Thursday, January 20, 2011

Natural foods, taste buds and health

Three years ago, I graduated from university with a degree in nutrition. Around that time, I got married and happily started an entirely different, simple and slow life as a wife and mother. Other than my internship, I did not work in the field I studied, although I might, perhaps, do something in the future from home on a small scale. However, the subject of nutrition remains most interesting for me, both theoretically and on a personal basis, as a wife who provides daily meals for her family.

It’s difficult for young and inexperienced students to question the authority of professors, who seem infallible and all-knowing in lecture halls (and sometimes take advantage of that to promote their opinion regarding questionable issues), let alone wonder about the entire curriculum and how much time is dedicated to specific issues. Thinking back, I realized that we studied a lot about various rare medical conditions, and way too little about nutrition that would provide optimal (optimal, not adequate) health for normal individuals.

Biology and physiology in general, and nutrition in particular, are complex subjects and not everything can be known, currently. I think there is a tendency among scientists who deal with such imprecise matters to over-simplify things in order to prove a point they believe in, and perhaps to underestimate factors that cannot be calculated mathematically. And so, we dealt a lot with counting calories and fat percents, and very little with the healthful benefits of specific foods or subtle and/or questionable health effects of various food additives.

Even back then, something in me rebelled against the idea that the “right” diet we were supposed to promote (low fat, minimal amount of animal fat) seemed so unpalatable; that a person who is struggling with weight loss should choose zero-fat milk products, which are loaded with artificial sweeteners and stabilizers in order to make up for their lack of taste and runny structure. That artificially added vitamins and minerals are absorbed the same way as those occurring naturally in our food. No one argued, for example, against the fact that we need fat-soluble vitamins, such as A, D and E – which are found naturally in animal fats. Somehow, this was at odds with the idea that the animal-sourced products we consume should be almost fat-free (lean meat, skim milk, etc). The solution, we were told, was to take the fat-free product and artificially enrich it with vitamins, to make up for the fact that most of their content was lost with the extraction of fat. To me, it always made more sense that if the fatty fraction contains necessary vitamins, then we should go ahead and eat it (in moderation and combined with a healthy lifestyle).

Not long ago, I’ve read the book “Nourishing Traditions” (about which I have done several blog posts), and it strengthened my view that it is safer to choose foods that are closer to their natural state, foods that did not undergo processing apart from normal cooking. That food should taste and smell like food, and be delicious and satisfying, not a pitiful substitute that always has us rushing for more in hunger that cannot be quenched, and that has nothing to do with what our grandmothers used to eat. I was amazed to find out how little we learned about such an influential component of modern diet as refined sugar. We were told sugar was harmful because it adds extra calories – “empty” calories, and that’s it. We didn’t learn that sugar causes actual mineral depletion, certainly when we look at the extent it is consumed. I ran to the grocery store today and was struck by how, it seems, most of the products in the store contain large amounts of added sugar.

Nutrition, without a doubt, is a topic that should be learned by every “family cook”, which is the mother in most of the cases, and also by daughters who are growing up. You don’t have to have a degree for that, today we have access to many wonderful fascinating books and the internet.


As a note to my readers, I am looking forward to the moment when I have internet access and can read some of your comments to my older posts. I appreciate that you continue to visit and write, and miss the dialogue with you. Thank you for your patience while I keep this blog running from my “offline” position. 


Linda said...

Something of which I am becoming convinced is that our digestive systems on the whole might not be being benefited by the amount of gluten that we are consuming in our modern diets. I don't think our ancient ancestors ate nearly as much bread as we do today or products made with the very high gluten content wheat we have developed. High gluten strains of wheat and rye are fairly new. I truly think the lower gluten grains like oats and barley are more digestible and kinder to the intestines than wheat and rye, especially if those grains are soaked before being cooked or made into baked foods. Perhaps that's why we are seeing so much celiac disease now.

Terry @ Breathing Grace said...

Great minds think alike because I just posted on this very topic, though not nearly as extensively.

By the way, there's a recipe at the bottom of my post that a vegetarian might find very appealing.

Rose said...

Sally Fallon's book is really plain commonsense and the expreience of generations, it's a very valuable tool in this time of fad diets and fashions in nutrition. Good for you Anna.

Star said...

What a very informative and sensible post Mrs. Anna. I agree with everything you say. I am a mother who brought up three hungry boys and fed other family members. I agree that buying low fat everything is a waste of time. Probably the truth lies with the quantity of food we eat, not the quality. If we eat too much, we get fat, simples. I agree we need to eat food that is as natural as possible and keep a varied diet. That way we are bound to get what our bodies need.
Well done for writing a very sensible post.

Kate said...

Once again I enjoy reading your posts and share your experiences here in the US! I am a Dietitian and our group of 3 clinical dietitians has just started looking into the information brought forward in Nourishing Traditions. I actually decided to ask for the book for Christmas (which my husband got me!) and have been looking into it! :)

Beka said...

Hi! I've been meditating, especially on the Scriptural principles of eating and I thought you may like a little guidelines I drew up for myself about the best and balanced way of eating. Since you're a nutritionist and I'm just a beginner baker, I'd really appreciate your opinion and feedback on what I wrote. Enjoy your forced internet-fast! It does give you a lot of spare time, doesn't it?

Shalom! Beka.

Lena said...

I loved reading NOurishing Traditions too, it does make so much sense. The more people eat low-fat, and low calorie, they miss out so much in ways of good vitamins and good quality foods. I started to drink raw-organic milk lately, it is so delishes. I believe it helped me fight off colds and flu. I feel so much better for eating and drinking more natural products then the fake, chemical foods. When eating natural based food, you dont have to count the calories, or watch for fat. If its natural then its good for you. :)

Hilde said...

What should make us suspiciops of the recommendations of the nutritionists is that they change so often. Low fat, no fat, no animal fat, no carbs, low carbs, mostly grains, mostly vegetables, three, five, six meals a day, only red meat, only white meat - you name it. Not to mention the hype about the artificial vitamins in doses that have been proved to be damaging your health. i think many people feel bad about their unhealthy lifestyle and try to make up for it by a special diet instead of major changes.

Buy Vega said...

Thanks for sharing your insights. Most of us are so busy that we forget to take vitamins. We should always include taking them in our schedule.

Stellar said...

Interesting post! My sister is a licensed and registered dietitian. She recommends not eating anything with trans-fat or high fructose corn syrup, two substances that are incredibly unhealthy. Are they banned in Israel? Because I know they are in several countries.

My sister is also a vegetarian, and suggests that all people cut red meat from their diet.

Anonymous said...

What is purported to be supported by Ms. Eng is suspect because of her affiliation with a private, but state-funded nutrition school.

A lot of what is published in her name seems an unprofessionally written point of view that seeks to encourage an 'us against them' mentality, and a mass hysteria reaction.

Let's say that her research has some soundness, despite its 'bucking the current trend' unconventionality, her attitude is like a cult-leader i.e. 'all or none' and immediately offensive, like Laura Schlessinger or

And, she is not correct in all her stances as well, from this pharmacist's standpoint. I am more inclined to revisit Adelle Davis' research or review Laura Pawluk's conclusions than try to make sense of Mary Eng's advocacy of eating freshly butchered meat and drinking warm raw cow's milk.


Anonymous said...

Wedding shower cookbooks of my mother's in the 50s seemed like miniature encyclopedias with advice about providing less expensive alternatives to expensive ingredients, how to tenderize a toughened piece of beef, what times of the year to purchase the best fresh fruits and vegetables in season, basic pantry stocking tips, food preservation tips if the electricity went out, etc.

Foods prepared with meticulous attention to those 50s recipes contained unnecessarily excess amounts of butter, shortening, molasses, white and brown sugar and non-nutritive ingredients, which required following specific directions for cooking temperature, and serving time, but definitely made foods appetizing and addicting. However, in the 50s ran around, climbed trees, bikeed and walked, and spent summer afternoons down at the creek, activities requiring high-energy foods. My mother could get away with hating 'brown' bread, because it was a tasteless rendition of plastic white Wonder Bread.

When my sisters were older, we experimented with those 50s recipes, using eggs from our chickens, herbs and greens from hydroponic greenhouse out back, and substituting 'oleo' and butter with oils widely available in the store, and so developed a reputation for 'gourmet' preferences.

Before I married my Asian husband, he was horrified people bought spinach or green beans from cans, and ate so many sweets, fats and breads in the same meal. He trimmed visible fats from meats before cooking and washed grease from hamburger after cooking, and flavored meats with Kikkoman (light soy sauce). He discouraged consumption of full-strength fruit juice sold commercially, and related childhood stories about taking a jug down to the canola press house, and the village sembei baker.

I will never forget when we stopped at local grocery store selling fresh tofu displayed along with fresh tomatoes out in an open display case. It opened my eyes to the comment my godmother made when visiting us...'Some people like that sour taste of tofu, but I don't particularly care for it.'

When we were first married and working several jobs, going to school and taking care of a small child, I read 'Diet for a Small Planet'. We depended on the least expensive nutrition affordable, ate a lot of nitrate-, nitrite-free hotdogs, frozen vegetables, and for neural development of the young'un consumed 2% milk and flaked tunafish. When the USDA distributed food surplus from storehouses, we redistributed our share of butter and peanut butter because we didn't believe in eating excessive quantities of fatty butters, but we started adding using the Wisconsin cheeses, often adding it to noodles for supper.

Our second child 11 years later grew up on skim milk, whole grains, salmon twice a week, minimal fatty cheeses, lots of fresh berries, and never eating a hotdog. However, with involvement in activities out of home, he developed a taste for hasty, tasty fast-food hamburgers on the way to violin lessons.

The point: foods, cooking styles, and nutrition come into 'style' in the US dependent on various influences from reasoned or ignorant actions, from traditional opinions to those that are politically correct, to what is satisfyingly immediately gratifying, convenient and available at an affordable cost.

It is gratifying to know that a national campaign has been spearheaded by our First Lady. She brings a note of intelligent consumerism to the general public, a new level of awareness and practical understanding, that 'nutrition' considerations are not only for those that can afford any highly efficient, nutrient-dense foods available in the marketplace based on any prevailing criteria.

Mid-eastern Cornfields

Mary said...

I have purchased the book Nourishing Traditions and I'm just starting a serious reading of this book. I find that I'm torn over all the completely different nutritional advice that the so-called experts have given us all over the past decade. My husband is a long term diabetic and I dutifully tried to implement all of their advice. I've totally ignored the cooking style that was a normal part of my childhood. My mother lived to be almost 91 and her younger sisters died over the past few years at the ages of 94, 94, and 96. My mother always used real butter and always drank whole milk. Her diet was very varied and the food tasted delicious. Surely they were doing something right when they lived to those ages in reasonably good health. I feel sort of foolish that I've let the experts tell me what to do and now will have to gradually revise the way I cook. I should have used more common sense but I was so anxious to do the "best" for my diabetic husband. Thanks for all your wonderful posts.

Anonymous said...

Hey Anna, a really good post again :) I too agree that there are different 'fads' regarding nutrition but I can say that what I am learning about nutrition in medical school now is exactly what my grandfather was taught when he was there over fifty years ago. I think that what gets changed a lot are due to society changes (ie 'one portion' of meat should be the size of the palm of your hand, nowadays a single chicken breast can be much much bigger than that)or due to fad diets where people have studied to a high degree and become 'Dr' without having ever been a healthcare professional (Such as Dr Gillian Mckieth, a famous nutritionist in the UK. She has made a ridiculous number of claims including eating her own brand of seaweed is good for you because it's the only food type that contains DNA.)

A further muddying of the water happens when real physicians write outlandish advice that does not have enough evidence to be accepted by the whole medical community. For example Dr Atkins' diet does work but doctors would not suggest it as a way to lose weight because of all the side effects experienced.

It's very important for people to check the sources that they're learning from.


Elizabeth R said...

What you have shared here is much of what I have been thinking lately - a variety of real, whole foods in moderation must be at least somewhat nourishing (I have not studied nutrition) and tastes much better than preservative laden diet "health" foods. You have given me new confidence with this post. Now if I could just learn to like whole fat milk, I grew up on skim and cannot stand to drink whole milk.

I am so glad you are persevering in blogging even through your internet outage. You are a great inspiration to me.


Gombojav Tribe said...

I believe you read my post about our food philosophy last summer. I think a big mistake is made when food is completely removed from it's natural sphere (which is partly nourishing and partly social) and classified as a "science."

As for butter versus margarine,
I trust cows more than chemists.
~Joan Gussow

I think a lot can be fixed if people just went back to eating real food, face-to-face with real people (rather than fake food in front of the TV or computer....or worse, in the car!).