Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Thoughts about Food

Out on the scaffolding the other day.
(Building is being painted and
windows replaced.)
I'm reading Clean by Alejandro Junger, MD, which describes a 'cleanse' diet I am going to do possibly soon. Two friends have done it and recommend it. Some other friends did "The Master Cleanse" but I feel that, considering my condition, I want something gentler than that.

I've read a few books about nutrition and cancer, and books more generally about nutrition and what are called "diseases of affluence," which among other things are linked to cultures consuming a lot of animal protein and fat including cheese and other dairy products. (These diseases a la Wikipedia include: heart disease, obesity, hypertension, cancer, diabetes, asthma, some types of allergies, depression and other mental health conditions.) Most vegetarians don't realize that cheese has more cholesterol than meat, and that cholesterol is linked with many diseases, including cancer. All or most of the books recommend an organic, vegan, vegetable intensive, low glycemic index, low fat, whole grain (no white flour/rice), no added sugar (I'm sure I'm forgetting something) diet. Legumes.

It's appalling how misleading food labels are in this country. For example, "honey bread" or "whole wheat bread" that have no honey or whole wheat in them. Savory foods - soups, ketchup, peanut butter, certainly bread - essentially any prepared food in an ordinary supermarket - have sugar added to them (and many other, stranger things.) The first ingredient in a Trader Joe's chocolate bar with "no added sugar" is maltitol, which is a sugar alcohol (and a laxative) that contains three out of four of the calories of sugar. Ingredients lists are full of surprises.

What happens with processed or prepared foods is they essentially remove most of what I would call actual food from it, and then sometimes 'fortify' it by adding back a couple of vitamins. Another reason labels are unreliable. Anything that has to be 'fortified' has had all the health has removed from it beforehand. And the reason unhealthy food is so cheap is that the vast majority of produce subsidized by the USDA ends up in junk food. (But that's a different topic!) Even much organic processed food contains weird additives and sugar.

Even if you read ingredient lists, they don't show how they were prepared. Like any fruit or veg. juice you buy is pasteurized, which essentially means it is cooked and some if not all of the phytochemicals that might have made it good for you have been eliminated. Pasteurized juice is mostly just a sugar drink, and tastes like it to me, especially apple juice. It seems that raw and cooked ingredients can have a very different chemistry, and that raw foods tend to contain more nutrients and have a lower glycemic index. I have trouble digesting too much raw veg, but I try to get other foods raw, especially nuts, dark chocolate occasionally, or stevia. Chinese medicine tends to be against eating much in the way of raw food, and suggests light cooking for a warming effect and easier digestion. 

And don't get me started about the Mediterranean Diet! The overriding message that we get from it always seems to be about the fat. What about the folks it was based on who had physically strenuous lives, and ate very fresh food every day including lots of vegetables and garlic, fruits and fish? No, the message is, olive oil is good for you. I don't know. Maybe this is helpful to people who use unhealthier oils. But then again if you batter and fry up your lunch in olive oil, does it then become "health food"? More the better?

Which reminds me: Many of us are very opinionated about food, thinking what other people eat, or their ideas about health, are simply stupid! A friend recently scorned those of us who like "fake meat." Why not just eat tofu?, was rather testily asked. I've mentioned before noticing a friend commenting (without joy let us say) on the food I'm eating as "Hm. Looks healthy."  (And of course I don't think most of what that person eats is actually food!) I'm sure I am just as opinionated as 'the next guy', however I do try to reserve judgment about what other people eat. Really, it's none of my business. It's more the ideas about it that we get tangled up in. What one person says is healthy, another asserts is not...And the preferences are intense. As a culture we are confused about what we should be eating. Ideas about the good and the bad of eating habits sweep through America in waves...

Anyway. Whatever I know in my head does not necessarily translate into what I feel like eating, or what I am willing to prepare for myself. I'm hoping Junger's program will get me on track. I want to 'reset' so that I start craving things that are actually good for me again. This to me is the motivation to do a 'cleanse' or a special diet for a while.

Most of what I am writing here about nutrition is from memory. I probably got some of it wrong. You can get the straight stuff from the books I recommend on the Books page. (As I mentioned a few days ago, someone gave me The China Study recently, but those results are included in other books.)

I had a lot to say about all this. I am interested in your thoughts about food, too.

I'm back home now. I still want to wash curtains, remove a layer of carpet, and dust more but so far the crazy coughing in my somewhat less dusty and moldy bedroom seems to be OK.  I can still feel something when I am in this apartment...maybe congestion but not to the point of coughing...


  1. Interesting reading, Suvanna. I am afraid I dont have any further words of wisdom. I seem to have the same info/opinion as you do.

    Seems to me tho that everthing in moderation might apply to food!


  2. I love advice that I heard (I forget his name): "Eat real food, not a lot, mostly plants." I'm sticking with that.
    I do know that after doing a weekend "cleanse" sort of thing that included green juice, I found it much easier not to eat sugar and carbs that are messing with me. I used Dr. Oz' Weekend cleanse. It was gentle and surprisingly delicious but gave my digestive system a rest.
    Good luck with whatever you do in the food category. I agree that it is important.
    lots of love, Varada

  3. All I'm saying is I cook my dog's food from scratch. I guess I'm also saying that I did a cleanse and it made me really sick. It seems the weight loss releases toxins that are stored in fat, and my immune system couldn't handle it. It's good to have someone to check in with if you do a cleanse. They say you'll feel bad in the beginning. If your skin turns yellow (mine did), you should stop. :)

  4. I agree with Mary. For a body already under strain I think it is best to go very slowly and gently with a cleanse, not necessarily follow all the rules just because they are written, but to listen to what your body is telling you. I loved that book Clean, and felt better just from reading it! Seriously, I think bringing awareness and clean intentions to what we eat without forcing, kind of like meditation, can be powerful all on its own.