Friday, July 11, 2008

What the hell do I eat?!?

I have been at this for several months now, and I think I finally have some baseline diet recommendations.  

It is important in making food suggestions to actually suggest food.  I will not sit here and give out percentages of diet that should be fat, calories, whatever the fuck.   No, I will give you actual food suggestions.

Food.  What to eat.

All fats are a combination of saturated, poly-unsaturated and mono-unsaturated content, (see a nice chart on fat content here) the distinctions below are based on the highest content of each type.  The fat content we should be eating can vary greatly.  It is fine to eat very little saturated fat, as well as quite a bit of it.  If we are not eating the hydrogenated fats and not cooking with poly-unsaturated fats we will be fine.
The suggestion that a high fat diet is responsible for Heart Disease, Diabetes, Cancer, etc. etc. is erroneous.

Saturated fats for eating directly:  Red Meat, butter, milk, cheeses, eggs
Saturated fats for cooking:  Butter, Lard, Coconut Oil

{Update:  Red meat is actually 51% mono-unsaturated fat, or oleic fatty acid, 45% is saturated and 4% poly-unsaturated}

Poly-unsaturated fats for eating directly:  vegetable oils, sesame oil.
NOTE:  do not cook with vegetable oils, they are associated with various cancers when used in cooked dishes.  I use only sesame oil, and i use it in the chinese way:  that is, sprinkled on top of a cooked dish after removal from heat.

Mono-unsaturated fats:  Olive oil, avocado, nuts.
NOTE:  nuts should be cooked in some ways, I do not know more then to say that several of my most reliable chinese medical teachers suggest that raw nuts are unhealthy.

Combination fats:  These are foods that spread the fats around, encompassing all three kinds of fats.  Chicken and poultry, fish, fish oil, flax oil.  

On grains:  Grains that are not refined.  Eat whole grains, the quantity is unimportant, as both a high and low content of whole grains has been correlated throughout history with a lack of chronic disease.
NOTE:  Vegetables should, by and large, be cooked.  Cellulose cannot be digested, and it locks in nutrients that cannot be digested unless we start breaking down its molecular structure with heat.

Eat:  Brown rice, whole wheat, whole grains, Oats, high-gluten, low-gluten, whatever, it's all fine.  Unrefined sugars - cane, honey, nectars.

Do not eat:  white flour, white rice, refined sugar.  They have had their nutrients stripped, and repeatedly throughout history have been associated with a higher incidence of all major chronic diseases.  Sugar is the worst.  Stop eating it now.
Sadly, for me, this means limiting the amount of pizza and bagels I eat.  I used to be a 8-12 meals a week guy on those two staples.  But no more. 

On corn:  Sweet Corn is great stuff, but should never be eaten without the vegetables that it has traditionally been grown with:  Peppers, Avocados, Tomatos.  These veggies unlock the nutrients in corn.  
Refined corn should not be consumed.  Although I very occasionally cheat with polenta, which tastes too damn good with olive oil and pine nuts.
Corn accounts for most of our sweeteners these days, and they should all be shunned.   Sodas, candy, etc.  

Protein and fiber and micronutrients
The content of protein and fiber, as well as the micronutrients will sort itself if you are eating a healthy variety of foods.  Veggies, nuts and meats all have protein in them, grains, veggies and fruits have fiber.  They all, if prepared right have gobs of nutrients.

the key for protein is not eating un-fermented soy products.  It is time to cut soy milk, tofu (unless in a meat dish, or with meat dishes), soy protein, etc, from our diets.  Soy, as I have written before, inhibits protein and vitamin and mineral digestion.

Food.  Where to purchase.

Most of my food is now purchased at farmer's markets.  this is the only way to ensure that the growers have been responsible (they must be or they will quickly go out of business) in presenting their wares.  Most farmer's markets have strict standards for quality, if not organic, then equal or better.  this is definitely more expensive then the supermarket, but cuts can come from other places in order to make the farmer's market possible.  For example, I do not use an air-conditioner, saving a decent chuck of change over the summer months.  I also do not buy more then 2-3 new pieces of clothing each year, usually 1 pair of jeans and 1-2 shirts.

The second source of foods I like are specialty markets like the italian deli across the street from my apartment.  Caputo's Fine Foods is a fantastic little market in which the family has been selling their own homemade cheeses and pastas as well as the best imported italian food products for generations.  Stores like this have standards that they have not broken, many, like Caputo's have been around before the food fads, government interventions, and bad medical science intervened in our diets.  
Stores like this can be found all over New York City, and in any other places in which a small ethnic population still clings to its traditions.  Astoria for greek markets, Greenpoint for polish markets, Much of south brooklyn for jewish, russian, italian markets, and many others scattered around the 5 boroughs of NY.  I have found small ethnic markets in many other places around the country, not all of them urban.  

How to eat.

1.  Eat fresh.  though this is not a hard and fast rule.  I like imported foods, like anchovies and San Marzano tomatoes.  These foods are not "fresh" but they are preserved in a way that is not chemically detrimental.  In the same way it is always fine to eat pickled vegetables, fermented soy products, and other fermented products.  
2.  Eat Moderately.  Keeping slim is as much about what we eat as it is about how much we eat.  If we eliminate sugars and refined sugars and eat a moderate amount (2000-2500 calories/day) then we will be strong, slender and healthy.
3.  Eat Calmly.  The digestive system can instantly be abandoned by our blood.  When we eat, we focus a large portion of our blood on the abdomen in order to facilitate the movements of the digestive organs, and the transfer of nutrients.  However, if we eat angry, scared, upset, our Cortisol levels will be raised, Cortisol will divert attention away from the digestive system and toward the muscular, endocrine and nervous systems.  The result will be poor digestion.  So eat calm, and eat without reading or watching television.  It is also beneficial to eat with good company.  This both slows down the process of eating and is a nice adjacent process.  In chinese medical theory the thought and synthesis that goes into conversation is guided by the "Earth" organs of the body, the Stomach and the Spleen/Pancreas.  These two organs are our primary digestive bodies.  The association benefits both processes (digesting and communicating).

When to eat.

1.  Eat seasonally.  shopping at farmer's markets make this possible.  It restores a sense of balance in our diets.  I have been doing it for nearly 3 months now, and I have a much improved respect for our farmers and their products in that short time.  Subjectively speaking, I am feeling great, lots of fruits, veggies, eggs, chicken, fish.  No red meat (with one exception that gave me heartburn) until the late fall.   Pork is a bit of year rounder for me, I love the proscuitto and bacon, both of which are year round treats.  

2.  It is important to eat somewhat regularly.  Anyone who has had a dog or a small child knows that these simpler beings thrive on regularity.  As adults we are a bit more flexible, but it is still better to eat regularly then not.  And it is not a great idea to eat after 10pm.  This flies in the face of the prevailing wisdom in the mediterranean countries I have visited, but they have lifestyle alterations that counterbalance the late hour of their dinners.  We in America generally do not have those counterbalances - long strolls through town, afternoon siestas, etc.

These suggestions are intended as a baseline guide, not a comprehensive diet plan.  Fill in the rest as you go, which is my plan.

Be well.

Sources:  my biomedical coursework, including Pathophysiology for each system of the body; Chinese Medical Dietetic recommendations, mostly from the combined knowledge of my teachers on the subject; Gary Taubes "Good Calories, Bad Calories"; Michael Pollan "Omnivore's Dilemma"; 4 months of research driven by this blog, and my own ideas based on 10 years of conscious eating.

{Addendum:  there are many aspects of food I have not mentioned, mostly in the context of Meat eating.  For information of Omega 3's and the right meats to eat click here}

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