Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The Nutrition Debate #301: Healthy Food Choices

Unfortunately, this catch phrase has been co-opted and misused by our government’s “Dietary Dictocrats” to mean mostly things that I and like thinkers consider unhealthy food choices, like highly processed vegetable oils. It has also been used to denigrate saturated fat and, until the present iteration of the much anticipated 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, dietary cholesterol. (In case you haven’t heard, cholesterol has been declared “no longer a nutrient of concern for overconsumption.”) If you searched for the USDA’s idea of “healthy food choices,” you should stop reading this now…or, maybe continue reading. You might learn something.
Healthy food choices, in the sense that I mean, are whole, unprocessed foods, including lots of animal-based proteins and fats, together with fresh, whole, low-carb vegetables (mostly of the above-ground grown type), and an occasional berry (with heavy cream) and a few nuts (added to salads, e.g.). It involves the almost complete avoidance of grains, and processed foods made from flour and sugars (cane, beet or corn) and all processed vegetable oils. So, among my healthy food choices, what other choices can I (we) make to be healthier?
Eggs from pastured hens: This was an easy choice. We have, at our farmers’ market, a farmer who raises hens in the manner of Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farm in Virginia, made famous by Michael Pollan’s “Omnivore’s Dilemma.” The hens roam freely and roost in a portable hen house that is towed around every week or two to pastures in which the farm’s ruminants (and pigs) had grazed and left “deposits” to fertilize the fields and nourish the hens. Chickens (and pigs) are omnivores, so the hens get a balanced diet including bugs and, from aged patties, larvae.
Butter from pastured cows: It stands to reason that cows that are fed, during part or all of the year, a diet of mostly silage, will produce milk, cream and butter that have fewer nutrients.  Is it not better for ruminants to eat natural forage instead of fodder? Laboratory tests of milk and butter have confirmed this. Grass-fed cows produce milk and butter that is higher in vitamins, minerals and other essential nutrients like Omega 3 fatty acids. Is it not then a better choice to choose butter made from cows that are grazed on forage all year round? I’m going to start buying butter made from grass-fed cows and ask my wife to use it instead of the store brand.
Wild Caught versus Farm Raised Fish: Of course, I eat wild-caught fish almost every day (a can of sardines for lunch), but choosing wild-caught fresh or flash-frozen fish from the supermarket or fish monger’s case is an easy choice to adopt. Some fish like North Pacific salmon must be wild-caught, but beware of farm-raised salmon from the North Atlantic or South Pacific (Chile). Other types of fish – cod, for example, one of the less expensive species, is always wild-caught and is a white, flaky, non-fishy tasting fish. I make a stove-top recipe with fennel and cauliflower. Halibut with celery, also stovetop, is another tasty wild-caught choice dish. Why not try them?
Lamb chops: Lamb chops, though expensive, are a very good fatty meat choice for a couple of reasons. Most lamb is raised in New Zealand, where they are grass-fed year round. They are not feed-lot raised. And they are ruminants, so they are a good choice for their fatty acid profile (better than chickens and swine). And, since lamb chops are small, they make portion control easy. My wife and I eat just two lamb chops each – about 4 to 6 ounces net – making a perfect protein portion for a supper where my “allowance” is just 25 grams of protein.
Heritage Pork: Supermarket pork, “the other white meat” has had all the healthy fats bred out of it. Supermarket pork chops taste like sawdust unless they are smothered in gravy (ugh!). You just can’t get away from how dry they are. The answer is to buy heritage breed pork. Breeds to look for are: Berkshire, Tamworth, and Red Wattle. Again, your local farmers’ market is the place to look for these superior tasting products, especially roasts. 
Artificial Sweeteners: I have finally weaned myself off artificial sweeteners. I used to take Splenda in my coffee and to sweeten the unsweetened Lipton’s ice tea we drink (instead of water!). Now I use pure stevia leaf extract, a powder with no bulking agents. I understand that stevia is also available as a liquid. I do not know the solvent.

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