domingo, 27 de diciembre de 2015

Meating Out a Compromise

That night at dinner, I tried to use what I had learned. We ate Mexican. My friend had the chicken-and-cheese quesadilla; I had the wild-mushroom tamale. Mushrooms are high in NIACIN, good for reducing bad CHOLESTEROL, and CHROMIUM, good for preventing type II diabetes. I was being good, but that chicken quesadilla was also looking good. Damn good. That's when I called Audrey Cross for a second opinion.

"I think you can eat meat," she said, "just in smaller quantities. Populations where people get 60 to 70 percent of their calories from complex carbohydrates and 10 to 15 percent from fat and 10 to 15 percent from protein are very healthy. I tell people to think of meat as a condiment, not the focus of the meal." In America, meat as condiment means Bac*Os, but in other parts of the world, like China, it accurately describes their diet of mostly vegetables, rice and a little bit of meat. On a hunch, I asked Barnard when girls in China tend to reach puberty. "Around seventeen," he answered. And breast cancer? "Rare," he said.

That did it. For my grandfather's generation, it is probably too late to undo the damage caused by a lifetime of eggs for breakfast and steak for dinner. For my grandfather himself, it's definitely too late — he died of colon cancer when I was a senior in college. (Colon cancer has been linked to a diet high in fat and low in the dietary fiber found in fruits and vegetables, what he used to contemptuously call "rabbit food.") But it's not too late for me. After all, I am a 31-year-old grown-up woman. My mom isn't cooking me hamburgers for lunch anymore. I live in an era of unprecedented nutritional diversity — grocery stores now carry as many as 30,000 items. There's simply no excuse not to start eating more healthily. I may still wake up at 40 with a malignant lump in my breast or at 50 with heart trouble, but if I do, at least I'll know that I did everything within my power to stay healthy.

domingo, 20 de diciembre de 2015

Eating with the Grain

Barnard makes no bones (so to speak) about his anti-meat bias. "We are not really meant to be carnivores," he said, scanning the menu before settling on vegetarian pad-thai. "If we were, we'd be able to make VITAMIN C in our own bodies, like dogs and cats can. Instead, we have fingers for plucking fruits and vegetables that are high in vitamin C. We don't have the extremely keen eyesight that typical carnivores have, and we're not very fast like lions or any of the felines."

"What about chicken?" I asked. "I bet I could catch one of them."

"Chicken doesn't really work," he said. "It's a little like switching to a filtered cigarette instead of quitting smoking. It doesn't make a lot of difference if the meat was attached to a cow's bone, a fish's bone or a chicken's bone. It's all an animal's muscle — PROTEIN with fat mixed in. There's no DIETARY FIBER or complex CARBOHYDRATES or vitamin C in there. The leanest beef is 29 percent fat; the leanest chicken is 20 to 23 percent fat, and that's without the skin. Compare that to beans, which are four percent fat, and rice, which is one percent fat."

If you think a pill can make up for any deficiency in your diet, forget it. "DIETARY SUPPLEMENTS aren't the answer," Barnard said. "Our bodies are designed to extract VITAMINS and MINERALS from foods, not pills. A tablet may contain a lot of, say, BETA-CAROTENE, but it may be missing hundreds of other CAROTENOIDS that might be even more significant."

It all seemed pretty simple. The healthiest diet is one that contains a lot of plant foods — vegetables, whole grains, legumes and fruit. Choose these over things like burgers and chips, and you end up with a full supply of NUTRIENTS, plus dietary fiber to ward off colon cancer. Eat this way and there will also be less room left for the more calorie-dense foods like meat. But when I tried to contemplate Barnard's steakless, fishless, chickenless world — the world without Noah and his ark — it was bleak. I found it hard to believe nature would want that for us. If we're not meant to eat cheeseburgers, why do we crave them?

"It's true," Barnard sighed, "people mainly crave the foods that did not originally exist in our diet. All I can say is that cravings are the worst possible indicator of what your body actually needs. What do we crave? Alcohol, tobacco, opiates and fatty, salty foods. Why? I don't know. Some people theorize that it's a survival instinct left over from when we went through cycles of famine."

domingo, 13 de diciembre de 2015

A Question of "What?" Not "How Much?"

Better advice for maintaining health and losing weight, says Neal Barnard, M.D., the author of Eat Right, Live Longer (Crown), is to forget about how much you are eating and concentrate on what you are eating. Barnard is sort of the Ralph Nader of broccoli, a zealot who spends his days bothering regulatory committees, publishing papers and sending press releases about the connection between diet and disease. He grew up in North Dakota, the son of a family in the livestock business. But while he was in medical school, after one particularly gruesome autopsy of a heart-attack victim whose arteries had been strangled by plaque, Barnard decided to stop eating meat.

"Cardiovascular disease," he says, "is the number-one killer disease in America, but it is not an inevitable part of aging. When they did autopsies of soldiers during the Korean war, they found that atherosclerosis had already begun in the Americans — even though they were young and fit — but there was none in the Asians. There's no question it was diet related." After reading Barnard's book, I asked him out for lunch to a Thai restaurant near his spartan offices in Washington, D.C.

lunes, 7 de diciembre de 2015

A Dietary Shift

A hundred years ago, when refrigeration was not widespread and our diet contained much less meat and FAT, the average age of menarche was sixteen or seventeen. Today it is twelve and a half. Early puberty may not seem like a big deal by itself, until you realize that it has been linked to higher rates of breast cancer, a disease that one out of every eight American women will one day be diagnosed with.

I don't blame my mother for my early diet. It's only in the past ten years or so that we have begun to make the connection between diet and illness. But study after study has slowly led us to the inexorable truth: We have a lot more control over our health than we ever thought. According to the National Academy of Sciences, six out of the ten leading killer diseases are diet related.

This ought to have changed the way we eat. It hasn't. Only nine percent of the population eats the recommended five fruits or vegetables a day. "When we ask what people are eating," says Audrey Cross, Ph.D., a nutritionist and lawyer at the Columbia University School of Public Health who has worked with the federal government on setting up dietary guidelines, "it's more like two to three servings, and one of the vegetables is usually potatoes in the form of chips."

It's been years since I ate potato chips. They are fattening and I am vain. But that doesn't mean I eat a self-consciously healthy diet. When I question my food choices, I usually ask, "Will this make me fat?," not "Will this make me healthy?" In any case, I am not alone. Meat and egg sales, once on the decline, are rising — the average American now eats 64 pounds of beef a year. Last year's best-selling diet book, The Zone (Harper Collins), by Barry Sears and Bill Lawren, may have helped some people lose weight, but many nutritionists think it's a terrible way to eat for long-term health. "When you look around the world, the only people who eat a diet of predominantly fat and meat are Eskimos, and that's because their diet fits their latitude," says Cross.