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Levels of knowledge and concern about eating and health

Sorry for the hiatus in posts; I have been travelling and visiting with children and grandchildren, which afforded me little time to write but ample time to think about the hierarchy of nutrition and health comprehension in our society. It seems to me that we can define 3 broad levels of nutrition/health awareness.

Level 1. This includes the majority of people and the least amount of understanding or concern. Food choices are based on taste, cost, habit, ease of preparation, and availability. These are the people consuming the standard American diet (SAD). Major components of this eating style include fast food from chain restaurants, prepared meals from the supermarket or deli, easy to eat snack foods, and frozen, canned, or boxed foods that are easy to cook or microwave. The main ingredients in these foods are refined sugars and starches, cheap vegetable oils and cheap grain-fed meat. The taste is enhanced by the addition of chemical flavoring agents and multiple trips through the deep fryer. The combination of sugar in all its forms and the wrong kinds of fat give us food that is addicting at the same time that it is lacking in nutrients. These two qualities do not assuage hunger; in fact they encourage overeating. The SAD is adequate in protein from the burgers, but lacking in fruits and vegetables and way too heavy on sugars, starches and poor quality fats. It is a recipe for obesity, diabetes, cancer, heart disease, etc. People eating this way do not perceive the link between diet and health or deny that it exists.

Level 2. To counter the disastrous state of the SAD the nutrition and medical communities have proffered the purportedly healthy diet. They recommend a largely plant based diet, with the majority of the food being whole grains, fruits, vegetables and legumes, and smaller amounts of lean meats, skim milk, egg whites, and a very small amount of vegetable oils. The most demonized food is saturated fat, which is lumped with trans fats as causing instant heart disease. This is the current advice from our government and is what most people think of as a healthy diet because it is promoted so loudly in the media. It guides what is fed to our children in school lunches and the WIC program, and to people in institutional settings of all kinds. Health food stores promote it, as do restaurants and packaged foods trying to be perceived as healthy. Highly processed and reformulated foods such as high fiber breakfast cereals, low fat dairy products, egg replacers, margarines, soy products of all sorts, and sports drinks and bars are considered healthy because they are low fat or low saturated fat, or have added fiber and a few synthetic vitamins and minerals. Non-caloric sweeteners are encouraged. Organizations supposedly working for our health, such as the AMA, AHA, ADA, Am. Cancer Society, etc, also promote it. Vegetarians and vegans fall into this eating pattern. It is an improvement over the SAD in that fruits and vegetables are encouraged, but it is woefully lacking in nutrient-dense whole foods of animal origin. Unfortunately, this is the way most health-conscious people are trying to eat, but many are failing because the diet is so unsatisfying.

Level 3. Real food; what everyone ate 100 ago; most nutrient dense; highest level of nutritional understanding. This is whole food without chemical additives, stabilizers, flavor enhancers, preservatives, and non-caloric sweeteners. This is a diet rich in healthy animal fats, coconut oil and olive oil. Many types of meat, organ meats, fish and foul are eaten, but they are humanely raised on their natural diets or wild caught, and have not been force fed grain, gobs of soy, animal byproducts, antibiotics and hormones to obtain maximum growth in minimum time. Lots of vegetables and fruits are consumed in season from local sources, and many are also consumed fermented. Grains are used in moderation and properly prepared by soaking and/or sprouting to make them more digestible. Dairy products are consumed raw from a local source. Eggs are from chickens allowed to run freely outdoors. As more and more people are discovering the health and taste benefits of this type of eating it will become more and more available. This is food that will rot or spoil, but is eaten before it does!

Now lets follow the money. The SAD is hugely profitable for the big food companies—cheap sugars, flours, oils and meat turned into a myriad of products that cost only pennies to make and sell at huge profits. The pharmaceutical and medical industries also profit because this way of eating is a prominent factor in our prevalent lifestyle diseases—obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, arthritis, allergies, etc., chronic diseases that need ongoing and expensive treatment. The so called healthy diet is also profitable for the food industry because it is allowed to print health claims on highly processed products, also made predominantly of cheap grains and oils. And the medical and pharmaceutical industries still profit because people eating this sort of low fat diet do not regain health long term and still need chronic care and medication. No wonder the big food and pharmaceutical companies fund nutrition and medical research! The traditional diet does not put money into the pockets of food, pharmaceutical or medical corporations. It affords a decent living to farmers who raise animals and plants in a sustainable manner and it cuts the medical costs for those eating this type of diet. But there are no deep pockets promoting it, so people need to find out about this way of eating on their own.

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