Mar 31, 2010

Food politics as religion

I have never understood the food-as-hobby thing. Of course, I’ve never understood the car-as-hobby thing, either. Some things are just used by most of us, while others of us delve into the inner workings, the bits and pieces, and know the subject from the inside out.

I have a friend who delves into food, and with it, food policy. I have left my comments on her blog since food policy (rather than actual cooking) fascinates me, too. A comment in her blog post about avoiding animal fats almost had me using up her comment space. My goodness, arguing about food! Not what it tastes like or whose going to cook it, but what it actually is.

I realized that my opinions about food were in part colored by what I had read and heard about it. Part of what I had read was that animal fats are not the reason for human obesity. Or heart disease.

And that’s when it hit me: Food policy is like a religion. People argue about what the tenets are, whose canon to follow, and which prophet to listen to. Various diets are like different denominations. We all know we must eat, but what to eat echoes the discussion that we all must worship God but how and which God? Does it serve God to deny yourself all things good (piety)? Does it serve your body to deny it all things fattening, sweet or highly caloric? Do the ones with the bloody Jesus have it right or do the ones who don’t have Jesus at all know better? Are only vegetable fats good for you? Or should we all be eating butter?

Recent findings in the world of food research suggest the following (in no particular order):

  1. It is becoming clear that being fat does not necessarily mean being well-fed. All good diets have a lot of vegetables and focus on food made from scratch with natural ingredients; the foods are not refined. If you want control over your weight and/or health, learn to cook at home.


  2. For any size human, overweight or not, avoid edibles that come in boxes or have long lists of ingredients on them; this includes soy products. They are edible, yes, but not they are not food. (See point 1.)

  3. Approach soy with caution (for the time being; studies are still arguing about it). If you’re going to eat soy products, eat them in their most whole and natural state; get the organically grown kind. Soy additives to food that do not normally have soy in them (like bread and cookies) should be avoided (same goes for soy-fed animals and meat substitutes). Soy was originally planted to replenish spent soils about every 7 years, not as a regular food crop. In Asia, it is eaten only in a fermented form. If you want vegetarian protein, there is less controversy over regular beans. And whole grains have protein.

    Cite: (this page offers links to both sides of the story)

  4. High cholesterol does not cause anything. Recent studies have shown that many heart attack victims had low cholesterol at the time of their attack. Elevated cholesterol may be a sign of infection, damage to the blood vessels or a thyroid condition. Cholesterol is the canary in the mine shaft; its changes are a warning, not a cause. Note: Your doctor may not know this.


  5. Fruit is tricky. Whole fruit has health benefits because it contains vitamins and fiber, but the sugar in fruits make them high caloric. (Fruit juices are no better for you, your waistline or your teeth than a soft drink; stick with actual fruit.) The way to control calories is to make sure vegetables are the bigger part of your five-a-day. Vegetables are actually just as or more nutritious than fruit.

  6. Onwards to the sweetener that is in “everything”: High fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Avoid it. Avoid it and table sugar. The body does not know what to do with fructose; it is the only sugar that doesn't get processed in the gut (i.e. converted to glucose which tells the brain and the pancreas that you have eaten). So the fructose gets “filed away” by the liver into fat cells, preferably the ones closest to the digestive system: Your waistline. If you want to shrink your middle, start by shrinking the HFCS in your life.

    I got all that from this 90 minute video on obesity stats and human metabolism (I enjoyed the biology lesson): Sugar: The Bitter Truth - a lecture on digestion with Dr. Robert H. Lustig, MD - well worth the time. Or read about his talk here.

  7. Animal fat never hurt nobody. See my point above about cholesterol (point 4). That’s the only reason we’re being told to avoid animal fats, because it is believed animal fats raise cholesterol (and they may or may not do this) and increased cholesterol leads to heart attacks (er,no; see point 4). If you’re wondering about trans-fat, that belongs in the category about avoiding anything man-made or factory-made. (See point 2.)

  8. Eat bread. Unless you really need to strictly low-carb, starches are still a healthy part of any diet. Any whole meal bread is actually a great source of soluble fiber (the kind of fiber that people with irritable bowel syndrome can handle) and vitamin B and energy. A well-made sandwich is nutritious and filling and you don’t have to know how to cook to make one. Norwegians have traditionally eaten bread at three of their four daily meals (the fourth is a hot meal), and have one of Europe’s longest life spans. You can stick with rye breads if you need to low-carb.

    The best is to learn to bake your own, but if you’re like me and your attempts label you a bricklayer, then read labels on the store bread carefully. Basic bread is made of flour, yeast, some oil or butter, water and maybe salt to taste. Common and acceptable “additives” are seeds and sugar/malt/syrup (not HFCS!). There is no reason to add anything else to whole meal bread.
This page will guide you:

The above, of course, is what I have found makes sense. You may or may not agree. I am happy with my current choice of prophets in this matter and bought butter the last time I shopped. Just cream and salt. A pure, natural food. It makes more sense to me than margarine.

Wordless Wednesday - Easter Egg

Wordless Wednesday

Mar 19, 2010

From winter into spring

This the last day of winter. Tomorrow, March 20, is the first day of spring astrologically and astronomically, and the sun enters the sign of Aries and crosses the equator, heading for the Tropic of Cancer.

Outside we have a good old-fashioned storm, with squalls blowing rain sideways. It is the first proper rain since December, and tonight it will clear away what's left of the snow on the ground, after 91 days of white cover.

Water is beading on all my windows, and I can hear the wind as it occasionally rises high enough to be heard over the music I have on in the background and my little space heater. It is weather for curling up in a blanket with a book and a cup of tea to candlelight. Or for taking said cup of tea to the desk and do a bit of blogging.

I had a starling on my feeder yesterday. They are migratory birds so to see one with snow still on the ground was both odd and encouraging. I, however, find myself not yet ready for spring. I've actually enjoyed the winter, if not some of the colder days. I will transition into the brighter, warmer half of the year, eventually. I have already shed my winter coat - literally. The down coat I bought on a freezing Wednesday evening in December has been worn every day this season until this week. It was hung up permanently until next winter, also on a Wednesday. My black rain coat is back in good graces.

I haven't been posting here much, but I have been a bit wordier on my weather blog with the astrology behind my forecasts there taking up a lot of my time - delightfully so. The astrology is one reason why this past season and the coming spring and summer are far more interesting this time around. To scan the ephemeris and watch the planets move through the signs, contacting each other and then losing touch, bringing in and taking away weather has been quite educational about both weather and astrology.

So educational, in fact, that I've been learning a lot of new things about climate change. Like: a) it's happening all the time, and b) it's been worse before, so c) it ain't us - it's the planet.

I've told friends that I'm not concerned about the climate; pollution and the wasting of water and energy do concern me. I have bought a couple of reusable bottles and fill them with tap water, for example, because it takes 20 times (I believe the figure was; you can look this stuff up) the amount of fresh water to make a bottle of water, including the bottle itself. And it doesn't taste any better. Stuff like that.

A howling wind outside on a Friday evening in March is actually perfectly normal for March where I live. Happy Spring Equinox!