Thursday, October 15, 2009

What's For Dinner?

More and more, it seems, Americans are opting for the easiest and cheapest routes when it comes to what we feed ourselves, and our families.  Sure, times are tough.  We need to cut corners.  Is it surprising to note that with more and more “things” competing for our dollars, we spend a smaller percent of our incomes on food today than we ever have?  We spend a smaller percent of our incomes on food than the citizens of most other countries.  Our government spends more, per person on health care, than any other country in the world, yet we rank somewhere in the mid-30’s in order of healthiest countries.  Could there be some correlation between our priorities about what we are feeding ourselves and our overall health?

I have previously touched on what we feed ourselves for breakfast and lunch.  Here, I would like to take a look at dinner.

To quote Joel Fuhrman:  “60% of the average American’s diet is made up of processed foods. Only about 7% comes in the form fruits and vegetables; and only half of that is fresh, colorful fruits and vegetables.”

Think about what you ate yesterday.  What color was the majority of your food?  What consistency was it?  How much of it was made in your own kitchen?

Most people cannot fathom eating dinner without a large portion of it being devoted to some form of meat.  While meat provides important protein for our muscles to function properly and other nutrients for good nerve communication, it also provides high amounts of Omega-6 fatty acids, which are shown to have a direct effect on body fat and the cellular fat associated with Type 2 Diabetes.  Many of us are drowning ourselves in meat.  Most people only need 5-7 ounces of protein each day.  A standard 3-ounce serving of meat is about the size of a full deck of cards.  That’s it. 

Non-meat protein sources include the ever economical beans & legumes, eggs, dairy and nuts, yet we often feel slighted if we have not been able to sink our teeth into some “real” meat - beef, chicken or pork - at least once if not twice each day.    So, we save money by purchasing the “bargains” – cheap ground meat, value-meal chicken, packaged meats from the super stores; and we save time by getting what we can prepared (or even partially prepared) for us: frozen chicken tenders, “family portioned” frozen dinners, meat in a can.

Where is all that meat coming from? 

There are only about 5 meat-processing plants responsible for handling 85% of our entire country’s meat supply.  5.  FIVE.  That’s it.  When there is a problem at these self-supervised plants and a contamination occurs, that meat will be getting out to a lot of people.  We’ve heard about just some of these instances.  The cheap meat – meat with “beef fillers”, cheap ground meat, potted meat, meat in those frozen meat-loaf meals, in the canned pasta kids’ foods, the meat in the “meat sauces” and the restaurant meat – has been cleaned up for you.  The “fillers” are the parts that we would not necessarily choose from a butcher’s counter:  intestines, joints, brains and other organs/body parts.  These pieces have been cleaned up by washing them with an ammonia solution to kill all the bacteria, rinsed, then chopped up and added to the “real” meat and processed for your dinner enjoyment.  Yum.  But at least you’re getting that meat.
We also assume that all “good” dinners must include a “starch” (but they never told us why in home-ec class), so we gravitate toward the potatoes:  baked; mashed; dried, boxed and served up with a bright powdery “sauce” packet”; or the rice:  white, or a snazzy mix with the yellow-green “chicken” flavoring, or the creamy broccoli-cheeze sauce.

Potatoes seem harmless enough on the surface – especially if you don’t add butter or sour cream, but is it surprising to know that during digestion, a white potato  raises insulin levels more drastically than table sugar?  And the boxed stuff?  Most boxed mixes contain artificial colorings, artificial flavorings, chemicals and the legal poison MSG (monosodium glutamate) the flavor enhancer, as well as high levels of sodium.

The remaining spot on the plate might contain a vegetable like corn or canned green beans, or maybe there is an accompanying salad made from iceberg lettuce topped with a nice creamy dressing, but rarely are there bright, vibrant colors from a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables – especially the dark leafy greens (greens are among the most lacking foods in our diets).

How many of us become short-order cooks for our kids, since “they just won’t eat anything”? Rarely, will a child starve themselves.  Eventually a child will develop a taste for the foods he is exposed to.  Little Chinese children eat Chinese food because that is what they are fed.  Mexican children eat Mexican food because that is what they are fed.  Healthy children eat a variety of healthy foods after being exposed to them on a regular basis because that’s what they are fed!  I know of one family’s children who actually applaud when they are served black beans.  It’s all about the attitude. Kids (big and little) CAN eat healthy foods.

We need to rethink the way we eat.  Meat should be an accessory at most meals rather than the “main event”.  Meatless meals should not be looked at as a “hardship”, but rather as an opportunity to explore other foods and protein sources.  Side dishes should include more than one vegetable, and “starches” should be limited to only whole grain (brown rice, bulgur wheat, quinoa, barley), if any.  Experiment.  Get out of your rut!

When we look at the ways most Americans eat, we should also look at how most Americans die (heart disease, cancers, stroke and diabetes-related illnesses) and ask ourselves:  Do I want to die like the average American?  If the answer is “no”, then you must stop eating like the average American.

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