Tidying Up a Messed Up Diet

Check out this Kroger ad (via Mark’s Daily Apple):

Apparently, vegetables, fruit and nuts aren’t “natural.” Chips and electrolyte-spiked water are.

No wonder our diets are so messed up, our overall nutrition so poor. “Natural” is no longer a quality but a marketing gimmick. Truly natural food – whole, unprocessed and sustainably grown – isn’t easily branded. Nor can “value” be added to it without subtracting precisely what makes it so valuable: its being as whole and pure as possible in an ever more toxic world.

The health of your teeth – like the rest of your body – is affected greatly by what you eat. Good dental and physical health require a good, nutrient-rich, high quality diet.

Contrary to popular belief, eating well doesn’t have to be expensive. For instance, check out this Agriculture Society post in which Raine shows how she was able to make 7 meals using organic produce and pasture-raised meat at an average cost of $3.79 per person, per meal – cheaper than your typical fast food “value meal.”

Yes, time and energy can be factors in preparing quality meals – another common reason people give for relying on so much processed food. But a little planning ahead can make eating healthy, home-cooked meals as easy as heating up a frozen entree or picking up take-out. Just prepare entrees when you do have time – say, over the weekend – and freeze them.

It’s a matter of priorities, really. Making healthy choices often means taking the long view: accepting the possibility of some sacrifice of time, money and/or energy now to reduce the odds of having to pay for poor choices down the road – getting decayed or damaged teeth fixed or replaced, say, or treating diabetes, cancer, heart disease or other diet-driven illness.

One thing you can do to make the transition to healthier eating more doable is to let go of the belief that you’ve got to make lots of changes at once. When we hold this belief, change can seem so overwhelming, we often give up before we even try. But if we take small steps, one at a time, change becomes more manageable. Health is a journey, after all, and no journey is taken in one big step but many, many small ones.

So with diet, maybe you start by eliminating added sugars or even just cutting out soft drinks (sports and energy drinks, too). Or you switch to organic varieties of produce that tends to keep the most pesticide residues when grown industrial-style, as noted in EWG’s downloadable Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides. Or maybe you switch first to sustainably raised meat, eggs and other animal products, using a tool such as the Eat Well Guide to find local sources of these foods.

Once you adapt to the first change, make another. And another. You’ll be going forward. And one of the beautiful things about improving your diet is that as you begin to notice how eating better can make you feel better physically, you’ll likely want to improve it even more. You may even find that as you phase out empty-nutrient products and phase in high quality whole foods, you lose your taste or tolerance for your old ways of eating.

Where family lives together, ideally, all should take part in the dietary improvements. Those with young children, of course, may wonder how to help them eat better – especially if they’re “picky eaters” to begin with. While some kids are highly sensitive to the bitter edge some vegetables have, which can make them less willing to try new things even as their taste buds mature, one of the biggest barriers to kids eating more veg (lack of it is surely the biggest deficiency in the standard American diet) seems to be the “conventional wisdom” that it’s “always” a battle to get children to eat vegetables. Another issue is the fast-food-inspired environment in which school meals and “kids menus” cater to this perception.

Of course, if you believe kids won’t eat healthy food and then give them a choice – say, chicken nuggets and fries vs. pasta topped with lots of fresh veg – they’ll usually go for the less healthy option. (Interestingly, though, one study showed that preschoolers highly preferred broccoli to chocolate if that broccoli had an Elmo sticker on it.) But children’s tastes can be cultivated.

Beyond rules and special pleading – or Elmo stickers, for that matter – one promising trick is to serve the vegetables first. A study of this method with preschoolers was recently published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, and the results were remarkable:

Children were provided with no carrots or 30 grams (about 1 ounce), 60 grams (about 2 ounces), or 90 grams (about 3 ounces) of carrots as the first course of their lunch.
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The children had 10 minutes to eat the carrots, after which they were served pasta, broccoli, unsweetened applesauce, and low-fat milk. Preschool children who received no first course of carrots, consumed about 23 grams (nearly 1 ounce) of broccoli from the main course.

When the children received 30 grams (about 1 ounce) of carrots at the start of the meal, their broccoli intake rose by nearly 50 percent compared to having no carrots as a first course.

But when the first course was increased to 60 grams (about 2 ounces) of carrots, average broccoli consumption nearly tripled to about 63 grams – or a third of the recommended vegetable intake for preschool children. The extra carrots eaten at the start of lunch did not reduce the amount of broccoli eaten in the main course, but added to the total amount of vegetables consumed.

Other helpful things you can do:

  • Provide a wide variety of vegetables to raise the odds of finding ones your child really loves.
  • Let your child pick out some vegetables while shopping and help with the preparation of them for meals at home.
  • Start your own vegetable garden and let your child help – or visit a farmer’s market with your child so he or she can learn how food gets from the farm to the table.

Teaching and guiding your child in this way might provide you with additional inspiration for optimizing your own diet. Our children can be powerful motivators.

1 Comment

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One response to “Tidying Up a Messed Up Diet

  1. My favorite thing about cooking my own meals is the aroma produced. Certain scents, like garlic and onion sauteed in olive oil, tend to satiate our hunger as we are cooking, making it less likely we’ll overeat.