Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Poor Man Diet: 5 Healthy Foods That Won't Break the Bank

If you've ever tried to eat healthy, and if you're reading this you probably have, then you've noticed the gaping hole in your wallet.  Real food can be expensive; naturally raised meat, fresh organic produce, extra virgin olive oil, nuts... healthy food ain't cheap.  The cost has been one of the main obstacles for me in eating a real food, paleo-style diet.  Even though I make food a high priority in my life, I'm still a poor college student.  I can't always afford top-quality food.

But luckily, there are healthy, dirt-cheap foods out there that even I can afford.  Sure, you've gotta make some compromises; you just can't eat optimally on a budget.  But you can make a damn good stab at it. Not poor you say?  Just looking to save some money on food to keep fueling your hookers and cocaine habit?  No problem.  I'm here to help.  Here are 5 healthy, inexpensive foods that you can base your diet around.

1. Kale
Kale is everyone's darling health food.  Some say it's even the most nutrient-dense food on the planet.  I wouldn't go that far, but it's a great food nonetheless.  Fiber, vitamin C, vitamin K, lutein, zeaxanthin, calcium... Kale covers all of your vegetable needs in one little package, and at a great price.  It's versatile too.  You can steam it and eat it on its own, put it in your eggs, add it to a smoothie, or use it in a stir fry.  It works in everything.  You can even eat it raw in a salad if you're up to it, although I personally don't like the taste unless it's cooked.  But maybe that's just me.  Give it a try!  (If you really hate kale, substitute it with another green like swiss chard or collard greens, the difference is negligible.)

Friday, March 22, 2013

Voting With Your Food Dollar: A Story of Three Foods

Just a quick rant today. I've been thinking a lot lately about the concept of "voting with your food dollar". Voting with your food dollar is just what it sounds like... when you buy a particular food, you're essentially "voting" for it. You're telling producers that you like it and you want more of it. But beyond that, you're supporting the entire process that made that food available to you at your local grocery store. This is obviously true of anything you buy in a free market system. You have the opportunity to vote every time you buy anything. Anything at all. Whether it's fitness equipment, a new leather purse, or the new Justin Timberlake album, your dollar essentially votes for what you buy. Just think of the consequences if nobody bought JT's new album (which I know isn't true since I already bought it)... Justin would end up a complete failure. He'd likely enter a downward spiral involving drugs, Taylor Swift, and his first emo album, until he's finally relegated to neighborhood bar gigs opening for Good Charlotte.  But worst of all, nobody would adopt his new hairstyle.

Okay a little off topic there.  Where was I?  Oh yes, when you buy a food at the store, you support everything that went into putting that food on your grocery store shelf.  In addition to supporting the food itself, you support the production methods, the processing, and the transportation costs.  I'd like to take this opportunity to go through a few different food options and talk about what it means when you choose to buy them.

1) Doritos
One of my favorite childhood foods.  I could eat an entire bag of this stuff as a teen.  Of course they're yummy, but let's talk about where Doritos come from.  Here's an ingredients list...

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Coconut Oil: Healthy or Harmful?

Coconut oil is hot right now.  Everyone's talking about it... the Paleo community recommends it, there are books touting it as a miracle food, and even Dr. Oz is now on board.  It seems as though the alternative medicine world is firmly in the pro-coconut-oil camp, and their message is spreading. The mainstream nutrition world however, including dietitians, medical doctors, and educators, believe otherwise.  According to them, coconut oil is high in saturated fat, particularly lauric and myristic acids... two of the most dangerous saturated fatty acids around.  Coconut oil will raise your cholesterol more than any other food, they say. Those who eat it must have a death wish.

How can both sides of this argument be so far apart?  The pro-coconut-oil group says it's a miracle health food... but the anti-coconut-oil camp says it'll kill you.  Welp, someone's wrong.  Let's get to the bottom of it...

The Saturated Fat Thing
As mentioned above, coconut oil is high in lauric acid and myristic acid, which are considered to be two of the most heart-stopping fatty acids in existence.  This evidence is largely based on short term studies using isolated fatty acids, showing that their consumption increases cholesterol levels (1, 2). As I explained in my last post on nutritionism, this is interesting and good to know, but it doesn't necessarily mean eating foods high in these fats, like coconut oil, will have the same effect.  Food is more complex than we know.  This is a piece to the puzzle, but not the only piece to the puzzle. What about studies involving real coconut oil?

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Nutritionism: Food is More Than the Sum of its Nutrients

In a nutshell, "nutritionism" is the idea that the healthfulness of a food is based on the sum of the nutrients it contains.  I learned about this concept from Michael Pollan, who you may have heard of... he wrote "The Omnivore's Dilemma" and "In Defense of Food", both phenomenal books that I highly recommend.  Pollan makes the argument that this is a reductionist philosophy that assumes we know more about the composition of foods and the inner workings of the human body than we really do.  I couldn't agree more.

Take the carrot, for example... we all know carrots are good for us.  You've probably heard that they're high in beta carotene.  Well, when researchers have taken beta carotene out of the carrot and given it to people in pill form, it turns out it doesn't do jack shit.  Is beta carotene useless?  Or is it just useless outside the context of the food it comes from? Context matters.  We're not as smart as we think we are, and we don't have it all figured out.  Studying individual nutrients outside the context of a real food tells us very little about what we should eat, and sometimes it just makes things more confusing.  We don't eat nutrients, we eat food.

If we want to learn how eating a carrot affects our health, then we need to study carrots.  Yet, as obvious as that may sound, we don't often study nutrition in this way.  We study the nutrients on their own, and then decide whether a food is good or bad based on which nutrients it contains.  There are plenty of examples where this paradigm has led us astray... here are just a few.