Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Food is Not the Enemy


Image courtesy of Qfamily under Creative Commons License.

Did you ever have someone say something to you that just annoyed the h-e-double-hockey-sticks outta you?

Friday was National Donut Day. It was all over the blogosphere, and to pass the word on to my friends, I posted it on my facebook page. One "friend," who shall remain nameless, left a snarky response that just ticked. me. off.

She basically blamed the donut for diabetes and obesity in America.

Huh?

There are lots of foods out there that, if eaten in excess, will cause health problems down the road in some people.

We've all heard of somebody's grandpa that ate steak & eggs cooked in butter every morning for breakfast, smoked a pack of unfiltered camels a day and drank a healthy glug of whisky nightly who lived to the ripe old age of 96, dying peacefully in his sleep. Or my own Mr.W, who can drink Southern-Style Sweet Tea (2 cups of sugar per gallon of tea--yikes!) like it's going out of style, eat Sweet Tarts and Hot Tamales by the boxful and snarf Chick Fil-A daily when on out-of-town business trips (to locales that have them) and suffer no effect to his overall health. No diabetes. Cholesterol in check. All is well.

It happens.

But for many of us, too much fatty meat = high cholesterol. Too much cake = you get fat. Too much salt = high blood pressure. For others, who for some reason or other end up with diabetes, nut allergies, gluten intolerances or what have you, food becomes trickier. Except for folks with life-threatening allergies, I still wouldn't classify food as the enemy.

Diabetic myself, as a result of having a condition called Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), I have learned to cope with--no, enjoy--not eating a number of things. I find alternatives, avoid some things, learn to love varied other foods, and, on rare occasion, eat something that's usually on the no-no list.

Like a donut. With all the hype, I wanted one Friday. I went to the shop with my brother and had 3 donut holes* with a cuppa joe. No harm done; blood sugar still under control.

Even processed foods can be eaten with good results. Now, I know I'm sticking my neck out here--it's definitely not fashionable to enjoy boxed mac & cheese. But I like it, and most people I know do, too. I'm certainly not going to make a habit of eating the stuff on a regular basis--but in and of itself, is it evil?

How about an occasional hot dog? Chock full of nitrites and overly processed meats, the hot dog's health value is dubious at best. Does that mean it should never be consumed?

Wine and other boozy beverages cause alcoholism in millions of people.

Butter is saturated fat that causes heart disease. Margarine is trans fat.

Sugar-laden sodas cause cavities. Sugar-free sodas containing artificial sweeteners aren't all that good for you, either. Water, free from the tap, is loaded with chemicals to balance the toxins poisoning our lakes and rivers.

Peanuts contain mercury. So do many types of fish.

Don't even get me started on High Fructose Corn Syrup.

Geez, after all that, one might begin to believe that food is, indeed, the enemy. But it isn't. Food doesn't kill people. People kill people.

If you eat French pastries at every meal, you have no one to blame but yourself when your doctor says you've developed a risk of heart disease along with that spare tire. If you eat nothing but bologna and processed American "cheese" product sandwiches on white bread you'll probably have high blood pressure, at the very least. If you consume loads of canned nacho cheese and chips, with very little vegetable intake, you might just find yourself feeling sluggish, tired and not quite yourself. (Hello, nutritional deficiency!) If you drink nothing but caffeinated beverages, you will find yourself with an addiction that makes you jittery and prone to headaches if you don't get your fix.

But a varied diet and a healthy dose of exercise will outweigh the damage that those negative effects might have. Vegetables. Whole grains. Meat--meat is good, people! Fish. Nuts. Cheese. A smattering of fat and the occasional processed food won't kill you. A regular diet of it might.

A glass of wine is full of antioxidants. Nuts contain healthy fats and help diabetics balance their diets. Dairy brings calcium for strong teeth and bones. Fish helps you have a shiny coat--oops, I mean, fish brings heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids to the party. Butter, well, it just tastes so doggone delicious. And corn syrup sure does make some darn tasty candies and ice cream.

A donut a day probably won't keep the doctor away, but that doesn't mean you can't enjoy one once in a while.

Moderation in everything, you know.


Image courtesy of Pink Sherbet Photography under Creative Commons License.

At the end of this tirade, I must say that I'm still perturbed at my so-called friend's comment. It irks me when someone slaps a label on a particular food that says, "BAD." Let's rather focus on nutritional education--I'd love to see it in schools. Maybe it is already, I don't know. I've been out of school for, well, many years decades now. Using food as a reward--well, that's not really a good idea. Focusing on food as a blessing, as a necessity for our bodies, and, for some things, perhaps even an occasional treat is a healthier way to ensure lasting health.

And I de-friended her. I definitely don't need snark from friends.

*I chose donut holes instead of a whole donut because (a) it was $.45 instead of $.95, (b) I would have been enticed to get a filled donut, with much greater sugar load, and (c) I got to have 3 different flavors instead of only one.

15 comments:

Andy said...

Great post! I pretty much agree with everything you said. I could probably stand to eat less meat and more veggies, but no single thing is going to kill me. I figure a person can probably be pretty healthy with putting very little thought into their diet - just don't eat too much of any one thing.

I like the way you spelled out that every food will both kill you and make you healthier. I actually saw one article that said saturated fats have never been proven to increase heart disease or something like that - it was always saturated fats plus something else, so they may not really be too bad (not surprising to you probably).

Also, I love boxed mac & cheese.

Amanda said...

I knew I liked you for a reason, Andy! Mac & cheese... good stuff, good stuff!

I, too, have read articles suggesting that saturated fat might not be as bad as we first thought it to be. If I remember correctly, it stated that scientists have simply found clusters of cholesterol/fat/whatever at the site of heart attacks and that the assumption was/is that's what causes the attack--but perhaps it's there to repair damage. No one really knows for certain.

Not that I have an opinion on that particular issue one way or another; I've just seen too many times when science declares a food "bad" (like eggs) and then says it's good after all. I just don't believe it carte blanche anymore, instead choosing variety and moderation.

Thanks, as always, for your comment.

Sara said...

I totally agree with you - although I can't help but feel guilty when I eat doughnuts :)

Anonymous said...

I pretty much agree with what you said, too.

I've also read that saturated fat doesn't cause heart disease and I think there might be some truth to it I do think it might be saturated fat in combination with a diet that is high in processed foods and low in vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes.

I have heart disease. A couple of years ago I started eating more meat and substituted butter for the "healthy" margarine. I was due to have lab work done and almost cancelled the appointment so I could clean up my diet. But I decided to go ahead with the lab work and decided I'd just tell the doctor what I'd done, repent and go back to the "healthy" ways. Much to my surprise, all the numbers had improved. I've continued to eat that way and there has been continued improvement.

I think the reason somebody's grandpa ate steak and eggs, etc., and lived to 96 is because his diet was based on real food. And not only real food, but real food grown and cooked without antibiotics and other chemical additives.

Sally

Amanda said...

Thanks, Sara. I know what you mean--we all have our own guilt relating to various food indulgences.

Sally--well said! How fascinating that your test results have improved as a result of sticking with natural products instead of the "healthy" frankenfood alternatives! Here's to REAL food: hip, hip, hooray!

SarahKate said...

Great post, mate. I totally agree. Moderation is key in everything. America suffers from a lack of a real "food culture", which results in this idea that we must label food "good" or "bad". Other cultures around the world eat food that we think is "bad", but they eat it in moderation and enjoy every well-deserved bite. Let's all lighten up about food a little and celebrate the wonderful ways that food adds to our lives.

JMom said...

I've de-friended snarky commenters too. Don't need that negativity.

I agree with you wholeheartedly on your rant. Sometimes people go overboard with the healthy kick. No matter how healthy and fit you are you will still die when a truck runs over you.

SO, moderation and commonsense, I think is the key. Be healthy but still live life or what's the point of living long if you can't enjoy it? and food is certainly one of the best things about being alive :)

Great post!

Amanda said...

SarahKate--great insight on the food culture. I had not thought of it quite that way, but reading it now it makes so much sense.

JMom--Amen! It's all about enjoying a long, healthy life!

Joy @ Joy Of Desserts said...

Three doughnut holes aren't going to kill anybody. My particular philosophy is to eat what I want, when I want, just do it in moderation and make sure I get enough activity (note I'm not even saying exercise!). For most healthy people, our bodies know how to regulate themselves. If we were to eat too many doughnuts, we would just get sick of them before they made us sick. It's the entire balanced diet that's important, not 3 doughnut holes on National Doughnut Day. Some people need to get a life, and she can do it without you or most of us for that matter. Enjoy life and stay healthy. Stress out over everything including the very polluted air we breathe, and live one sad life with an early death.

Amanda said...

Joy--here, here! I like what you wrote here:

"My particular philosophy is to eat what I want, when I want, just do it in moderation and make sure I get enough activity (note I'm not even saying exercise!)"

That's a fantastic philosophy. I'm about at the same place, of course with exceptions due to my diabetes. I'll either come up with a safer substitute, or plan for the indulgence by adjusting how I eat the rest of the day.

I also love how you identify that over-indulging in a thing will most likely result in your getting sick of it way before it does you any harm.

I'm really enjoying all the responses that this article is generating--and glad that there are several of us foodbloggers not caught in the "good" and "bad" food misconception.

Sarah said...

The world needs more people like you. Amen to moderation - it saved my life.

Amanda said...

Why thank you, Sarah. How nice of you to write that.

I hope you're enjoying a gorgeous weekend--ours here in Central New York is finally warming up. It may actually even get hot enough for some pooltime fun!

Anonymous said...

I should clarify something. Prior to starting to eat more meat and adding real fats to my diet, I drastically reduced the processed foods I consumed. Will I eat a donut? You bet. There's also always a blue box of macaroni and cheese in my pantry, there's Jiffy cornbread mix, a box of brownie mix and even some cans of condensed cream of something soup. But not only is that about it -- they're used infrequently.

SarahKate -- Pollan's right. Americans have never had a single strong food culture. But I realized something recently. While we've never had a strong food culture in terms of what we eat -- neither does any other country. Cuisines vary a great deal from region to region within any given country, and then also from country to country.

What was very similar were habits associated with eating and they were similar from region to region as well as country to country. People brought those habits with them to the U.S. and while the food was different, the habits were much the same.

Michael Pollan said that our relationship with food has changed more in the last 50 years than in the previous 10,000 years. While there have been many things that have contributed to that, I think there's one change that made us more vulnerable to the others: women left the kitchen.

Traditionally, it was the mothers, grandmothers, aunts, other female relatives and friends who taught us not only how to cook, but what, when and how and where to eat it. We've turned that responsibility over to the food industry -- and they haven't done a very good job.

Where there’s a strong, home-based food culture, many of the problems we have with food exist to a much lesser degree or may not exist at all. The fewer “experts” there are to tell people how and what to eat, the better they seem to eat.

My apologies for the length of this!

Sally

Amanda said...

No apology necessary, Sally. What an interesting observation you've made here--thank you for sharing it with us.

I was discussing this article and comments with my husband just yesterday, and he said, "What about Southern food? I'd call that a food culture." He's right. But I countered with my own background--family from French immigrants with an only child (my grandmother) who was spoiled and never learned to cook. That venerable wife-of-the-50s developed a cooking style of a can of this and a can of that... much like what Paula Deen with her sweets recipes. Although that's a food culture in itself (cooking with convenience products), it's that overuse--a can of cream of mush soup nightly in some crazy concoction--that draws one away from a regular dose of fresh vegetables and simply prepared food.

I'm a 2nd generation of American women who were taught to cook by opening cans and boxes, or just not taught at all and just picking stuff off supermarket shelves, "This looks good." I hear it all the time.

Hey, I likes me some cream-of stuff on occasion, myself (though I make a roux-based version to use instead), but back to our original theme: moderation.

Anonymous said...

I'm a second generation of American woman who was taught to eat out! My father was self-employed and my mother worked with him and they typically spent about 14 hours daily at the store. In fact, I never went home after school; I always went to the store.

I'm not sure if it was due to this lack of time, whether my mom just didn't like to cook or wasn't a very good cook -- but we ate out more than we ate at home. What she cooked at home didn't evoke pleasant food memories -- with just a few exceptions. My best food memories come from the Woolworth's lunch counter and a few local restaurants (this was back in the 50s and 60s when fast food and chain restaurants were nonexistant in my hometown).

With those few exceptions, most of the food I've tried to recreate from my childhood come from those small, local restaurants!

I think you're right about Southern food, though I'd hope it would be more Edna Lewis than Paula Deen. However, I think Paula probably cooked differently before the Food Network came along.

Sally

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