The End of Eating Everything

I saw this sign in a store window in Miami and took a picture. Recently it occurred to me that this phrase pretty much sums up our current state of nutrition. With the onslaught of posts circulating through social media about what is healthy and unhealthy, often with the information contradicting, it can feel like nothing is safe to eat. It is, in fact, the end of eating everything.

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Not everyone worries about nutrition.

My mother has always been what would be considered a health nut. I grew up experiencing all different experiments in diet and nutrition.  For a while we had to drink several glasses of orange juice a day. I remember being so sick of orange juice! For a while she was following a strict macrobiotic diet in which we could only eat fruits or vegetables that were grown locally, no dairy so my mother “fried” the toast in oil, and of course no meat. My mom has loosened up since then but I remember her homemade bread that was too hard to cut or birthday cakes that drove my friends away. Of course the irony of this health focus was that my mother also smoked, drank wine regularly, and spend plenty of time in the sun without sunscreen.

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Even dog food is advertised as gluten free.

My mom visited recently. Many years ago she had given up smoking, thank god. A couple of years ago she gave up wine too. She has always been mostly vegetarian and would stress about how many vegetables in proportion were going to be in the dinner I was making. Until recently, her one indulgence was bread. Not anymore. She has determined that gluten is the reason why she blows her nose every day. All these stories talk about how different wheat is than it used to be. In the interest of one is good, ten is better, a sentiment common to my mother, she has also given up all grains: rice, corn, oats, barley, etc.  Needless to say, mealtime got a lot more complicated trying to find dinners that satisfied kids, a bodybuilder ex, a gluten-free/grain free vegetarian, and me, the chef.

The problem I have with most of these nutrition issues is that they aren’t consistent. It used to be that you were supposed to buy farm-raised fish because we were depleting the ocean, then it was determined that farm-raised was bad and wild-caught was the way to go. Organic is better but it can still be GMO. Free-range isn’t the same as cage free. I can’t remember which is better. For years we read that belly fat increases the risk of heart disease but then just the other day there was a report that being fat in middle age will reduce your risk of dementia. You can’t win either way.

Then there is the whole Paleo craze…

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Many other cultures enjoy food more than we do and as a result are healthier.

The whole concept of the Paleolithic or Paleo diet is to eat like we used to back when were hunters and gatherers, cavemen basically, before the advent of agriculture. What’s so amusing about this whole fad is how illogically it is. 1) Our world is not the same as it was back then in terms of environment, air quality, etc; 2) our plants and animals are not the same as we were back then genetically; 3) WE are not the same as we were back then physically, mentally or in terms of the activities we do; 4) while we may know what people ate back then, we really do not know how healthy they were as a result.

Now I’m not picking on my mom, all this is said with love because in fact, despite the extremes, she did instill in me a love of healthy food, perhaps not her style but a lot healthier than other kids my age. The reason I am really using her as an example is because it illustrates perfectly how we tend to see nutrition these days. We have these boxes in our mind: food, environment, stress, exercise, work, play, family, love and we try to fix things by changing one box instead of seeing that they are all related and adjusting what we can across the board. On top of it all, the media makes it so complicated to know what is right, good and healthy, so much so that it can feel like we can’t ever get it right. Fad diets and health scares sell books but I for one don’t pay much of it mind. There is a report for every opinion so pick one.

The best advice I can give is keep it simple.

Our lives are complicated. We have so many factors to juggle. Our world is becoming increasingly more toxic due to chemicals in air, water, and food. Our earth is heating up and causing crazy weather patterns so it’s anyone’s guess where the safe place to live is these days. We work too much, much more than our parents did for a lower quality lifestyle. More work means less time, less time to cook and also less time to relax. Our health isn’t something we have complete control over. We can’t change the genes we were born with, or avoid all the toxins in our environment. It is great if you can buy organic, GMO-free, locally grown food but that isn’t always available or accessible, never mind affordable. The pressure of what the media tells us we should be doing as compared to what we are actually able to do can be overwhelming, creating stress and pressure which is also bad for our health.

So what I do is keep it simple. I forget all the media and do this:

  1. Try to buy food a simple as possible — this means food with as few ingredients, ideally whole food like apples instead of apple sauce, flour and eggs instead pancake mix
  2. What you can’t buy whole, use at minimum — I’m not anti-gluten but bread and crackers tend to have a lot of junk in them so use at a minimum or buy from a bakery if you can
  3. Cook from scratch simple recipes whenever you can — we have a tendency to have a few recipes to impress friends and the rest of the time but instead we should find simple recipes we can make a lot of the time.
  4. Skip the box, the can, the mix if you can —remember how many hands touched your food before you and try to remove a few of them
  5. Simplify your life to make time to relax — stress affects digestion and overall health

Of course there are obvious things about eating a range of vegetables, avoiding fried foods, etc. but health is much more than just the food you put in your mouth. It is the pleasure you get from making it, the joy of sharing and eating it, the balance in your life. So don’t worry, it isn’t really the end of eating everything just yet.

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