We have all heard the expressions “you are what you eat” and “an apple a day keeps the doctor away.” Turns out these expressions hold more truth than we’d probably like to admit. With so many delectably refined, enriched, neon colored, pseudo foods out there, our brains are more confused than ever before. Today, food is specifically formulated to hit all the right spots on our tongues; also, its being reinforced with chemical additives that stimulate our appetites through receptors in our brain, much like opiates. Then, its all wrapped up in carefully designed, brightly colored packaging, so how could we resist? Not to mention this food is cheap! If you’re on a budget you might be in the crosshairs of the mean machine I’m calling modern food. It’s getting increasingly difficult to see past all the pizzazz, and divert our attention back to plain old, dingy apples, or murky green spinach. I’d like to spill the beans, so to speak, about how I came to believe that modern food is deceiving us and exploiting our weaknesses.
Before I had my children I was aware, to some extent, that the food I was attracted to, and ate regularly wasn’t the best. It can be very difficult to weed out the ‘bad eggs’ of the bountiful grocery store shelves. A pivotal point in my nutritional pilgrimage was when I found out I was carrying my first son. I started reading about nutrition and learning how the systems of the body digest and use the foods we eat. I began by reading articles on the Weston A. Price Foundation website, whose proclamation is: “Restoring nutrient-dense foods to the American diet through education, research and activism.” I learned that I had an opinion about nutrition, and that I didn’t agree with a lot of the guidelines set for us. I discovered that the largest section on the American Food Pyramid, reserved for 6-11 servings, belonged to grains. Eating this quantity of any one type of food each day is alarming in itself. I decided to look into the topic of grains in particular. I read the book “Wheat Belly” by author, William Davis, a renowned cardiologist who noticed the adverse effects that modern day wheat is reaping on our bodies. This book is an alarming read. It basically states that modern wheat is actually a product of genetic tinkering and agribusiness and not the wheat our grandparents ate. This “wheat” is highly toxic and should be completely removed from our diets. I decided to use this new perspective of food to my advantage, and ultimately to the benefit of the bun I had in my oven.
With all this nutritional information and a baby on the way, I could no longer deny that I needed to change my diet. Even still, I would have never guessed how difficult this change would be. I was about to be served a huge slice of humble pie. It would seem that modern agriculture and big business did not want me to know what was in my food. Standing in the grocery store isles reading the back of packages was tedious, but crucial. I practically had to learn a new vocabulary to dissect the 15 letter terms on the ingredient lists. I must have missed the lesson in school on Mono- and Diglycerides: The most common emulsifiers, and Xanthan Gum: The most common stabilizer and thickener. Since these ingredients are abundant in prepared foods, maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to throw them a bone early on, with a lesson on additives. Can you imagine a nursary rhyme filled with words like Thiamin Mononitrate, Benzoate, and Hexametaphosphate? The story of Hansel and Gretel stumbling upon a house made of Monosodium Glutamate. The Cookie Monster chomping down on some yummy, crunchy, calcium chloride.
This brings me to my next bone of contention with modern food, one that has become especially prevalent in teaching my children proper nutrition. Why is it necessary to dress up the boxes of terrible foods with cartoons my children recognize? It feels slightly like an ambush to me. It’s come to the point where taking my kids to the store has become dreadful because every turn they want Dora this, and Spongebob that. The natural, instinctive attraction to healthy foods is being ripped from our children as a result of targeting and over marketing. That adorable rabbit on the box of cereal is pulling more Trix on me than I would have ever guessed.
Amply informed, we decided to change our eating habits as a family. We started full force, because lets face it, there is no easing into a change like this. I gathered my groceries and we began our health experiment. We didn’t consume any gluten, we amped up our fats, we ate tons of meat and dairy, and we plied on the fruits and vegetables. I got creative with snacks and meal plans to keep from feeling repetitive. The first few weeks were hard; I’d pick up a cracker, and right when I’d go to take a bite, I’d realize that I wasn’t supposed have it, so I’d put it back. Although, there were many more times that I would actually take a bite, and then end up having to abort that mouthful, mid-chew. With all big adjustments, the beginning is the hardest. Days went by, then weeks, and this became less of a stumbling block and more second nature.
Beginning this endeavor with hopes of avoiding certain substances, we didn’t anticipate the other benefits that would ensue. We showed noticeable weight loss, increased stamina and energy, mind clarity, and drastically improved digestive function. We might as well have hit the wellbeing jackpot. Our pocketbooks, however, would reflect a significantly less profitable state. We were learning just how expensive keeping stocked on perishables, such as fruits, vegetables, meat, and dairy could be. This is where, I believe, the American food system has deeply failed us. You can buy an overflowing cart of prepared foods for about $100 and have it last over a week, but the same amount of healthy food would cost well over $200, and possibly last that long. Why should the low income families be forced into buying imitation food? We all know that this is more than an epidemic in America, where every year more people die from diet related complications than car crashes, alcoholism, and drug use combined. Children are being born with new age conditions. Childhood obesity and diabetes has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years. How could that not be diet related?
It is almost inconceivable that there could be such a simple fix to these enormous problems. It doesn’t involve depriving ourselves of delicious foods, its more about avoiding toxic chemicals and genetically engineered ingredients hiding in our food. Whether it is an obvious, 15 letter ingredient like those mentioned previously, or a seemingly innocent grain, like the toxic GMO wheat; We need to understand what we are consuming and ultimately nourishing our bodies with. There is an expression I like that does a good job summing up, “You can be well fed and malnourished at the same time.”