Sodium and fat and sugar, oh my!
"Toto, something tells me we're going to be on a very restricted diet for the rest of our lives." "Ms. Dorothy, you know I have high blood pressure and can't have sodium," said the Scarecrow. "And I have high cholesterol and can't have fat," said the Tin Man.
"And I have Type II diabetes and I can't have sugar," the lion growled.
Okay, so maybe that scene was never part of the original "Wizard of Oz," but a similar scenario recently played out at The Natural Gourmet Institute (NGI) in New York City, where a new lesson was learned and an old lesson modified. I call it "Food Fear."
Last week at one of our cooking practicums, we explored different cooking techniques for various grains. We made delicious dishes like wild and long grain rice salad, refried soba noodles with fresh vegetables, kasha potato loaf and tabouli.
There were four groups each assigned different recipes. When it came time for evaluation, Chef Cheryl, the instructor, said the first three of four groups needed more salt in their dish.
I was part of the third group and asked, "In health supportive cooking, shouldn't we limit the amount of sodium we use?"
The question sparked a long discussion about being afraid of our food. Our instructor told us that high blood pressure is not diagnosed simply because people salt their food. Other instructors/chefs concurred and shared similar comments dismissing the diagnosis of high cholesterol from eating a French fry or diabetes caused by a piece of grandma's chocolate cake. So, what's the deal?
People who are genetically predisposed to high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes exhibit signs of the disease after months and years of eating a non-balanced diet. We are a walking expression of our biology and the truth is, most Americans do not practice a balanced diet primarily because modern people don't know what fresh food is.
The Standard American Diet (SAD) has changed dramatically since the 1950s. With each decade, the SAD has included more and more calorie-dense and nutrient-poor foods. Today the typical American diet consists primarily of processed carbohydrates such as white bread, cookies, cakes, pasta, cereals, processed dairy and processed meats with only a small amount of vegetables. In many households the fresh vegetables come from a can or in a convenient microwaveable pouch that often contains a manufactured sauce using processed saturated fat, salt and sugar or some other concoction to "improve" the taste. Not surprisingly, the SAD is implicated in causing or contributing to the major and chronic health problems in this country.
To explain this another way, imagine all the foods available to us ranging from sweet to salty all lined up, with sweet at one end of the spectrum and salty at the other. We would find the SAD is typically an extreme diet. Most foods consumed in this country are processed from one end or the other, containing salt, sugar and fat of the worst types, with very little foods from the middle of the spectrum like fresh fruits, vegetables, seeds and wild grains. Middle-spectrum foods add a colorful balance that aid in a healthful diet and should be incorporated into every meal every day.
That being said, it's no surprise obesity is in the news every week. The diseases associated with it include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease and type II diabetes. Once diagnosed we are told to cut down on our sodium, fat and sugar intake -- and the only way most of us know how to do that is to put away the salt shaker, oil and butter and replace the sugar bowl with artificial sweeteners. But we need to be mindful of what the cause versus the cure.
Cutting back on sodium, fat and sugar is a good practice regardless of our individual genetics. However, a more healthful approach is to balance our diets incorporating more of the middle foods and reducing the amount of extreme foods on a daily basis.
To help move your diet into balance, try this easy recipe that's a staple at my house: Minty carrot soup (visit www.mykitchenprescription.com for the recipes). All ingredients in this dish fall in the middle of the food spectrum and can be served warm or chilled, alone or as an accompaniment. It can be garnished with some fresh pistachios or chopped chives. I like to serve it with a fresh green garden salad with summer cucumber, green onion, and tomato, dressed with my garlicky green goodness dressing -- satisfying and delicious.
Eating healthy is a lifelong journey. Similar to how the yellow brick road leading to the Emerald City functioned as a guideline for Dorothy to follow, a proper balanced diet can serve as a pathway for your good health.
Food is information for our bodies, so when we are told our good health is dependent on using such specific words as no salt, fat or sugar, it is important to keep these words in context. Don't fear food. Take heart, use your brain, and find the courage to make positive changes in your life.
Your health is my business....