A few years ago, I went to a lecture titled “Solutions to the Omnivore’s Dilemma,” by Christopher Gardner, a Stanford professor in nutrition. I also read “In Defense of Food, An Eater’s Manifesto,” by Michael Pollan [the author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma]. Pollan’s books are a great read for understanding the problems and solutions to healthy eating. Most of the following thoughts come from Mr. Pollan, while the history of Dentist Weston A. Price, comes from historian Martin Renner by way of Mr. Pollan.
Basically ‘The Western Diet’ based on industrialized agriculture and processed food is unhealthy. The western diet includes lots of processed foods and meat, lots of added fat and sugar, lots of everything except fruits, vegetables and whole grains. The solution is to stop eating a ‘Western Diet’. Quoting Pollan, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants… Eating a little meat isn’t going to kill you. Though it might be better approached as a side dish than as a main. And you’re better off eating whole fresh foods rather than processed food products.”
Studies show that people eating the ‘Western Diet’ suffer substantially higher rates of chronic diseases, cancer, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and obesity than people eating any number of different traditional diets. In the early part of the 1900s, a few medical professionals working with a wide variety of natives around the world noticed the natives had an almost complete lack of chronic disease that had recently become a commonplace problem in the America and England.
One of the chief investigators of this period was Weston A. Price, an Ohio dentist who had witnessed the rapid rise in dental problems beginning in the early1900s and was convinced that the cause could be found in the modern Western diet. In the 1930s, Price closed down his dental practice, so he could devote all his time to investigating this problem. He traveled to isolated populations that had not been exposed to modern outside foods. He studied them in the mountains of Switzerland and Peru, the lowlands of Africa, the bush of Australia, the everglades of Florida, the coast of Alaska, the islands of Melanesia, the Hebrides and the Torres Strait and the jungles of New Guinea and New Zealand.
Though each cultural diet varied greatly, Price found little or no evidence of chronic disease or tooth decay in any of the traditional diets. He found that vastly different traditional cultures were healthy and thrived on totally different diets; such as, seafood diets, dairy diets, meat diets and diets in which fruits, vegetables and grain predominated.
The Masai of Africa consumed virtually no plants at all, subsisting predominately on blood and milk and occasionally meat. The islanders of the Hebrides consumed no dairy at all, living on seafood and porridges made of oats. The Eskimos that he saw subsisted on raw fish, game meat and blubber, with little to no greens. Many of the other populations lived on fresh vegetables, grains and wild game. All these cultures were healthy without western chronic diseases.
Price concluded the common trend for good health was eating a traditional diet consisting of fresh foods from animals and plants grown on soils that were rich in nutrients. He studied the nutrient content of the animals, plants and soil and compared these to the processed foods in the U.S. He found the nutrient levels were much greater in the traditional foods, particularly vitamins A and D. He compared vitamin content of butter produced from cows grazing on spring grass to that of animals on winter forages. Not only did he find the vitamin content greater with grass feed, but the health of the people who subsisted on those grass-fed animals was also better. Price believed that the quality of the soil was a key to health.
Price was well ahead of his time; he understood that eating linked us to the earth. Compared to the native peoples that Price studied, many who took great pains to return nutrients to the local soil, “Our modern civilization returns exceedingly little of what it borrows. Vast fleets are busy carrying the limited minerals of far-flung districts to distant markets”.
He believed that we were breaking the “rules of nature” at least twice: by robbing nutrients from the soils in which the foods had been grown and then squandering those nutrients by processing the foods.
Though well received during his time in the 1930s, Price’s ecological point of view was lost after WWII. The industrial agricultural business expanded until present day. Through the 40s, 50s and 60s there was little choice other than processed food. The 60s till present day saw the advent of fast food with high caloric content and little nutritional value. Recently there has been a major food movement allowing more choices.
Here are some healthy eating tips:
•Eat mostly plants, especially leaves.
•Eat grass fed animals.
•Eat local well-grown food from healthy soils.
•Pay more; eat less, quality over quantity.
•Eat slowly; savor your food. Stop when full.
•Avoid processed foods.
Changing our eating habits away from the western fast-food diet is not simple, but it is becoming easier. Having your own garden or being part of a community garden is one of the best solutions to eating better and improving the environment.
Local produce is now becoming much more available and convenient through farmer’s markets and co-op food programs. The Cotati market Thursday nights and Rohnert Park market on Friday nights throughout the summer are good sources of local food. Rohnert Park has a year—round farmer’s market from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., every Sunday at the city center.
Co-op food programs are also a good source of local healthy food. I am a member of a local co-op and get a weekly basket full of vegetables, greens and fruit. Healthy recipes are included with the basket pick up as well. I am lucky that my wife Mary Alice is a healthy cook. I do my part, but not near as much food preparation as she does. And she loves it!
It is impossible to be perfect, but trying to eat healthy is the key. There was a study that compared the French response to food versus the American. What is your word association to ‘chocolate cake’? The American top response was ‘guilt’; the French top response was ‘celebration’! When do you know when to stop eating? The French top response was “When I feel full.” The American top response was “When my plate is clean”.
Basically, we Americans need to lighten up, eat slower, healthier and less. Now I think I will take a break from writing and have some dessert, but just a little, maybe a piece of fruit.
Enjoy Life and Keep Smiling!
George Malkemus has a Family and Cosmetic Dental Practice in Rohnert Park at 2 Padre Parkway, Suite 200. Call 585-8595, or email info@ malkemusdds.com. Visit Dr. Malkemus’ Web site at http://www.malkemusdds.com