Eating should be a source of pleasure. The reality is that we’re omnivores, and people have been thriving on a wide variety of diets for millennia. Michael Pollan says that the field of nutrition today is like the field of surgery in 1650—promising, and interesting to watch, but not yet deserving of our total trust. The popular press has made a total hash of the field of nutrition by using the latest headlines to sell papers—findings which gyrate wildly. Margarine, fats, carbohydrates,—sometimes they are the villains, causing all sorts of health problems—then they regain or fall out of favor. And the government is under the sway of the agriculture and food lobbyists; federal dietary guidelines and recommendations are compromised and getting worse.
But don’t stress too much, it’s not difficult to make good food decisions, especially here in Santa Monica, with its abundant farmers markets. Just make sure to enjoy yourself, to make eating a pleasurable, slow, and social function, follow some simple guidelines, and use your self-awareness to inform you whether what you’re choosing to eat is helping you or causing you setbacks.
Whenever feasible, do your own cooking with organic, local, seasonal, sustainable fruits and vegetables. (Support farmers and the local economy with your money—you are voting for a healthful food system.) Not only can you control the ingredients and the cooking methods, but you are taking an active role in your fight for recovery. Plus you will save money by not eating out. It’s estimated that as much of 2/3 of the cost of medical care in this country is attributable to our poor eating habits. Cooking is a profound way to influence your health: “The best public health tools are a sharp chef’s knife, two cutting boards and a salad spinner.” (Preston Maring, MD, associate physician-in-chief at Kaiser Permanente Oakland).
Restrict processed foods and try to eliminate sugar—but aim for “90-10”: allow yourself some small indulgences to retain feelings of pleasure, since mood affects how you digest. A happily-enjoyed burger is probably providing better-absorbed nutrients than an organic raw kale salad that you are forcing down. Savor what you eat.
- Don’t eat food that comes through your car window.
- Read labels–avoid foods with sugar (or sugar equivalent) as one of the first 3 ingredients.
- Avoid food with more than 5 ingredients or made with ingredients you wouldn’t plausibly have in your pantry.
- Junk food is fine if you make it yourself. If you had to clean up after every batch of French fries, you’d rarely make them.
- Get the best ingredients, from farmers if possible. Befriend your farmers.
- If you have to shop in supermarkets, shop only on the perimeter—it’s where they put the freshest food.
- Don’t eat until you’re full.
- Don’t feel like you have to finish what’s on your plate.
- Don’t go back for seconds.
- Spend more on ingredients but eat less.
- Transparency is important—don’t buy from vendors who are secretive about where their food comes from.
- Why should organic food have to carry the adjective? It should be just “food” and the rest of it should say, “food grown with poisons.”
- Local non-organic is better than organic from long distances—foreign agricultural practices are unregulated.
- Eat food in season—it tastes better, has traveled less.
- Eat a rainbow of plant foods—the phytonutrients in the colors are very healthful.
- Spend at least as much time eating a meal as it took to prepare it.
- Do your best not to eat alone.
- Break the rules occasionally.