Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Healthy Eating: Garbage in, garbage out

Don't dig your grave with your own knife and fork. – English proverb

Photo: tkrasha, flickr ccl
I’m in a fightin’ mood about food. It’s somewhat due to the fact that I hit a “milestone” birthday this past year, among other things. Yes, I know that not all my recipes are the most “healthy” strictly speaking, but I am trying more than I have in the past. And I always remember what Julia Child once said: “All things in moderation, including moderation.”

My more critical frame of mind is also partly thanks to this blog and my research about the food I’ve posted here. I’ve found out so much more than I’ve ever known about what we routinely put into our mouths. And it isn’t at all pretty for the most part.

The life of broiler chickens. Photo: Farm Sanctuary, Flickr ccl
Check here for info about factory farming.
I’m not just talking about fatty versus low-fat foods, or salty versus low sodium. I’m talking about how our food is grown, our ecological footprint, genetic modification, processing issues, sustainability, and even when we choose to eat. There is no doubt the choices we make will impact our health.

I discovered something unusual when I was down to the Halifax Seaport Farmers’ Market this weekend. Doing comparison shopping at the major groceries has sharpened my awareness of pricing. At the Market I made a point of looking at what various vendors were charging for basics such as fruits, vegetables and meats. I discovered something I never realized before. Are you ready? 

Halifax Seaport Farmers' Market vendor food pricing is mostly on par with (or in one particular case lower than) the big chain grocery stores for some products. Of course other market-sold products are more expensive, but on the whole they are pretty equal.

Why should you care?
Large factory farms often use chemicals to control pests, genetically modified seeds and ingredients, and chemical-laced supplements for their livestock. (The corporate drive to be "green" is also not as clear cut as the casual consumer would be aware either. I know. I'm in advertising.) Ironically, the yield per acre is higher on small farms than large factory farms. This information was part of an on-air piece broadcast on CBC Radio last week. It may cost more to run a small farm, but the yield is greater.

A part of every dollar used to buy something from Chile goes back to Chile. That is a fact. Of course there are wages and business profits that stay locally, but most businesses have headquarters elsewhere, so some of the profits go out of the region. 

In comparison, a dollar spent on produce grown locally stays in the local economy. That dollar can then be spent again on the goods and/or services YOU supply in the local economy. See how it works?

So it makes sense on many levels to support our local growers. Not only because it helps improve your local economy, but because what they grow is better for you, has a smaller carbon footprint, etc. Eating better food has the benefit of us requiring less food to eat. There’s more nutrients in the same volume of food.

Photo: cbeltowski, Flickr ccl Check here for some info about
confusing health claims and our assumptions about products.
It cost the same (or just marginally more or less) to purchase locally so why not start by purchasing from local farms where you know who is growing your food, and as importantly, how it is grown. I’m not advocating  a completely organic/chemical-free diet, but steps in that direction are certainly a benefit.

There is so much preventable disease in our modern world, and it is caused mostly by poor dietary habits (compounded by our more sedentary lifestyles).

Of course, no one eats perfectly all the time, but examining personal habits can go along way to recognizing your potential for making “bad” choices and correcting them.

What are some hallmarks of unhealthy eating?

Purchasing groceries every day
It’s easy when you live in a place with a grocery store close by to decide what you want to eat when the time comes to make it. This leads to a poorer overall diet as you do not properly plan to have all the necessary nutrients in your diet. It takes great willpower to not just cook something for dinner because you have a craving... or worse yet, something already prepared.

Eating too many prepared foods
Many prepared foods are convenient killers. They are often high in salt and trans fats, have chemical additives and nitrates to preserve their shelf life, added colour, and any number of other evil things. Oftentimes making the same dish at home in a larger batch and freezing some is more cost effective anyway.

Eating and/or drinking foods high in sugar
Sugar gives you a quick boost, and then lets you down just as hard. The result is we often grab more sugary foods to get that energy back, and the cycle repeats. Eating regularly, including healthy snacks, is a better way to stabilize energy levels throughout the day. Not only can overindulgence in sugar lead to obesity, but also diabetes.

The infamous KFC "Double Down".
Photo: Mike Saechang, Flickr ccl
Eating at your desk or “on the run”
If you eat at your desk or on the go you are most likely eating something that is quick and convenient. Very seldom is the quick and convenient the best dietary choice.

Eating too much
Portion sizes are out of control in North America. I just have to mention the TV show “Man vs. Food” to prove my point. Excess is an epidemic, literally. Not only are many people too fat, but we are passing our poor eating habits on to the next generation. 

In February of 2010 the New England Journal of Medicine reported a direct link between childhood obesity and premature death. Over 10 million Americans between 10 and 17 are obese. One out of every three is overweight.

In Canada, KFC has brought back the “Double Down” for 2011. It is two deep fried chicken breasts for “buns” plus bacon, cheese and the “Colonel’s sauce.” From their site they state it has 540 calories, 32g fat, 1380 mg sodium. Health Canada recommends a maximum “adequate” intake of sodium for an adult of between 1200-1500 mg daily. So the one sandwich leaves little room for other food for a whole day. (Read more about KFC's Double Down here)

“Screen time” and lack of activity
Both adults and children spend too much time in front of “screens” of one form or another, be they TVs, computers, etc. The combination of decreased activity and poor dietary choices are a double whammy against health.

Photo: Jeff Kibina, Flickr ccl Find out more about
Campbell's Soup here.
Mindless eating
We’ve all done it. We’re watching TV and we feel like a snack so we go to the kitchen and grab something quick. Usually we're not even hungry or shouldn't be. We often don’t even remember what we just ate.

Eating too few times during the day
Your mother always told you to eat a healthy breakfast. She was right. Not only does it give you energy to start your day, but the morning decrease in energy level is gradual, as opposed to sugar or caffeine.

By spacing out what you eat during the day (breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, dinner) you will find that you have energy to last through the day and will feel less inclined to eat in the evening. A full stomach before bed means your body isn't burning those calories and will store them as fat. You won’t get as good a night’s sleep either because your body is processing food.

Photo: SETmariposa, Flickr ccl
Even small changes in diet can have far reaching consequences. Better nutrition can actually save you money as poorly nutritional foods often cost more and you want to eat more of them to feel “full.” Better nutrition, by improving your health, can lower potential medical bills. 

Better nutrition will keep you healthier longer, and will give you more energy so you want to partake in activities that get you out and around either to be with family or friends, to exercise or play. Better nutrition pays off both mentally and physically. 

One of the greatest enemies of poor mental and physical health is good nutrition. Even incremental changes can make a difference. It’s your choice.

A quote attributed to Lao-tzu (604-531 BC) sums up what you need to do: “Even the longest journey begins with a single step.”


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