In this brief article I would like to share with you some thoughts about nutrition. These thoughts are really quite different from what is usually expressed in health-related education focused on nutrition. Typically, there is education and advice offered about how to structure a diet to include more of certain things, such as fruits and vegetables, and less of other things, such as saturated fat. Frequently nutrition-themed writing emphasizes how to best make decisions about foods to eat and not eat if you have a certain underlying medical problem such as diabetes or obesity or heart disease. But I want to give some different kind of advice that provides some serious “food for thought”. I specifically want to get you to think about how you eat and what you eat and drink.
How We Eat
Only you can answer this for yourself, but what I have observed is that generally people don’t give much thought to how they eat. Are mealtimes simply another task to attend to and get done with? What are the setting and circumstances that you typically consume your food? And, more importantly, what is the impact on your nutrition?
In general, I think most people eat too fast. They are in a hurry to have breakfast (if they don’t entirely skip this). They grab a quick lunch. Dinner might often be something quickly prepared, maybe even microwaved food prepared by some company, and consumed quickly in between other tasks. Meals are often accompanied by distractions such as television or texting on cell phones.
How do these circumstances affect us nutritionally? I believe we have become seriously disconnected from the nutritional opportunities and benefits of eating. I believe we have distanced ourselves from where food comes from and how food is prepared.
The full nutritional benefits of eating are embodied in a recognition and appreciation for the food. Food can be prepared lovingly with mindful appreciation of its source and value or it can be prepared without this awareness. Which approach provides nutrition and sustenance to our souls? Does blessing and giving thanks for the food, the farmer, the animal give more meaning to how you eat? Here I am not talking about some cursory habit, but a true mindfulness which recognizes not only how food is a blessing, but the access and availability of truly good and nutritious food in our modern society is quite extraordinary.
When we share food with friends and family around a table and are present to those we share food with, there is important social bonding and connection that feeds us at an emotional and spiritual level. The kinds of mealtime distractions I mentioned previously seriously handicap our relationships with those around the table. If this resonates as a mealtime problem, why not try a little experiment. Disconnect from the distractions and reconnect with the food, the preparation of the food, and your mealtime interactions with those you share food with. Determine for yourself whether you find it more satisfying and nutritious to eat this way.
What We Eat
I think the best place to start on this topic is to call attention to what we need physically to meet our nutritional requirements. We need a certain amount of protein and carbohydrates, certain types of fats, and micronutrients, including vitamins and minerals, that our bodies do not produce on their own. We also need sufficient water to maintain physiologic hydration.
Now begin to take a look at what you actually consume. If you read and understand food labels you will begin to realize we are consuming a lot of things that do not fall into the categories above. These might be food additives that affect flavor, color, texture. These might be a variety of food preservatives and other artificial ingredients.
Of course, the food label does not tell the entire story. It does not tell how the food was grown and to what extent and what type of fertilizers, pesticides, etc. were used (and to what extent these are present in some quantity in the food you are consuming). Were sustainable agriculture practices followed and does this affect the quality of the food that ultimately you are ingesting? Were the animals given antibiotics or growth hormones or some other treatment to improve agribusiness’ bottom line? How does consuming animal products raised in this manner affect the nutritional value of this food and could consuming this type of food be counterproductive or harmful?
“GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organism. These are plant or meat products that have had their DNA artificially altered by genes from other plants, animals, viruses, or bacteria, in order to produce foreign compounds in that food. These genetic alterations occur in a laboratory and are not found in nature.”(source–http://www.carighttoknow.org/what_does_gmo_stand_for)
Most of the research supporting the safety of GMOs has been done by the industries and companies that manufacture and distribute these products. Accordingly, there is a vested interest in proving the products to be safe. Yet, there is a wealth of evidence questioning the safety of GMOs. Interested readers might enjoy the documentary Genetic Roulette, which provides extensive information.
Genetically modified corn and soy products are widely present in many different foods that are widely available. It is not a requirement in most states that GMOs be labeled as such. Agribusiness has staunchly opposed such labeling. I urge you to think about why that might be.
The point I would like to get across is that there is a lot missing from food labels. If you are not in the habit of reading food labels, I strongly recommend that you develop such a habit. If you do not know how to read a food label or do not understand the information on a label, here are a couple of resources to look at:
There are also smart phone apps which can help you in reading and using food labels. Make use of these resources so that you can be smarter and better educated about what you eat.
Just as one example, here is what you might find reading a food label for non-dairy coffee creamer:
INGREDIENTS: CORN SYRUP SOLIDS, PARTIALLY HYDROGENATED VEGETABLE OIL. (MAY CONTAIN ONE OR MORE OF THE FOLLOWING OILS: SOYBEAN, CANOLA, SUNFLOWER, CORN, OR COTTONSEED). SODIUM CASEINATE (A MILK DERIVATIVE), DIPOTASSIUM PHOSPHATE CONTAINS 2% OR LESS OF MONO- AND DIGLYCERIDES SODIUM SILICIALUMINATE, SOY LECHITHIN ARTIFICAL FLAVOR, ARTIFICAL COLOR.
Notice corn and soy products. Are these sourced from GMOs? What is the effect of drinking sodium silicialuminate? What artificial flavors and colors are actually in the product? Is this something you might want to know before you ingest?
My nutritional advice here is to think about your nutrition (and the people who rely on your good nutritional choices such as your children) carefully. Learn to read food labels and learn to thoughtfully consider what is not on the label.
It is easy to have stopped thinking about food and nutrition in the ways I am encouraging. We live in a fast-paced society. Fast foods, prepackaged foods, processed foods, have contributed to an approach to nutrition that starves us in some respects. We have outsourced so much of our growing, harvesting, transporting, and preparing food that we have forgotten what goes into all these steps. We trust other parties to have made the right decisions about what to include as ingredients in the food we buy and consume.
I encourage you to think deeply about how you eat and what you eat. Your good nutrition depends upon making good choices.