Review: Rich Foods Poor Foods

      78 Comments on Review: Rich Foods Poor Foods

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:

  • Potatoes
  • Vegetable oil (sunflower, corn and/or canola oil)
  • Salt

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
  • Cornstarch
  • Sugar
  • Corn Oil
  • Salt
  • 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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78 thoughts on “Review: Rich Foods Poor Foods

  1. Walter Bushell

    A drawback of nutritional density as a goal is that, in the current environment it will scare people away from saturated and monounsaturated fats.

    Another is that there is an optimal point for most if not all nutrients beyond which they become toxic.

    It’s trying to reduce a situation with hundreds of dimensions with non linear interrelationships into a single number.

    Reply
  2. Linda R

    @Kathy
    I am now living on the proverbial fixed income, however, I gave this a lot of thought and made the decision to go ahead and buy the grass fed beef, organic eggs, organic butter, etc. Since I don’t purchase chips, cookies, pop, bottled water, boxed processed food, bread, muffins, crackers, anything w/sugar or wheat, and so forth, I figure my food bill is really an investment in my health. I put it into the same category as my everyday strength training work-out and my 20-30 minute walk on the T’mill, or the health insurance I buy or the supplements I take daily.
    In addition, knowing I am helping small family farms, I guess I sleep a little better at night.
    I just learned about a small company in a neighboring town that delivers organic fruits, veggies, and other good stuff, right to your door. I called and asked how they can possibly find organic stuff in Iowa, in the winter. They were honest about it and admitted that they do have to get some produce from S. America, so that is a little troubling, but I am going to give this a try.
    I have also discovered that my local Super Target is a great source for organic produce and grass fed beef, etc. They have the delicious Greek Gods yogurt as well. And dry roasted almonds, in olive oil! My favorite snack!!!

    Reply
  3. Julie

    “It is disappointing to see some of the paleo folks adopt the same attitudes as the vegan zealots.”

    I sometimes wonder if a lot of current paleo folks are former vegans. Paleo is very in right now, so maybe they’re just moving with fashion. And then next month they’ll move on to whatever else new diet becomes in (an all grass diet, maybe, lol).

    I know for a fact some paleo folks are former vegans, based on conversations at AHS. I guess a few of them brought their all-or-nothing mentality to their new diet.

    Reply
  4. Bill C.

    Thank you for the review, Tom. My wife and I recently started eating better. In the past three months I have lost 15 pounds and she has lost 30! (she always has to out do me). We found a farm nearby to get our grass fed cows and my wife found one co-worker that raises pigs and one that raises chickens. We also found a line on a CSA for our vegetables. We live in Ohio so we should be able to find raw milk sooner or later as well.

    This book will come in handy until our freezer is fully stocked!

    I have been conducting a study on the effects of garlic in diets. I have questioned hundreds of people and found that 99% of them consume garlic on a daily basis. I also found that not one of them has ever been bitten by a vampire. So eating garlic must ward off vampires! I’m going to be releasing my findings to the media soon. You and your readers may want to stock up on garlic before I do. I’m sure the store shelves will be empty within a day after they publish my findings.

    Now that you mention it, the one guy I know who was bitten by a vampire doesn’t like garlic.

    Reply
  5. Marilyn

    Julie, good luck on your new blog. And please do carry on boldly with the low carb aspect. I’m with Tom. It’s been really disappointing to see some of the recent developments. In my mind, the difference between low-carb paleo and plain old low-carb would be that “paleo” includes only real food, as opposed to some of the low-carb substitution products. And, yes! Real food includes butter and cream and cheese. And as I practice low-carb, some milk as well. (I just had a seance last night with my paleo 115-great grandmother, and she told me so!)

    I did some reading yesterday on “organic” in response to a someone’s questions. Organic can also have pesticide residues — just different ones. Organic isn’t necessarily any more nutritious. Organic might not be worth the difference in price. I don’t know what the Caltons say, but I’d say look for the freshest, take it home and wash it carefully, and enjoy.

    Reply
  6. CathyN

    I’m sorry that there are paleo purists out there. But that cannot be avoided as long as there are humans. Some people feel that if a little is good, a lot is better. Or that if they can’t be perfect, they are failing. It is so sad. I know many people like that. I’ve been guilty of that myself.

    I follow a paleo platform, but I enjoy cream or yogurt sometimes. I have wonderfully found that paleo/primal/lo-carb are adaptable ways of eating, and different folks have different views. But I haven’t seen anyone in the paleo/primal/society have violent reactions to viewing someone with a milk product (unless you try to shove it down their throat). We all just get along and learn from each other. Isn’t that how it should be?

    I also tend to follow lo-carb, as I don’t respond well to a lot of starch in my diet. I can’t imagine the pale community throwing things at me for eating dairy.

    BTW, I was also a former vegetarian who became ill quite quickly on that way of eating. So it just made sense to stop doing things that made me sick.

    Tom, your blog is just one of my favorites. I love your point of view, your humor, and logical (and entertaining) way of presenting your information.

    Thank you

    Thank you for reading.

    Reply
  7. Marilyn

    On the several occasions that I’ve calculated the total per pound price of the grass-fed meats that I’ve ordered and had shipped to my door, I’ve always been pleasantly surprised.

    If you can order it in larger quantities, it’s definitely cheaper than buying it at Whole Foods.

    Reply
  8. Bill C.

    Thank you for the review, Tom. My wife and I recently started eating better. In the past three months I have lost 15 pounds and she has lost 30! (she always has to out do me). We found a farm nearby to get our grass fed cows and my wife found one co-worker that raises pigs and one that raises chickens. We also found a line on a CSA for our vegetables. We live in Ohio so we should be able to find raw milk sooner or later as well.

    This book will come in handy until our freezer is fully stocked!

    I have been conducting a study on the effects of garlic in diets. I have questioned hundreds of people and found that 99% of them consume garlic on a daily basis. I also found that not one of them has ever been bitten by a vampire. So eating garlic must ward off vampires! I’m going to be releasing my findings to the media soon. You and your readers may want to stock up on garlic before I do. I’m sure the store shelves will be empty within a day after they publish my findings.

    Now that you mention it, the one guy I know who was bitten by a vampire doesn’t like garlic.

    Reply
  9. Marilyn

    On the several occasions that I’ve calculated the total per pound price of the grass-fed meats that I’ve ordered and had shipped to my door, I’ve always been pleasantly surprised.

    If you can order it in larger quantities, it’s definitely cheaper than buying it at Whole Foods.

    Reply
  10. The Older Brother

    @Marilyn

    If you’ve got the chance to really buy local and fresh (we’re in a csa for our veggies), consider NOT washing them thoroughly, or even at all. Just a good shake/brush off. That’s where Grok – and probably our grandparents – got lots of those probiotics that are all the rage right now.

    Joel Salatin recalls one of his grandmother’s bits of wisdom was something like “healthy kids have eaten a pound of dirt before they’re five years old.”

    That 2-4 pounds of gut flora we all carry around in our digestive system has to get “seeded” from somewhere!

    Cheers

    Reply
  11. The Older Brother

    @Marilyn

    If you’ve got the chance to really buy local and fresh (we’re in a csa for our veggies), consider NOT washing them thoroughly, or even at all. Just a good shake/brush off. That’s where Grok – and probably our grandparents – got lots of those probiotics that are all the rage right now.

    Joel Salatin recalls one of his grandmother’s bits of wisdom was something like “healthy kids have eaten a pound of dirt before they’re five years old.”

    That 2-4 pounds of gut flora we all carry around in our digestive system has to get “seeded” from somewhere!

    Cheers

    Reply
  12. Megan

    I just started down the primal path and I get a little put off by the hardcore paleo people. I ignore them now because all or nothing doesn’t work for me and I think it’s a terrible mentality for most people. I buy local when I can, but I got an amazing deal on factory farmed beef, so I’ll be eating what I have and then going grass-fed from there.

    I know I may not be getting all of the amazing benefits that food raised the “right” way may give me, but I’ve completely cut out grain (I was a bread-o-holic), cut way down on sugar (sorry, I’m never giving up raw honey, it’s too good in my tea), done away with bad oils, I eat a bit of cheese and a little bit of cream daily, and I eat way more fruits and veggies than I ever used to. I feel like we should be celebrating the great changes we make rather than bringing people down because they’re not 100% there.

    This book is a great resource because it shows people what good choices they can make in each aisle that will make us healthier in the end and gives reasons why additives are so bad in our food. I’m not sure I will be bringing it to the store with me, but I will be writing down the brands of things that I know my Whole Foods carries and keep that list with me when I shop. Since reading this book I have also noticed that my “big box” grocery stores carry many of the brands in the book, I just never looked for them (and you can always ask them to order stuff for you). I think the whole foods movement is gaining more traction and the more demand there is for whole healthy foods, the better the chance local stores will carry the items.

    Thanks for the fantastic review!

    That exactly why I recommended the book. (I receive books I don’t recommend as well.) It’s nice to know we can make better choices even at Wal-Mart.

    Reply
  13. Marilyn

    @The Older Brother: Oh heavens, yes. I rarely wash the stuff I get from the local farmer’s market. When we were in the garden at home, or I had my own garden, I ate a lot of things on the spot. Of course, I don’t hesitate to pick stuff up from the floor and eat it here at home, either. And as I get older, and it takes me longer to bend over, the 5-second rule no longer applies. LOL

    My reason for suggesting washing organic things of unknown provenance is that there are some chemicals that are allowed to be used that I wouldn’t want to ingest.

    Cheers back.

    Reply
  14. Marilyn

    @Bill C: I’m still using garlic that I bought in quantity from the local farm last September. It’s nice and dry and peels easily. I keep it in an open plastic box in the door of the frig.

    Reply
  15. HilliardJoe

    Regarding the paleo/primal purists (who seem to take it much more seriously than Mark Sisson himself does BTW) I just ignore them.

    Maybe I’ll worry about stuff that closely when I’m close to my goal weight. I figure my body appreciates the better food it is getting now than when I was eating the typical, high carb, American diet.

    Losing 30 pounds since Jan 1 of this year seems to show that I’m on the right track for now.

    Mark Sisson has the right attitude about it. He encourages people to follow the diet most of the time, not every single day of their lives.

    Reply
  16. Megan

    I just started down the primal path and I get a little put off by the hardcore paleo people. I ignore them now because all or nothing doesn’t work for me and I think it’s a terrible mentality for most people. I buy local when I can, but I got an amazing deal on factory farmed beef, so I’ll be eating what I have and then going grass-fed from there.

    I know I may not be getting all of the amazing benefits that food raised the “right” way may give me, but I’ve completely cut out grain (I was a bread-o-holic), cut way down on sugar (sorry, I’m never giving up raw honey, it’s too good in my tea), done away with bad oils, I eat a bit of cheese and a little bit of cream daily, and I eat way more fruits and veggies than I ever used to. I feel like we should be celebrating the great changes we make rather than bringing people down because they’re not 100% there.

    This book is a great resource because it shows people what good choices they can make in each aisle that will make us healthier in the end and gives reasons why additives are so bad in our food. I’m not sure I will be bringing it to the store with me, but I will be writing down the brands of things that I know my Whole Foods carries and keep that list with me when I shop. Since reading this book I have also noticed that my “big box” grocery stores carry many of the brands in the book, I just never looked for them (and you can always ask them to order stuff for you). I think the whole foods movement is gaining more traction and the more demand there is for whole healthy foods, the better the chance local stores will carry the items.

    Thanks for the fantastic review!

    That exactly why I recommended the book. (I receive books I don’t recommend as well.) It’s nice to know we can make better choices even at Wal-Mart.

    Reply
  17. Marilyn

    @The Older Brother: Oh heavens, yes. I rarely wash the stuff I get from the local farmer’s market. When we were in the garden at home, or I had my own garden, I ate a lot of things on the spot. Of course, I don’t hesitate to pick stuff up from the floor and eat it here at home, either. And as I get older, and it takes me longer to bend over, the 5-second rule no longer applies. LOL

    My reason for suggesting washing organic things of unknown provenance is that there are some chemicals that are allowed to be used that I wouldn’t want to ingest.

    Cheers back.

    Reply
  18. Marilyn

    @Bill C: I’m still using garlic that I bought in quantity from the local farm last September. It’s nice and dry and peels easily. I keep it in an open plastic box in the door of the frig.

    Reply
  19. HilliardJoe

    Regarding the paleo/primal purists (who seem to take it much more seriously than Mark Sisson himself does BTW) I just ignore them.

    Maybe I’ll worry about stuff that closely when I’m close to my goal weight. I figure my body appreciates the better food it is getting now than when I was eating the typical, high carb, American diet.

    Losing 30 pounds since Jan 1 of this year seems to show that I’m on the right track for now.

    Mark Sisson has the right attitude about it. He encourages people to follow the diet most of the time, not every single day of their lives.

    Reply
  20. Dana

    (from the comments) I could quibble about grain being natural for chickens. They descend from the red junglefowl of SE Asia. What grain is naturally found in jungles, I wonder? Yes, they’ll eat it anyway, because they’re omnivores and omnivores are opportunistic eaters. But so are we, and yet grain is bad for us in the long run.

    That said, they’re birds and they may have the proper adaptations to break down some or all of the antinutrients in grain, just because birds tend to be better adapted to eating seeds. And chickens tend to be eaten young anymore anyway, so what the heck. I’m a bit more concerned about the soy that nearly every chicken in the U.S. is also eating. Boo to Tropical Traditions for not making their “Cocofeed” available to the general public.

    ANYWAY. I am so happy to see a popular book about nutrition that focuses on the micronutrients. I feel they have been greatly neglected and that micronutrient deprivation is likely a major factor in the chronic metabolic disease epidemic (not just obesity, which is mostly a symptom anyway, not a disease). Went and looked this up in my local library’s catalog; if it’s half as good as it sounds I’ll be buying it next. Thank you for reviewing it.

    Reply
  21. Laurie

    Tom, thanks for the review and reminding me to tread carefully with my best friend. He is on a business trip as I write this and is reading my copy of “The Paleo Solution” by Robb Wolf. I needed to be reminded that starting with removing the grains and sugar from his diet is an important first step and the rest can be “tweaked” later. I don’t eat grassfed meat and organic produce all the time either. I do the best I can with the resources available to me. He has diabetes in his family and I’m trying to get him to eat healthier and lose the “wheat belly” he’s gotten in his 30’s which has stayed now in his 40’s.

    He is excited about Paleo, he texted me and wants to give it a shot. To me, this is the one that counts as he’s been my “touchstone” since well, forever. With any luck I’ll be bringing him on next year’s cruise, excited, more energized and healthier, with or without his boyfriend. P.S. Wouldn’t it be awesome if I “converted” his boyfriend too?! 😉

    Wise move. Start with the easy steps. We don’t want to overwhelm people we’re trying to help.

    Reply
  22. Dana

    (from the comments) I could quibble about grain being natural for chickens. They descend from the red junglefowl of SE Asia. What grain is naturally found in jungles, I wonder? Yes, they’ll eat it anyway, because they’re omnivores and omnivores are opportunistic eaters. But so are we, and yet grain is bad for us in the long run.

    That said, they’re birds and they may have the proper adaptations to break down some or all of the antinutrients in grain, just because birds tend to be better adapted to eating seeds. And chickens tend to be eaten young anymore anyway, so what the heck. I’m a bit more concerned about the soy that nearly every chicken in the U.S. is also eating. Boo to Tropical Traditions for not making their “Cocofeed” available to the general public.

    ANYWAY. I am so happy to see a popular book about nutrition that focuses on the micronutrients. I feel they have been greatly neglected and that micronutrient deprivation is likely a major factor in the chronic metabolic disease epidemic (not just obesity, which is mostly a symptom anyway, not a disease). Went and looked this up in my local library’s catalog; if it’s half as good as it sounds I’ll be buying it next. Thank you for reviewing it.

    Reply
  23. Laurie

    Tom, thanks for the review and reminding me to tread carefully with my best friend. He is on a business trip as I write this and is reading my copy of “The Paleo Solution” by Robb Wolf. I needed to be reminded that starting with removing the grains and sugar from his diet is an important first step and the rest can be “tweaked” later. I don’t eat grassfed meat and organic produce all the time either. I do the best I can with the resources available to me. He has diabetes in his family and I’m trying to get him to eat healthier and lose the “wheat belly” he’s gotten in his 30’s which has stayed now in his 40’s.

    He is excited about Paleo, he texted me and wants to give it a shot. To me, this is the one that counts as he’s been my “touchstone” since well, forever. With any luck I’ll be bringing him on next year’s cruise, excited, more energized and healthier, with or without his boyfriend. P.S. Wouldn’t it be awesome if I “converted” his boyfriend too?! 😉

    Wise move. Start with the easy steps. We don’t want to overwhelm people we’re trying to help.

    Reply
  24. Christopher

    I’m also sure that the Baked Lay’s raise your blood sugar much faster due to the fat content in the normal lay’s.

    Here’s a little fun fact by the way:

    On a carb based diet of Yogurt (fat free!) and granola bars, I gain weight on 1600 calories a day. On a low carb, high fat and protein diet, I lost a pound in two days eating 2,000+ calories a day. And it wasn’t even so “low carb”.

    Careful, you’ll have the calorie freaks screaming at you.

    Reply
  25. Christopher

    I’m also sure that the Baked Lay’s raise your blood sugar much faster due to the fat content in the normal lay’s.

    Here’s a little fun fact by the way:

    On a carb based diet of Yogurt (fat free!) and granola bars, I gain weight on 1600 calories a day. On a low carb, high fat and protein diet, I lost a pound in two days eating 2,000+ calories a day. And it wasn’t even so “low carb”.

    Careful, you’ll have the calorie freaks screaming at you.

    Reply

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