Sunday, February 5, 2012

Thoughts on Food

I have been thinking about food a lot lately. What to eat, why, and how much. Over the past few months I have really wanted us to eat less meat because I know of the poor quality of mass meat and poultry production in our country, not the mention the impact on the environment. If you do not know much about this, I suggest the book "Omnivores's Dilemma" by Michael Pollan. If you don't have time to read a whole book, then watch the documentary's "Food Inc" and "King Corn."

You will be shocked to learn that much of our food can be traced back to corn, genetically modified, full of pesticide corn. Our animals, especially cows eat this corn which makes them sick, so then they are pumped full of antibiotics, not to mention the hormones they are already given in order to help them grow and gain weight faster. This all gets transferred to the meat that we eat daily. So needless to say, I have had some concerns.

 I recently watched the documentary "Forks Over Knives." This documentary focuses on the benefits of a plant based diet vs. the typical American diet with meat and dairy products. It correlates meat and dairy consumption with the prevalence of cancer and chronic disease in the US. The initial response after watching this compelling program is to cut out all dairy and meat, but I as I thought about it longer I felt like the film did not show the whole story. It didn't talk about why suddenly meat is so harmful to us. I don't argue the fact that plants are healthy and we should eat more of them. I spend 90% of day promoting more vegetable intake to every patient that I see. What I struggle with is that I believe God created animals for us to eat and it doesn't make sense to me that in their natural form, eating animals would cause disease.  As I have tried to wrap my brain around what to do with the statements and stories in these films I have watched and how to translate them to my own diet and how I teach patients I have come to a few conclusions.
1. I do not believe that meat and diary not inherently "bad" for us. I don't believe that they cause disease and cancer in their natural form. What I do believe is that over the past century, as we became wealthier, we have begun to purchase more meat and eat larger portions of it. This caused a huge increase in demand which as led to food industry responding. Apparently the best way for them to keep up with the demand for meat is to have terrible feedlot and animal fattening and slaughtering practices. It has lead to hormone and antibiotic filled meat which is causing a host of medical problems in our bodies when we consume it in large portions on a regular basis. What I am going to do and my recommendation is to find meat that is not part of industrial meat found at large scale, chain grocery stores and eat it in moderation. Remember that an adequate portion of meat is 3 oz. When was the last time you found a 3oz chicken breast at the grocery store or were served 3oz of meat when eating out?

Right now we have freezer full of grass fed beef from a ranch in Montana. Next year I will probably look for some grass fed Minnesota beef. When I buy chicken and eggs I get organic, free-range. Our fish from now on is going to be wild. We are only eating meat 1-2 times a week currently as a result, because buying these sources of meat is more expensive. The rest of our meals are full of beans, lentils, whole grains and vegetables.

I am still deciding what to do about dairy. We have been purchasing organic milk, but the more I am reading about this, the more I am learning that pasteurization, although a good invention for food safety, apparently destroys many of the nutrients in dairy. This may be why so many people have intolerance to milk. Recently we have started drinking almond milk instead which tastes great and was really not a huge change.  I do love yogurt though. It has been one of my favorite foods for as long as I can remember and I am not ready to give it up at this point. I will get Greek, organic for now and continue to look at other options.

2. Plants are best-purchase organic and local when possible. Fruits, vegetables, legumes and grains should be the basis of our diet. If you can, purchase organic when possible. "Organic" is not highly regulated and can be vague, but right now it is the best term we have to get an idea of how something was grown/produced. I think it is especially valuable to purchase organic products of the foods that you eat regularly. If you can buy local, do it. Food production is expensive and a huge demand on our environment. If you can buy an apple from 20 miles away instead of 1,200, think of the savings just in gasoline. We joined a CSA and I can't wait until June when we can start getting our produce directly from a local farm. Support your local farmers market and farmers when possible. Consider joining a co-op if you have one. I am planning on visiting one close by this week as another option for the best food products.

I really don't believe that eating should be complicated, but with all of the controversy surrounding food right now, I encouraged you to become educated and make food decisions based on what you believe is best for the health of you and your family. These are just some of my thoughts on food right now. As you know there is always more research that needs to be done or will be coming out, so what we are concerned about in 20 years may be completely different. Let's choose the best foods that we can for today and enjoy them.

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