more nutrients – they usually get less. They have a tendency to eat a lot of foods that are cooked, or microwaved (which leach out most of the nutrients).  They will eat more snacks, and pre-packaged foods that again are low in nutrients.  Since metabolism slows with age – certain foods may not sit well like they used to (like steak).  Most meats are harder to digest, and may cause digestive issues.  So – the key is to get nutrients through supplements or powders that help maintain a high level of health without sacrificing flavor or the social aspects of eating.  I’m not just talking about senior citizens – I’m talking about anyone over 50 who is a few pounds overweight, or feeling tired much of the time, or who believes they need to make a few changes in their eating patterns. 

#5 – A word on Protein.  You need more – you need less – you need steak – you need fish.  Over the course of the past 30 years, all types of organ meats (beef, fish, and poultry) have been contaminated with pesticides, hormones, meat glue, and other organisms that are not in the best interest of immunity, maintenance and repair, and taste.  So what is the next phase in protein? 

I used to think that protein supplements were the “next best thing” as they were mixed with liquids (water, milk), and therefore easier to digest and assimilate into the body.  Well, I was wrong.  According to the latest research, protein from organ meats digests at around 40-50%, and proteins from powders only digests at around 17-20%.  We know this based on their net Nitrogen usage (NNU).  The higher the Nitrogen left in the body, the less breakdown of proteins that have actually been used in the tissues. 

One of the best types of proteins to be on the market these days is MAPS – which stands for master amino acid pattern.  There are 20 amino acids used by the body – nine of them are essential.  We don’t manufacture them, so we rely on protein intake to provide them for us.  MAPS gives us essential amino acids, and digests them right out of the stomach at almost 100% NNU.  Since MAPS has almost zero calories, it is digested without all of the byproducts we would get from meats (one being weight gain). 

I recommend MAPS to people who are interested in a change in their nutrition without making a big change in eating patterns (going from a meat eater to a vegan).  It allows them to still eat some meats but “supplement” that protein source with one that actually provides the nutrients to help muscles recover faster (sports performance), and use the entire form of protein. 

#6 – So where do you get really good information?  Over the past eight years I have been a fan of Dr. Mercola and his web site.  He has gotten his share of criticism from mainstream medicine – which tells me he is doing some great things.  He is pretty strict with beginners, having them eliminate processed wheat, gluten, and other foods such as cow’s milk from their diets.  That said – Dr. Mercola is a big fan of eating as much quality fat as you want – such as certain oils, butter, or organic eggs.  Doing this, while reducing sugars, and eating raw foods (vegetables, fruits), are a good way to change the diet for the better, and see improvements in weight, energy, and digestion. 

Best selling vegetarian author and chef Melissa Costello

Best selling vegetarian author and chef Melissa Costello

One of the coolest web sites on vegan recipes that are amazing come from Melissa Costello and Karma Chow web site.  I’m sorry – but anyone that can give me information on vegan brownies, homemade fruit popsicles, and Tempeh tacos is OK in my book.  Melissa has recipes on smoothies, soups, salads, main dishes, and snacks.  She has created amazing recipes for celebrities and fitness professionals, so she has a high degree of credibility over the past decade.  She also walks the walk – in that she eats vegan and maintains a very high nutrition regime for herself, as well as her clients.  Her information is listed below. 

To conclude – yes, we have so much information about nutrition available today – but we still make choices that may not be in our best interests.  If we want more energy, to lose weight, to get back into the gym, and to reduce our chance of getting some chronic disease later in life (which these days means after 50 years of age), we need to rethink our thoughts on what really constitutes really good nutrition?  Is it high quality foods each day?  Yes.  Is it using supplements when needed?  Yes, as well.  However – it also comes down to knowing what you want with your nutrition, and buying the best types of nutrition products and foods for those needs.  We have to think of food as not just something to fill our bellies, but something that we can take every day that is going to help us maintain our weight, give us energy to get through our day, help us with the stress we feel n life, and also something that tastes good and is good for us.  If we can do this most of the time, then having that great meal at the restaurant, or eating ice cream once and a while won’t feel like such a guilt trip.