Real Food Through Raw Nutrition Data

November 17, 2013

Food: health, obesity, diet, choices, calories, sugar-free, fat-free, low-sodium, plant-based, high-fiber, mineral-enriched, organic, all natural, whole grain. There! – now with all these terms you should feel motivated and more informed to eat right and live healthy. No? Really? We are subjected to these words over and over and over, each and every single day from the messages we receive, all trying to influence our food choices and sway our food dollars. What kind of real information are these messages communicating? Look at the sources.

The tv celebrity or talented performer who smiles sincerely and places her hand on her newly-slimmed waist – see – she did it, you can do it! “Thank you <insert company here> for making it so easy.” Count your food points, buy the endorsed shakes-meals-supplements, and watch the pounds drop. No? Perhaps all you need is a little governance by an ultra-wealthy civic-minded decision maker who merely tries to guide by vilifying soft drinks and restricting the size of a beverage a city can buy. This will help you be healthy! No? Even in rethinking the design of the nutrition food label (2011), Michael Pollan, food writer, admits, “The focus on nutrients is probably inevitable but it distracts from the issue of whether you’re getting real food or not.”

Real food. What is real food? Where can I learn about real food?

I have tried being shamed into eating well by following diets – South Beach Diet, Weight Watchers Diet, Overeaters Anonymous Diet and I failed. I was learning portion control and what foods to restrict – not what food to eat. I have tried being gluten-free, casin-free, meat-free, animal-free, and the Paleo Diet and I failed because I get too hungry living off what is left when you take out foods I just don’t like. And the herbs, vitamins, pills, supplements – forget it. I’ve tried and the whole approach is highly unsatisfying for a person who loves the taste, the texture, the presentation of food.

Mozzarella Cheese Stick labelThe messages about nutrition are really codified. Real food doesn’t exist on the nutrition label as it is designed or in the ways we measure vitamins. Look at the nutrition label – the font choices in bold are decoys. Those calories, carbohydrates, and fat ratios will not answer my doctor who always tells me to get more Vitamin D. Where do you get Vitamin D except from gooey-looking pills which are measured in UI or international units. Why are international units not yet a part of any international systems of measurement and why do they measure potency so there can never be a standardized conversion ratio? Can’t trust the label and can’t trust the measurement so I was determined to get behind the messaging with some real knowledge. I know enough about what I shouldn’t eat but not enough about what I should. The time had come to stop self-medicating with chocolate or convenience foods when I was stressed because I didn’t know enough.

I asked my doctor for some help. My health insurance plan offers two options. For learning about nutrition, the referral nurse looked up weight-management options: “There’s two,” she explained. Between the one that had to do with buying some kind of shake and one that offered 8 weeks of lectures, I jumped on the latter. Looking a bit startled at my quick and loud “no shakes” response, she referred me to a local program with a “nutritionist.” The patience and willingness of my doctor and her staff to help me with any health concerns are very significant reasons why I trust her and have seen her for so many years. My questions are heard.

When the nutritionist at the program called me, she had a clear understanding of what she needed to tell me. My question about wanting to learn more about nutrition was absorbed and subdued into a half-an-hour response which covered where the building was, how to get to the building, where to park, and clear instructions that under no circumstances should I knock on the door because on the weekend there were nurses inside working and the nutritionist did not want them disturbed. I should bring my co-payment in a check, please. There will be about 15 others in the class and although I’ve missed week one, I should be able to catch up. Each week has a weigh-in and a lecture. We skip Thanksgiving weekend. After each week’s lecture there will be time for 1-on-1 sessions with her for questions. Did I have any questions?

Would this class help me? Who knows? I took this example of a “Certified Nutrition Specialist” or Consultant as my inspiration. Although professionals, they were just professionals because of knowing where to look for objective information as issued by USDA standards. They weren’t experts deciphering holy texts from ancient languages and they weren’t artists creating great, unique solutions to my problems. Enough! Let’s get beyond the self-promoting presentation of healthy food talk we have all been subjected to for so long and get to the underlying nutritional information and learn. No more pre-digested bits of information about food, thank you!

Real food and raw nutrition data can be found:

http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/guide/vitamins-and-minerals-good-food-sources

www.healthaliciousness.com (Top 10 lists for foods offering essential nutrients and vitamins)

http://www.nia.nih.gov/health/publication/whats-your-plate

http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/list-all/

www.chpp.usda.gov

Online, the choices that frequently come up in searches seem to be designed predominantly on intake measured in calories, fat, carbohydrates, sodium and fiber.  These include apps and online programs. Know before you sign-up. Eating sugar-free, fat-free packaged food isn’t going to help the way that vitamin-loaded foods will! Look at that government regulated food label again. The more significant information about vitamin and mineral values is at the bottom. Inform yourself about how much you need of essential vitamins and nutrients for your gender and age. As we get older, the need for nutrients and vitamins changes in amounts. Remember your essential vitamins and look at the top 10 lists. And thank your doctor for listening. It is a rare qualification in a professional. Real health comes from knowledge, not mass-marketed programs.

I’m feeling much better and eating much better.

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