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Sunday, May 1, 2011

Food is Life!

I talk a lot about food, and I do so in a way that often rubs people the wrong way. I don't do this intentionally, but... say you were a mechanic, someone who spent more than 60 hours a week working on cars and talking with other mechanics about cars. Suddenly, you realize that the next person you talk to who is not a mechanic thinks you are speaking Greek because your sentence sounds like, "and so I tweaked the intake manifold and that increased the torque" and blah blah blah. Your average person (non-mechanic) is not going to understand a thing you said.

So it is with me when I talk about food. I do have a filter between my brain and my mouth, so I do TRY to minimize talking about food. If I don't already know someone yet, I will probably start by saying that I am a food-Nazi. This means that I am VERY particular when it comes to what food I or my children eat. If I had my way, not even my hubby would eat "junk" food, but he is his own person, and he likes the occasional - or perhaps frequent - consumption of crappy food.

My definition of junk food is a bit different than the normal person's. To me, if a food is something less than the most nutritious that it can be, then it is junk, and should not be eaten by anyone. For example, say that on either side of a clearly marked line grew an apple tree. On the left side of the line the tree is saturated with pesticides, and growing in soil that has been stripped of all the minerals and other nutrients that should be there, and the owner occasionally tries to replace the missing nutrients by adding a chemical containing just 3 of them: NPK (Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium - which is listed on the Periodic Table of Elements under K). (FYI, plants absorb and use the nutrients in the soil they grow in, depleting the soil over time. This is what I refer to when I say the soil has been stripped of nutrients, because unless replaced somehow, they are simply no longer there.)

These 3 are the most essential nutrients without which no plant will grow... Except that they are given to the plant in a synthetic chemical form rather than the natural form. In anatomy, I learned that synthetic nutrients can fool the body into thinking it has the nutrients it needs, but that the body can't actually use them, and so things start to go wrong. I imagine the same is true for plants. It would be like pulling a worn brake drum/rotor off of a car and replacing it with a tough plastic replica. The car thinks that it has the right part, and may even work correctly for a while, but it is not the right part, and does not have the same properties. It will fail, and when it does, the driver had better pray they don't need to stop suddenly to avoid an accident.

On the other side of the line grows an apple tree that has never had a chemical pesticide sprayed on it, and is growing in soil that has been carefully nourished. This may mean that the grower has given it compost or peat or manure from a cow fed only grass or hay, and perhaps an occasional grain treat. It may also mean that the grower has wrapped the tree in a special paper like fly paper to prevent worms from crawling up to the apples, or it may mean that the grower has hung jugs containing a mixture of water, vinegar, and soap from most of the branches to attract and kill bugs that would otherwise eat the apples.
Disregarding the pest control methods for just a moment, I want to focus on the nutrients. If I took a stroll down the line separating the trees, and watched the growers for a bit as they tended their respective trees, I would probably ask the second one if I could have some apples from his/her tree. I would know just by watching that the second tree grew apples from soil that had all of the nutrients readily available to the apples as they grew, and so therefore when I ate that apple, I would be consuming things like calcium and magnesium ( http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/fruits-and-fruit-juices/1809/2 ) rather than ONLY the three offered to the first apple tree. From just a nutritional standpoint, the choice is clear. The apples growing on the left side of the line are junk, and should not be eaten.

Then, I take into consideration the pesticide aspect. Pretty much all commercial pesticides are in a class called organophosphates. ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Organophosphate_poisoningToxicology of Organophosphate & Carbamate Compounds ) These pesticides are nerve agents, and work by attacking nerve cells. If one spayed a pesticide onto an apple, and washed it off within a short time, they would probably be ok, but nature is not a self contained and highly controlled place. If an apple was sprayed with a pesticide, and then it rained at any point after that, the pesticide would wash into the ground, and become part of the "nutrients" available to the apple as it grows. Then multiply that every time the apple tree is sprayed, and factor in the residue in the ground from previous years. I refuse to give my children an apple that has pesticides sprayed on it because not only do I not want them eating the poison directly on - and in - the skin, but I don't want them consuming the poison IN the apple! Even if it was proven to hurt ONLY 1 child in a thousand, I do not want to risk my child being that one.

 According to the FDA, all pesticides are toxic ( FDA Training Manual, on page 19, question 4). Their concern is not keeping the toxicity out of our food supply, but handling it in a way that minimizes the damage done to the people and the environment. Here is a transcript of a talk in which an expert is consulted to assess a type of pesticide for usefulness and damage to the environment. This is an unusual case in that an outside expert was consulted, and independent studies conducted. This was apparently done for training purposes to test the interdepartmental communication. In any case, they found that there really was no acceptable amount of this particular pesticide that would be effective without damage to the environment, but it is stated straight out that this assessment is usually the responsibility of the manufacturer (pesticide registrant) to provide. I do not trust any company that wants to sell a substance to present the information they find in any way except that which makes their product sound good. I think just about everyone can recall a product that was deemed safe, then turned out to be very dangerous. In the category of pesticides, DDT is just one, albeit old, example of something deemed safe that caused horrible diseases and death.

Once I was convinced that food is either nutrient dense or junk - with not much falling in between - I thought choosing food would be simple, but I was wrong. Because while every type of food on the planet offers some nutrition (if they are grown in healthy soil without chemicals), the type and amount of nutrition varies greatly. For example, beets are considered one of the powerhouse vegetables, and even a conventionally grown (AKA a pesticide-sprayed and chemically fertilized) beet contains 10 vitamins, including a small amount of vitamin A but not D, and 10 minerals, in relatively large amounts. They also contain a very small amount of the omega and essential fatty acids. (Called essential because they are needed by the body, and the body can’t make them.) Here is a link to the nutrient profile of beets.

Compare that to eggs, which naturally contain every nutrient necessary to create life. Even poor quality factory farm (I am referring to the type of farm where chickens are kept in something akin to a warehouse with no access to the sun, and are fed the cheapest feed that will keep them alive long enough to do their job) eggs contain at least 12 vitamins, especially the all-important A and D, and 14 minerals. Plus, they have the omega and essential fatty acids in larger quantities. See the profile of eggs here.

Each day, every person should consume enough nutrients to help their body function optimally, but just exactly how much is enough of each nutrient? The answer to that question can be very hard to answer. The government says that there is a recommended daily guideline for each nutrient, and that if a person manages to get at least the RDA, they should be in good shape.

According to a book called Nutrition and Physical Degeneration by Dr. Weston A. Price written in the 30’s, societies that were free of most illness ate far more vitamins and minerals than today’s RDA. At the time, the government recommended amounts were actually much lower.

Now, I’m going to focus on just two of the RDA’s for a moment. Vitamin A is required for normal vision, gene expression, reproduction, embryonic development, and immune function. The RDA for the average adult is 700 units for females, and 900 units for males. See this link taken from the government website My Pyramid.

Vitamin D is necessary to use calcium. Vitamin D maintains blood calcium levels, and helps store excess calcium in bones, keeping them strong, and prevents the body from taking calcium from the bones unless needed. It also plays a role in immune function, and can reduce inflammation. The RDA for vitamin D is 200 IU (international units) for both males and females. Refer again to the link above.

That means that in order for a woman to get her RDA of vitamin A, she would need to eat 4 eggs or 14 cups of beets, and a man would need to eat five eggs or 16 cups of beets. For vitamin D, she’d need to eat 10 eggs but no matter how many cups of beets she ate, she’d still not get any vitamin D. (However, vitamin D can also be manufactured by the body using sunlight, that's just how important the body thinks it is!)

Therefore, if I had only 30.00 to spend on food to nourish a family of 4 for a whole month (thankfully it's not that dire for us!) knowing that I would want to get as much nutrition as possible for a little as possible, I would probably choose to go to the farmer down the street from me who sells chicken eggs for a 1.00 a dozen. I know his chickens are out roaming his land everyday getting sunshine and plenty of bugs to eat, and so I would buy as many as he could sell me, I'll say 15 dozen. That would give me enough money to buy some bread, soy-free mayo, and even butter to fry my eggs in. Now, NO ONE would like eating nothing but eggs for a whole month, but at least we would survive and be healthy to boot!

Another reason I would choose the eggs over the beets (especially if I HAD to choose between just those two for some reason) is that beets are mostly carbohydrates. There is an old adage that says, “You are what you eat,” and it's a fact. Every tissue is manufactured in the body, by the body, using the food eaten as the building blocks. So, if the food eaten doesn’t have enough building blocks, or if the building blocks are of a poor quality, the body, by extension, becomes weakened, and either gets sick, or manifests a disease.

What are the building blocks of a body? Muscles are comprised of protein, and therefore is made from the protein eaten. Bones are made up of many minerals, the most prevalent one being calcium. Nerves, the brain, and cell walls, are made from fat. Everything else is made using some combination of proteins and lipids, and nothing is made up of carbohydrates, except adipose tissue. (Don't believe me? Check out the Anatomy books I used in school Fundamentals of Anatomy & Physiology with IP 10-System suite (8th Edition)Anatomy Coloring Book, The (3rd Edition)) All of the carbohydrates that enter the body are converted into glucose to be used as fuel. The excess glucose is then stored in the body’s cells creating adipose tissue, which is another way to say fat.

 If the body were a car, the protein would be the car's parts, the fats would be its oil, transmission fluid, steering fluid, brake fluid, etc., and carbohydrates would be the gas. A good mechanic would never maintain his own car with poor quality parts, little to no oil, and way too much gas.

If one were to compare the foods pictured on the government recommended food pyramid for nutrient density, one would find that the pyramid recommends eating larger amounts of nutrient poor foods, and almost miniscule amounts of the nutrient dense foods. If one went a step further, and examined the pattern of major illness and obesity in America in relation to the beginning of government nutritional recommendations, it would be found that the more the nutritionally poor foods have been recommended, the worse the health of the population has gotten.

If we are what we eat, then we should choose to eat the foods that will provide us with all of the necessary building blocks while limiting those foods that do not maintain our good health. Nutrient density is important because we are what we eat. What we eat sustains us, and therefore, food is life.

Have a happy day!

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