A friend of mine once lectured me on why I shouldn’t buy milk unless I was sure it came from a cow that wasn’t treated with hormones. The lecture might’ve gone on longer, but she had to step outside to smoke a cigarette. I kid you not.
When it comes to improving health, I believe in tackling the big issues first and foremost — like quitting smoking before worrying if your milk came from a hormone-free cow. If we could just convince people to give up sugar, refined grains and chemically-extracted seed oils (the dietary equivalents of smoking, in my opinion), they’d already be far along the path to improved health, even if they buy their meats and eggs at Wal-Mart.
Moving farther down the path to health requires paying attention to the quality and nutrient density of food, but that’s where some of the food purists scare people off. As Jonathan Bailor pointed out last week while we were recording a podcast, we want to avoid making perfect the enemy of good. If we tell people the only way to be healthy is to eat nothing but pasture-fed meats and organic produce from local farmers’ markets, we’ll lose them. (We’d also be lying to them.)
Aside from the purists and the orthorexics, most people simply aren’t going to do all their shopping at farmers’ markets. But many of us who are health-conscious would happily opt for higher-quality foods if we knew how to find them in a grocery store … which leads to me a new book that teaches exactly how to do that.
Rich Food Poor Food was written by Jayson and Mira Calton, the same couple who wrote Naked Calories. Their focus is on the importance of micronutrients, vitamins and minerals in food, and after meeting them on last year’s cruise, I’d bet their diet at home is close to perfect. I’m happy to report, however, that this book isn’t about adopting a perfect diet. It’s about adopting a better diet, even if you do all your shopping in grocery stores. Most of the book, in fact, is a shopping guide – what they call their Ultimate GPS: grocery purchasing system.
In Part One, the Caltons explain what they mean by rich foods and poor foods. Rich foods, of course, provide the most micronutrients. Not surprisingly, rich foods are usually unprocessed or minimally processed. Poor foods are either devoid of micronutrients or contain additives that can potentially screw up our health … hydrogenated oils, artificial colorings, MSG, chemical preservatives and other frankenfood ingredients. The goal of Rich Foods Poor Foods is to guide you to the rich foods – or at least the richer foods, given the choices available.
While explaining the importance of reading labels, the Caltons take a delicious swipe at the Eat This, Not That authors. If you’ve read any of the many Eat This, Not That articles online, you know the authors promote almost any low-fat garbage over a high-fat version of the same (supposed) food. The Caltons demonstrate what a lousy idea that is by comparing Lay’s Potato Chips to Lay’s Baked Potato Crisps.
Here are the ingredients for Lay’s Potato Chips:
- Vegetable oil (sunflower, corn and/or canola oil)
A good choice? Well, I wouldn’t eat them (and neither would the Caltons), but at least we’re talking about a mere three ingredients. Compare those to the Lay’s Baked Potato Crisps preferred by the Eat This, Not That guys:
- Dried Potatoes
- Corn Oil
- Soy Lecithin
- Corn Sugar
Yee-uk. As the Caltons write:
This lower-calorie, low-fat snack is not a healthier, smarter choice. It is very definitely a Poor Food choice with ingredients that may be linked to cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, infertility, compromised immunity, accelerated aging, and numerous other health conditions and diseases. Had you purchased this product only after a review of the Nutrition Facts, you would have opened yourself up to unwanted ingredients.
When Eat This, Not That named these potato crisps their go-to choice, they boasted, “Baked Lay’s represents the classic potato chip at its absolute best.” What? Are they serious? These crisps are not even made with real potato slices. Far from the absolute best, the Baked Lay’s represents to us just how far we have strayed from natural foods onto a dangerous new path paved with highly processed, manufactured food-like substances.”
Part Two is the shopping guide, which is divided into the same sections you’ll find at a grocery store: Dairy, Meat, Fish, Produce, Condiments, Grains, Baking Items, Snacks and Beverages. Each section contains a brief introduction explaining what we should either seek out or avoid within that particular category, then provides two lists named Steer Here (rich foods) and Steer Clear (poor foods).
The lists are colorful, they’re easy to read, and (best of all) they name names. You can find a perfect choice in a Steer Here list, but if perfect isn’t an option, you can also find some very good choices. In the milk list, for example, the top choice is farm-fresh raw milk from grass-fed cows. But if you aren’t willing or able to buy raw milk from a local farm, you can look for Organic Valley Grassmilk. It’s pasteurized, but not homogenized, and the milk comes from grass-fed cows. Or you could choose Meyenberg brand goat milk, which is also grass-fed and hormone-free. You get the idea.
Early in my low-carb days, I bought Hood brand Carb Countdown milk. (They’ve since changed the name to Calorie Countdown.) That brand, not surprisingly, is on the Calton’s Steer Clear list: the ingredients include cellulose gel, cellulose gum, artificial color, sucralose (aka Splenda) and acesulfame potassium. Hmmm, doesn’t sound much like real milk, does it?
The Caltons recommend quite a few organic foods, but in the section on produce they provide a list of fruits and vegetables for which buying organic is basically a waste of money: onions, sweet potatoes, avocados, asparagus and several others. Apparently there’s little chance of those foods containing pesticide residues or being genetically modified. There’s also a list of fruits and vegetables they recommend you buy only if they’re certified organic: apples, blueberries, spinach, lettuce and several others.
Rich Food Poor Food isn’t pocket-sized, but I believe it would fit into a purse if you want to take it with you on shopping trips. I doubt you’ll find every brand name on the Steer Here lists at your local Kroger or Wal-Mart, but I recognize many of them from the days when we lived near a Trade Joe’s and did much of our shopping there. And of course there’s always Whole Foods … if you don’t mind paying Whole Foods prices.
Again, the goal isn’t to make your diet perfect. The goal is to make your diet more nutrient-dense. Rich Foods Poor Foods can help you attain that goal.
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