In the past few years, nutrition has become a controversial subject. To some it's political or ethical, and to some it may be the construct on which they base their lifestyle. To me, nutrition is an important and basic foundation of how I want to live my life. What I put into my body determines what I can get out of my body and for how long.
I love food. I love to cook, plant, grow, and eat food. I am very interested in other peoples' choices and reasoning for what they eat and why, because all of what I eat is conscientiously chosen for a healthier me.
Recently I was thinking about the way Americans eat, and how our bodies have changed in the last several decades. When I look at pictures of my parents, or friends' parents from the 50s, 60s and 70s, I notice one dominant trend: everyone is skinny! Usually I attribute this fad to the fact that our metabolisms slow as we age, but actually that idea only accounts for a fraction of the weight gain that our country has experienced. The fact that we are in an "obesity epidemic" is astounding, and the fact that it affects even young kids is preposterous.
As I contemplated this change in the shape of our country, I watched an episode of 60 Minutes that confirmed the foundation of my own thoughts and assumptions as to why our waistlines are ever growing. The episode talked about the danger of sugar in the American diet, and the detrimental effects it has on our culture. To the beer and sweets loving woman that I am, this topic was a bit hard to swallow, though the underlying principles led me to dig a little deeper.
The 60 Minutes episode pointed out that when the USDA constructed the Food Pyramid in 1992 they stated that fat was bad and that fat made you fat. Unfortunately, this led the leading food manufacturers to improvise because they knew when you take the fat out of food it tastes less than satisfactory. So, to offset the taste of cardboard, they added...sugar! Not just pure cane sugar, but manufactured sugar-substitutes and artificial flavors. Saltines' inclusion of high-fructose corn syrup is an indication of our need for sweet when we don't have fat.
A little history on the Food Pyramid to chronicle this timeline comes from The Washington Post: In 1943, the USDA came out with "The Basic Seven". They detailed what were then considered the seven basic food groups. The Seven included a break down of vegetables into three different groups depending on color. Although they didn't articulate what a serving size was, they introduced how many servings of each group should be included in our daily diet. At the time, butter made up its own food group. Then, in 1956 the USDA cut down the Food Pyramid to the four food groups we know today; dairy, meat, fruits and veggies, and breads and cereals. The focus was to get enough food, rather than to avoid overeating. 1979 brought us portion control, and added fats to sugars and oils as groups to avoid. Finally, in 1992 we were told that all fats are bad and that the majority of our diet should be comprised of grains. Our current recommendation, MyPlate, is basically the same as the Pyramid, just with a savvy, more "recognizable" motif.
So what does this all mean? What major food group shrank as a portion of our diet, while our waistlines grew? Fat. The more we were told to reduce our intake of fat, the more our bodies ballooned and overall health declined. This is not the only factor that has led to the expansion of America (a multitude of factors have varied since the 40s), but it is a key that I can control in my daily life.
Now I look at my grocery cart or my market basket as a reflection of whole and basic products, each purchase an expression of the value of the food itself or its local sourcing. I use vegetables to facilitate the butter that I melt over them. My meats and cheeses are whole fat and whole goodness, and, when the budget and season allows, wholly local. What was once organic half and half is now trumped by local cream, or whipping cream. I buy my local eggs by the dozens and when my sweet tooth kicks in, look for the darkest chocolate I can find. And as I mentioned before, the beer is the one sugar and carbohydrate concession I choose, so when I do, it's going to be local.
As summer nears and home gardens get tilled and turned, it's time to re-evaluate what we eat as well as the where it comes from. In my household, local trumps organic. Organic milk from California is leaving an immensely larger carbon footprint on my front step than a product from a local creamery. I buy local whenever possible and try to find as much information about where my food originated, and the steps it took to arrive on my dinner plate.
There are many factors that have a hand in our overall decline in fitness and health in this country. The exclusion of fat from our diet and the ever growing about of processed foods has a major hand in this decline, and the USDA's recommendations offer little help. MyPlate looks astoundingly different than what my plate resembles in my home. I replace the breakfast cereal with two eggs and melted cheese. I replace the sandwich with cuts of cheese, salami, and olives. For dinner, I include meat to fuel my body with the fats and proteins that I need to keep me moving. The veggies are there too, under the melting butter or what I discovered last night, the fats and juices steamed into them from sizzling bacon for added fats and flavor. I round it off with a local beer on the side, a chunk of dark chocolate, and I am satiated and energized until breakfast rolls around.
Anna Gordon-Norby is a Certified Personal Trainer and the Membership and Sales Advisor at The Women's Club (www.thewomensclub.com/Home) in Missoula, MT, (406) 728-4410.