After the birth of my second baby I was in a bit of a health rut. I didn’t exercise, was eating poorly, struggling to maintain a healthy weight, and generally feeling pretty average. I started going to the gym, and tried to clean up my diet. I tried low fat, low calorie, low carb and anything else that promised good health. I was hungry, and miserable. If only I’d read Michael Pollan then, I could have saved myself a lot of anguish.
Michael Pollan is an American journalist and writer who explores food, our relationship to it and its production in his work. In his book In Defence of Food he sets out a few simple rules for sustainable and healthful eating.
“Eat food. Mostly plants. Not Too Much”.
Of course it’s a bit more complex than that, but not much.
I had the great pleasure to see Pollan speak when he was recently in Melbourne, where he emphasized the main points set out in his book. That we’ve become confused about how to be healthy, and have replaced real food with an obsession with nutrients. That the Western diet is the cause of the increase of obesity, heart disease and cancer, and that a return to traditional ways of eating that value sociality and identity will restore our health and happiness.
Seems self-explanatory, but Pollan contends that what we’ve replaced real food with “edible food-like substances”. Fortified, sugar laden and highly processed, modern foods are mostly derived from a handful of cereal grains (corn, wheat and rice) and are a major contributing factor in our declining vitality. Whole grains in themselves are not bad for us, but processing strips them of valuable nutrients including fibre, antioxidants and enzymes, and, whole or not, we eat way too much of them. Grains and seeds contain oils called omega 6. Omega 6 oils stiffen the cell walls of the grains, as they do in the human body, and are involved in inflammation and and blood clotting.
More than the omega 6, what’s important for our health is the balance between omega 6 and omega 3 oils in our diet. Ideally, the ratio should be about 1:1. As it stands, most of us are having closer to 10:1.
You’ve probably heard of the importance of omega 3 for the health of our brains and hearts, and their role as potent anti-inflammatory agents. We’re eating more grains, and less of the foods that contain omega 3 – leafy greens, fish and pasture fed meat.
So, if what we’re eating isn’t food, what is?
Pollan suggests a few guidelines to help us recognize it.
~ Eat only what our great grandmothers would have recognised as food. That alone probably excludes most of what ails us. Processed breakfast cereals, flavoured yoghurts, margarine – all out!
~ Avoid foods with ingredients that are unfamiliar or unpronounceable.
~ Stick to the outer aisles of the supermarket. That’s where most of the fresh food lives. Better still, get out of the supermarket. In Melbourne we’re blessed with an abundance of fresh food markets.
Some links to get you started
Ceres Fair Food, an ethical organic food delivery service http://www.ceresfairfood.org.au/
Queen Vic Market http://www.qvm.com.au/
Preston Market http://www.prestonmarket.com.au/
Victorian Farmers Markets- seasonal, fresh produce direct from the farmer http://www.vicfarmersmarkets.org.au/