Everyone goes through phases. These can be life phases, job phases, relationship phases, etc.
Nutrition is not any different. I have discovered nutrition phases by chance, not ever looking for them. But once I realized their existence I also realized that every single one of us goes through them, without exception. You also are in one of the phases now even though you may not be aware of it… yet.
Everyone eats and how we choose food can predict how we end up health-wise, whether we get a medical diagnosis of some sort and whether we end up racking up medical expenses. After all, nutrition is the backbone of health. It is generally accepted that good choices will lead us to good health and poor choices point to the opposite direction. Your menu will predict your future.
It took me about 30 years to go through the phases. As I was doing it I was also going through different health phases, good and bad. Let me tell you my story.
Phase I – Clueless Sucker
I am an immigrant. I came to North America from an impoverished European country. Food for us meant sustenance, necessity, scarcity. We ate what showed up at the farmer`s market or our local grocery store. We did not choose. We ate what was available. We did not know anything about fast food or packaged foods. These did not make it from America as yet.
Cabbage, Brussels sprouts, carrots, beets, bread, cheese, jam, butter, lard, and pork chops was the staple, except for the pork chops. They disappeared when martial law came into effect. I disappeared too, but not because of pork chops, but because of depressed economy and lack of opportunities.
I ended up in Canada. Oh, boy! I never saw so much food on the shelves. I was mesmerized. I had my first hamburger and it tasted awesome. I was running amok in grocery stores trying to choose the most colorful, the most tasty-looking packages I could find. I wanted to try them all and I was on a mission. Sweets were the most alluring. I could have them every day, not like back in Poland, when we had to wait for a home-baked pie when apples or cherries were in season.
I tasted McDonalds, KFC, Burger King, Subway, Taco Bell, and you name it. Hamburgers, fries, ice creams, sodas, and sandwiches tasted incredibly good. Food was satisfying and I did not have to do a thing to eat, no groceries, no prep, no washing dishes! I loved it! I did it for a few years and then came the crash.. health crash that is.
Chronic fatigue, infections, headaches, brain fog, weight gain, bloating, etc. I went to my family doctor, but he was clueless as to the cause.
Things were getting really bad. I could not hold a job. So I had to pull myself up and find the causes myself. Suddenly a lightbulb came on: can food have something to do with how I feel?
Until that moment food images controlled me. Food was my joy, entertainment, outing, and pleasure. I had no clue that food could have anything to do with health. I believed that anything that can be eaten is food. It did not even cross my mind to evaluate my food purchases at all. Everyone eats these things, so why question the crowd. All I cared about was a colorful picture on the outside and good taste inside. Food health link was a strange concept and I was yet to discover it for myself.
Phase II – Keyword Chaser
Once I discovered the link between food and health everything changed. Now I looked at packages with different eyes. I learnt that besides a nice picture on the there were also some nutrition indicators I may want to know about. Fortunately these were easy to detect.
I started to look for keywords that spelled health food: whole wheat, high fibre, no sugar added, no cholesterol, low in fat, approved by heart foundation, approved by doctor such and such, etc. I felt like I discovered America. I was ecstatic. I am going to be healthy now!
Healthy keywords were practically on every package I bought. But despite eating healthy I did not feel much different. In fact, few years later I started to put on weight and became prediabetic. I did not understand why I was going downhill. Am I genetically predetermined to be sick?
I did not give up, but kept on stacking up with more keywords: omega 3, low sodium, vitamin fortified, low carb, good source or protein, no saturated fat, low in calories, etc. But even this extra knowledge crumbled when my brain started to fall frequently into hypoglycemia.
I nearly gave up, but this is when I discovered the back label.
Phase III – Health Aisle Genius
What an eye opener! I suddenly stumbled upon an unexpected wealth of information on the back of the label. Eureca! This must be it!
The fine print on the back was fascinating. For hours I sat around calculating calories, daily values, portions, percent RDA, miligrams of calcium, etc. Oh, wasn’t this a discovery! If I burn 2,000 calories a day all I need to do is to make a menu that would be slightly less caloric than that and I would start slimming down. If I have osteoporosis all I need to do is to look out for more calcium, and so forth.
I became really good at that. I used that knowledge in my clinic. Patients were given menus according to their age, frame, gender, condition, and food preferences. Those with constipation got more fiber, those with hypertension were given lower salt options, and those with diabetes were given low sugar meals.
I started to read back labels like there is no tomorrow. This protein bar is good for that, this cereal is good for this, and this salad dressing will do this and that. The numbers worked magic. Patients liked this approach. They understood why they were prescribed such menus. They were learning how to pick out healthier choices, avoid additives, and preservatives.
All my patients were eating healthier. They knew what to do, but there was a major drawback. Things became rather complicated. It took me hours to prepare individual menus and teach patients what some of the numbers meant.
Food decoding became so complicated it they took the fun away from the meals. How many calories should I eat? How many ounces am I allowed? Do I eat this before that or that before this? Can I mix this with that or should I have more of the other?
Preparing a menu equalled performing detailed calculations. What’s the recommended carb portion for the day? How much saturated fat per meal? Is two grams of sodium too much? And finally, the inevitable: a wedding, birthday party, or just an innocent get together that ruins the entire plan.
Something was not right. Meal time supposed to be the happiest part of the day, not the most mathematically challenging period. I could see why many people idled on phase II. Phase III was simply too complicated.
Phase IV – Enlightened Earthling
I was scratching my head. How can I make things simpler? To find the answers I had to expand my knowledge to farming, food production and processing, regulatory policies, lobbying, economics and fiscal plans. This lead me to other areas: global pollution, climate change, soil quality, sustainable practices, wildlife, environment, and forces behind human-human disagreements.
An incredible surprise waited for me. Besides food and health link I discovered a completely new link few people are aware of: the link between our individual food choices and global demise. I came to the conclusion that in order to make the most profound change in many troubled areas such as climate shift, water quality, environmental pollution, agricultural and farm practices, and even crime we need to change the way we eat.
This is not a joke. Our individual food choices have a profound domino effect on many areas. We, individuals have a tremendous impact on the seemingly distant and unrelated fields such as economy, fiscal planning, and government policies.
Once I saw another part to nutrition, phase III went out of the window. Reading back labels and performing intricate calculations really made no difference to climate change and global pollution, but supporting sustainable farming practices and buying package-less food did. This is how phase IV was created.
I tested it in the clinic. I advised patients to eat local, seasonal, organic produce that came from sustainable farms. I told them to disregard front label and back label and buy foods that don’t come in packages. I explained that front and back label promises do not address bigger issues humans are bothered by. If we want to have better health and at the same time contribute to the health of the planet we need to incorporate that knowledge in our daily menus.
Once phase IV dominated my clinic I saw health improvements in my patients I never saw before. Things not only got much simpler and as a bonus patients got a tremendous personal satisfaction. That their dollar spent on a local farmer went further than a dollar spent on a pink ribbon, lavender ribbon or any other symbol.
About 95% of my patients that followed Phase IV dutifully completely restored their health in an incredibly short time. Yes, it was magic. Healthy foods make healthy humans.
What are healthy foods?
So, what really are healthy foods? This is where the confusion sits. It is not a fruit bar, but a picked ripe fruit from a tree grown in nutrient-rich soil. It is not low fat tortured turkey bacon, but real bacon that comes from a humanely raised pig. It is not a whole grain cereal sprayed with pesticides and added flavorings to your pleasure, but a hardy milled bread from organically grown grains. It is not omega-3 eggs from featherless hens, but normal eggs when hens run free and peck worms at will. You get the point.
Unfortunately a vast majority of food lining up grocery store shelves cannot be considered healthy, even if it sits in the health food aisle, because truly healthy food does not come pre-packaged. Truly healthy food comes directly from a field that is cared for by a passionate and not profit-driven farmer. It is little, if at all processed, comes in season and from near-by farms. Enlightened earthlings know that.
What they also know is that buying real food reduces soil depletion caused by profit-driven agri-practices and barbaric treatment of animals for the same reason, as well as overflowing garbage that comes from packages. The links between your food choices and the planet are truly extensive. They affect the climate, the environment, soil quality, and corporate behavior.
When we make the effort to choose truly healthy real foods we force a shift towards better, more responsible food production that is planet, human, and animal friendly.
We don`t need any more misery, so let’s make this shift for all of our sake. Go for it!
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