Trust Nature: Truth and Lies About Fat, Sugar, and The Food Industry
“Our brain is made of 60% fat,” he started the lecture, on the real truth about sugar and fat.
The myelin sheath that coats the nervous system is made of fat, a rich source of energy for the cells in our brain. Cholesterol, too, is essential to keep the nerve/myelin structure fluid, and smooth. Fat is not an enemy, and a lack of it in our diet substantially affects our memory and our mood.
I am referring to good fat, of course, not the hydrogenated kind created in a laboratory, and pushed to every household as a healthier alternative to butter, olive oil, etc. since the 1970s, such as Crisco, or the more recent You can’t Believe It’s Not Butter (YES, I CAN)!
The war on fat began in the 1970s, and so did, approximately, the obesity epidemic. In fact, when we don’t eat the right amount of fat, or when our brain gets triggered with one of the artificially created substitutes for fat, we turn to sugar, and to complex carbohydrates. We all know that.
So inevitably, the food industry demonized sugar and created artificial sweeteners that were very unhealthy for the human body. Carbs and gluten also became enemies. And most of the population bought into it; they believed the media, or Miley Cyrus’ Twitter.
I am not saying anything new, and perhaps I am naive in thinking that my words may count for something. Many great documentaries have tackled the issue, both from the health and political point of view. Food Inc. for example, or Tapped, King Corn and, more recently, Cooked, by Michael Pollan.
But what kind of a writer am I, if I stay silent?
Dr. Milstein continued the lecture, discussing the dilemma between wild caught salmon and farm raised one; the first feeds mostly on algae, which are reach in Omega 3, and the second is fed corn — cheap, and not delivering the brain the nutrients it needs (Omega 6, primarily).
“What about whole milk vs. skim milk?” a woman in the audience asked. I went back in time…
As a former anorexic and bulimic, I used to live on everything that was Fat Free, Carb Free, and Sugar Free. I survived on Coke Zero, 0% Milk, Fat Free yogurt, sugar free candy, etc. I avoided extra-virgin olive oil, nuts and avocados, because I thought they would make me fat. But I was sick and miserable; I didn’t have my period, I lost my hair, I was severely depressed, and I self-medicated with drugs and alcohol. I was starving, in the desperate attempt to unnaturally control my weight; my body fought the opposite battle to keep it healthy. I was perishing outside and inside, my brain was tired, I couldn’t remember things, or study; in college, my grades went down, I was distracted, and indifferent to a life I wanted to quit.
It’s because I have been on the other side, that today I fight for change, for re-education, for the future.
When I began to eat mindfully and seasonally, to enjoy life instead of fighting it, and to eat a good piece of chocolate instead of an entire bar of a fat free chemical surrogate, a revolution took place in my body and in my brain.
I remember the joy I experienced as a child when I’d eat the first peach of the summer season, and such joy shouldn’t be denied our children, just because peaches can be imported from elsewhere in December.
Have you ever wondered why there are so many allergies today? Why there is a peak in intolerance to gluten, milk, sugar, and to something new every day? Is it a coincidence that such ‘allergic reactions’ appeared shortly after the industry had begun to modify, mix, whiten, and enrich flour? Why does bread in our grocery stores has 12, 15, 20 ingredients? Bread doesn’t need more than water, flour, and perhaps salt.
Is it a coincidence that people began to be milk intolerant when cows were fed corn instead of grass, and when the Fat Free craze started? When a component is removed from a specific aliment, something else is added, and it’s rarely natural.
During my recent vacation in Parrot Cay, our snorkeling guide showed me a mangrove seed, one of those that floats. “Mangrove seeds are very smart, they can survive up to one year in the ocean without touching land,” he said, excited about this marvel of mother nature. We were on the boat, on our way back to the island. I held in my hands the dark brown seed, that looked a lot like a French bean, and asked how it could survive in saline water. “It has glands that expel salt; they filter water to keep it alive.”
Why do we struggle to believe that nature knows what it’s doing, when a mangrove seed manages to survive in the Caribbean seas for a year?
Can we go back and trust nature? It’s easier than we think. We always did, until someone decided there was money in not trusting it.
So let’s discover our kitchen anew. Food companies want us to believe that whatever food we cook they can do better, but it isn’t true. Your grandmother’s recipe will always be better than Lean Cuisine, Olive Garden, Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, etc. Preparing our food is part of who we are, it’s in our DNA.
Passing down a recipe has more value than passing down a piece of jewelry. My grandmother did not have much jewelry, so she left me her life and recipes in the form of diaries — pearls, to me.
Going back to the kitchen doesn’t mean spending hours preparing gourmet meals, especially when there may be kids to take care of, a household to run, and a full-time job. Back in the kitchen means giving ourselves the gift of self-care, wellbeing, sensory pleasure, culinary discovery. And it takes less time than getting our nails or hair done. It feeds us, physically and emotionally.
The recipes I share with you on this blog are simple and genuine. I am not a chef, but I was taught to cook, and I love it. I made every dish that I have shared on the blog. Making tomato sauce is easy; just add a teaspoon of sugar to balance the acidity of the tomato, and it will be delicious. Bake a cake, and give it to your kids as a snack, or to take to school instead of a chocolate bar, Milano cookies, or potato chips.
Let’s re-discover our kitchen and love food, ourselves, our world. Real change starts at home, so let’s sit down at the dining table with those we love. Let’s trust nature!
I added the recipe of my Mediterranean Cauliflower Couscous. Let’s do this together, shall we?
And speaking of ‘trust nature’, this is what I stumbled upon on Sunday morning!
Like Trees, by Rainer Maria Rilke
How surely gravity’s law,
strong as an ocean current,
takes hold of even the smallest thing
and pulls it toward the heart of the world.
each stone, blossom, child
is held in place.
Only we, in our arrogance,
push out beyond what we each belong to
for some empty freedom.
If we surrendered
to earth’s intelligence
we could rise up rooted, like trees
Instead we entangle ourselves
in knots of our own making
and struggle, lonely and confused
So, like children, we begin again
to learn from the things,
because they are in God’s heart;
they have never left God.
This is what the things can teach us:
patiently to trust
Even a bird
has to do that
before they can fly.
From Dr. Milstein’s lecture:
•Check food labels for partially hydrogenated oil. Food companies have found a loophole to legally add those fats, even when on the box they proudly say NO TRANS FAT!
•Check food labels for high fructose corn syrup.
•Careful to added sugar (cane sugar, agave syrup, brown sugar, etc).
•Check your bread, cereal, pasta sauce, yogurt, almond milk and other items. Do they have high fructose corn syrup or partially hydrogenated oil? The food industry can sneak these unhealthy ingredients into “healthy” foods. There are readily available versions of all of these foods that do not have trans fat or high fructose corn syrup and most likely won’t taste any different.
Bring healthy fats back to the table, cold pressed olive oil, avocado, nuts, fast fish. These are critical for the health of our brain, heart and the rest of our 37.2 trillion cells! Remember when it comes to olive oils, the minimally processed the better to preserve the healthy fats. Another quick tip: Nut butters like peanut, almond or cashew can be great sources of healthy fat but double check the label for added sugar, high fructose corn syrup or partially hydrogenated oil. Again, the food industry can be sneaky and chose versions that don’t have added sugar or man made trans fat.