Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Healthy Food Fears

I've been noticing lately that when I talk with friends about nutrition, they are often fearful about changing their eating. It's not that they are afraid they can't make the changes (well, perhaps, that's a part of it), but they seem to be fearful that something bad may happen to their bodies if they give up certain foods or add in others. I think it's interesting because the real fear should be continuing on with the Standard American Diet. It's pretty obviously not leading to health and longevity in our modern society.

Here are some common thoughts I hear:

Protein -- Many have asked, "Where will I get my protein if I don't eat animal products?" Sometimes they're afraid of not getting enough protein even just cutting back on or cutting out meat. Dairy and eggs are both known for being high in protein, but many people are afraid that they still won't get enough protein if they don't eat meat. If they stop eating dairy products, the fear increases. I don't know where this fear comes from. Like Dr. Fuhrman has said, it would be pretty rare in a developed country such as ours to find someone who is protein deficient or deficient in any of the macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates or fats). It's the micronutrient (vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals) deficiencies that we need to be concerned about (and those are primarily found in plant foods). All foods contain some protein and the myth of the need to combine foods to get a complete protein has been debunked a few decades ago. Look to the plant-eating animals. They develop their muscles somehow just fine without eating meat. Yet we still question because of inaccurate scientific studies from many years ago. Here's a post I wrote about protein awhile back if you want some further information. Oh, and I just found another previous post comparing plant protein to animal protein.

Fat -- I've had friends or relatives question the fat I'm getting from eating a variety of raw nuts or even from drinking coconut water or adding coconut meat to smoothies. One person even asked as she was about to eat some pizza smothered with cheese and pepperoni. The fat-free craze of the 90's did cause some confusion about fat intake. I think the result of people eating fat-free snacks around the clock and still not losing weight showed America that this science was a little skewed. Avocados, walnuts and flax seed are becoming more well known as good fats. Olive oil has gotten a good name too. It's still much better to get the oil from the actual olive, but we're headed in the right direction by understanding that not all fats are bad for us. We still don't need a huge amount from them, but I've found that when I get my fats from whole foods, I don't gain weight. In fact, I am often able to lose weight just fine eating fats throughout the day.

Dairy -- Many people think that the only reason to limit or stop eating dairy products is if you are lactose intolerant or if you are allergic to it. Several people mistake my problems with dairy as an actual allergy. I guess you could look at a food that doesn't promote health in your body as an allergy, but for me I can see that dairy simply lowers my immune system. I can eat dairy in December and not get asthma or hay fever because the allergens that cause those problems for me are not in the milk, they are in the seasonal blossoms and grasses. If I have any dairy products during peak allergy seasons, I am a complete allergy mess. If I avoid it and eat whole foods, I am just fine (and am medication free). However, I also see a connection with dairy (and refined foods -- just have to throw that in because they both give me problems) and the susceptibility to get sick. When I am eating a non-dairy whole food diet, I don't get all the flus and colds that go through my home. I'm as strong as an ox. When I've eaten cheese (or refined flours or sugars), my immune system falls and I get sick pretty quickly.

It's pretty evident that dairy foods weaken my body. My face breaks out when I eat dairy too. Maybe not everyone is as sensitive as I am, but I've heard a few things that make me think others are without realizing it. My son was practicing singing yesterday and said that he'd heard that he shouldn't eat dairy before a performance because it causes mucus to form in the throat. I've heard that too. And my mom used to tell me not to eat dairy when I had a cold to avoid stuffiness. Dairy probably causes mucus formation all the time (I know it does for me), but we're just more observant of it at certain times. I also heard that some children who are on chemotherapy aren't supposed to eat dairy because it lowers their already weak immune system. Interesting that those findings haven't extended to children everywhere. Instead it's the opposite. My children's lunch room is full of milk-mustache posters (which I've never thought were beautiful -- even when I drank milk) encouraging the kids to drink their milk.

I'll have to admit that I had my own non-dairy fear before I learned about the health benefits of avoiding it. I didn't think I'd be satisfied without cheese on my tacos or pizza. I didn't think I could go without milk after eating a peanut butter sandwich (or chocolate chip cookies, brownies, or all those things we think milk goes perfectly with). My very favorite snack was graham crackers and milk. And of course, there's the love of cereal and milk. But I've found my favorite almond milk works just fine with any of those -- and since I've been eating more whole foods, I rarely eat any of those "needs milk" foods anyway (and I've definitely changed the way I've shopped for or cooked those foods -- I eat healthier versions now). Here's an earlier post I wrote about switching to nondairy eating and another about non-dairy cooking.

Hunger / Not Feeling Satisfied --The other day I was at the check-out stand at Trader Joe's (which I've got to say has THE most friendly checkers I've ever seen -- I love going there), and the checker somehow got on the subject of saying that healthier foods don't taste as good as unhealthy foods. He said something like, "You've heard the saying, 'If it tastes good, then it's not good for you." I probably used to think things like that. But I've learned by giving up certain food addictions (which mess up your taste buds) that real food tastes amazing. Think of biting into that fresh strawberry. There's nothing like it. I love coming home from the store and sampling the new produce I've just bought. There are lots of "mmmmm"s and "ohhhhh"s when I do because it's just so yummy. The more you learn to eat and prepare whole foods, the better they will taste to you. I've loved watching how I've progressed over the years when I travel. I used to use a vacation as an excuse to eat everything I would normally tell myself was a bit much (or not healthy at all). Over the past few years, I've done just the opposite. I've actually been craving the fruits and vegetables which is a HUGE leap for me.

As for not feeling satisfied, I've found that the less processed food I eat and the less amount of breads, grains, and even starchy vegetables I eat, the more satisfied I am with what I eat. Grains alone (and any sugarful food) just makes me want to eat more and more. It doesn't fill me up like it should. It leaves me hungry for more or for something else. When I'm eating minimally, yes, I get hungry, but as soon as I eat, I feel wonderful for quite some time. When I snack or eat a lot of starches, I just want to eat all day long. It's self-perpetuating (and somewhat maddening). When I make sure I eat vegetables with my grains or starches, then I get full faster and feel fine.

Guess that's it. Here's to healthy eating! TTFN!

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