I met Sarah Kunkel who is a graduate student in University of Minnesota's Nutrition program for dinner tonight at an all-raw restaurant a few blocks from my house (Ecopolitan), and picked her brain about the nutrition of my "no oil diet". I was curious to hear her thoughts on how my diet has either improved or degraded my health, as well as what 'holes' I had nutritionally. Here is what she had to say:
_While you should eat at least 4 1/2 cups of fruits and vegetables each day (according to the government-created food health pyramid), it doesn't necessarily matter if the ratio of fruits to vegetables is exactly 50/50. This is good news for me because I am only eating apples and pear for fruit at this point which doesn't provide me with a wide array of vitamins. If I eat more vegetables to make up for my lack of fruit variety, then this works out.
_I haven't been eating meat during this project because of packaging restrictions. Sarah is a vegetarian and says she eats a lot of cottage cheese to get enough protein. A 1/2 cup of cottage cheese has 12 grams of protein, compared to a steak with has 18 grams. She also mentioned that in general, Americans eat WAY more meat than is necessary for their daily protein intake, and it isn't necessary to eat meat every day if protein requirements are being met in other ways. Some grains such as Quinoa are also a good sources of protein.
_We talked about fortified foods (foods which have had vitamins added to them). These are called "functional foods" in nutrition lingo, and are the subject of some controversy (Probiotic yogurt, goo-gels, pepsi fortified with vitamins, vitamin water). While it is better to get vitamins in foods rather than in supplement form because they are easier for your body to digest, it is better to get them in the form they originally come from. For example, milk is often fortified with Vitamins A and D. Neither of these vitamins are naturally occurring in milk, but they are both vitamins which the government has identified as deficiencies for the American public. One of the best sources for vitamin D is the sun. Because we are not out in the sun as much anymore, and when we are you cover ourselves in sunscreen, we don't get enough of this vitamin. In order for the body to absorb vitamin D, the sun has to be at a certain angle. In Minnesota, the sun is not at this angle from Nov-March. The controversy with functional foods also arises because there are dangers with having TOO MANY vitamins are well. Sarah explained that most single vitamins (ex. vitamin C) capsules contain way more of the vitamin than is needed every day. There are toxicity problems with eating too many vitamins just as there are with eating too few. Water soluble vitamins are not a problem because you simply pee out the excess.
_Being that we were at Ecopolitan, surrounding by die-hard raw foodists, we talked about some diets such as RAW and vegan. Her stance was that most of these diets are lacking nutritionally in some fashion. Both RAW and Vegan diets are lacking in calcium and cause bone structure problems with people who are on them long term.
_She explained that while it is clear that the leading health programs in our country related to food have conflicting intentions and are not necessarily looking out for our health, there may be a bit of 'over attacking' going on as well. There is a lot of attacking of processed foods, much of which is justifiable: Processed foods contain much more salt and less potassium than we need. Because our cells are a delicate balance between sodium and potassium if this is unbalanced we can end up with hypertension which is a blood pressure issue. High fructose corn syrup is another example. She explained that "sucrose is sucrose" and HFCS has only 5% more fructose than table sugar. Fructose and Glucose are what makes up table sugar. Fructose being the one that people have attacked because studies have found that it bypasses a feedback system in your body allowing you to eat more of it than you need. Glucose is regulated more easily in body feedback loops. Fructose, however is naturally found in fruits as well.
All of this talk left me fairly conflicted. Nutrition is a delicate balance and there is a lot of scientific data and studies getting thrown around every year which tell us what is "good" and what is "bad". In a post cheap oil world some of these problems of processed and functional foods will likely be eliminated as transportation of food is limited and foods no longer need to be preserved in the same way they would being trucked and stored for months. Eating foods from raw ingredients has made me more aware of what exactly I am putting in my body, and it is easier to analyze my diet to make sure I am getting the nutrients I need. This awareness, I believe, is possibly the best and easiest way to understand your diet, what your body needs and how to cook with foods available in your area to eat in a nutritionally balanced way.
After looking at my charts of data of what I have eaten for this entire project she pointed out that at the beginning of the project (when I was only eating vegetables and potatoes basically that I had a lot of nutritional gaps. However, as I learned to make breads and found out how to cook different meals with the ingredients available to me that my diet now is much healthier than the way I was eating before because I have been forced to eat much more fresh produce and no processed foods.
|RAWvioli at Ecopolitan|
She recommended the following resources to me as well:
_mypyramid.gov (allows to to put in the foods you eat each day and analyzes the nutrition balance accroding to the food pyramid)
_Michael Pollan's books especially (In Defense of Food)
_Eating Well magazine
_Farmer's Market Cookbook Featherstone Farms (a local CSA)
_Apples to Zucchinis book
_Fresh Earth Farms website (local CSA)