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No, I'm not selling a book ($19.95 plus shipping and handling) on how to live to be 200 years old if you eat my miraculous health food discovery.

Rather, I'm doing an experiment in my own eating for better health, and I'm feeling healthier!

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In the past 2 years or so, I have become concerned about how much processed food I was eating.  The ingredients list on boxes from the supermarket have chemical names and mention artificial colors, preservatives, and stuff I wasn't even sure what they were for.  

Michael Pollan (website here) writes a lot about food--what is "real" food, and how should it be grown, processed, and marketed. I have not read any of his books all the way through, but there are several articles on his website which I have explored. His essential premise is that "real" food--not the hydrogenated, hyper-processed, genetically modified stuff in the center of the supermarket--is what we need to eat to be healthy.  He likes farmers who produce sustainably, without adding excessive chemicals to the process, such as hormones in cattle or pesticides on plants.

Here is a typical quote:

Don't eat anything your great-great-great grandmother wouldn't recognize as food. Imagine how baffled your ancestors would be in a modern supermarket: the epoxy-like tubes of Go-Gurt, the preternaturally fresh Twinkies, the vaguely pharmaceutical Vitamin Water. Those aren't foods, quite; they're food products. History suggests you might want to wait a few decades or so before adding such novelties to your diet, the substitution of margarine for butter being the classic case in point. My mother used to predict "they" would eventually discover that butter was better for you. She was right: the trans-fatty margarine is killing us. Eat food, not food products.

TIME, June 4, 2006

I heard Pollan do an hour lecture and Q&A session on the radio, and I was hooked.  Maybe there is something to this.  I certainly know that I was taking in WAY too much salt in my store brand Hamburger Helper(tm), potato chips, fast food burgers, and pre-cooked fried chicken at the supermarket.  

So, my interpretation of his advice:

The 200-Year Diet:
Unless somebody, somewhere in the world, was eating this food in this form two hundred years ago, I shouldn't eat it, either.

What I have been trying to do:
Since making the decision to change my diet a few months ago, I have been eating more around the edges of the supermarket, where the produce, cheese, and milk are.  My forays into the center of the store have mainly been for pasta, rice, beans, oatmeal, tea, and spaghetti sauce in a jar.  I have always loved the farmer's market, and so I shop there for produce in season.  

I'm learning to take more time to prepare food from scratch.  One of the problems with that is that it takes more time, and I'm hungry and impatient after work!  So I have been keeping a few ready-to-eat snacks on hand for a quick grab as I start to make dinner--carrot sticks, nuts, a banana, etc.  I am old enough to have been trained in home economics classes and at home to be a scratch cook.  Good moms, after all, need to know this stuff!  And I did 4-H cooking projects and was employed as the weekend breakfast baker at a bed-and-breakfast for a while.  So my skills are rusty, unused, but do exist.

My vegetable garden here in southern Indiana is also starting to produce salad-type stuff, and so I'm eating greens both raw and cooked.  There will soon be tomatoes and cucumbers, basil, canteloupe, watermelon, then beans, broccoli, and brussel sprouts in the fall.  I know how to preserve by canning, freezing, and dehydrating, so I'm likely to have a fully stocked pantry of stuff that I grew or that grew close to home.  And stuff that is minimally processed.

There is so much variety in the 200-year diet that I don't feel deprived in any way.  A little common sense, minimal research, and my penchant for fantasy novels set in quasi-Middle Ages time periods reminds me what is available.  I can certainly have stir-fried vegetables and lean meat; cheese; bread and pasta; quiche (called "egg pie" in old recipe books going back to colonial America); popcorn; sausage, ham, bacon and other pork; chicken, beef, fish, goat, mutton; all fresh fruit.  Hardly a penitential bread and water diet!

How have I been feeling?  There are three main effects so far:

(1)  I've been taking a multivitamin and glucosamine/chondroitin for joint problems for a while now--almost a year.  But my joint pain and flexibility, especially in the knees, has improved.  However, there has been a significant increase in improvement since I stopped eating as much processed food, and especially salt.

(2)  I'm losing a little weight.  Slowly but surely. Maybe it is less hydrogenated oil and high fructose corn syrup! And I'm gradually adding more walking to my routine, trying to get up to 3 miles a day (to work and back--and work is at the top of a very steep hill!).  But it is amazing how few calories are in fruits, vegetables, pasta, rice, and lean meat cooked without heavy sauces.

(3)  When I do eat something that is highly processed--potato chips, cookies from a box, fast food, Hamburger Helper(tm), Twinkies(tm), beef jerky from the convenience store, or an ice cream treat--I am aware of an unpleasant chemical sort of taste.  It is as if my body is telling my brain, "This stuff doesn't taste good. Do you really want it? Is it really proper?  'Cause you know, Dar's brain, I'm not liking it."

Another side effect is that shopping is simpler!  By focusing on plain foods in their closer-to-natural form, I have fewer choices, and am in and out of the store much faster.  With stuff that tastes good and feels like it is what I should be eating.

Ask me in a year how I'm doing--but so far, I'm liking this "new" diet from two centuries ago!

Originally posted to Dar Nirron on Wed Jun 09, 2010 at 10:07 AM PDT.

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