I write Your Health is On Your Plate because there are a couple of things that I want everyone to really understand. First, I want you to understand that there’s a big difference between real food and manufactured calories. A huge difference, really. Real food nourishes; manufactured calories entertain (at best). Manufactured calories also cause a lot of very serious medical problems. Like diabetes and obesity, for starters. And strokes and heart attacks.
One way that I explain this is to have my patients envision a great big box. And on the outside of that box, in big fat magic marker, it says “REAL FOOD.” Now, I say, there are thousands of different items in that box, but they fall into just eleven categories, which are fruits, vegetables, beans, whole grains (only whole), eggs, dairy, nuts, seeds, meats, fish, and poultry. This is real food. Now, not everybody is going to want to eat everything in that box. Some people don’t eat meat. Some avoid dairy. Some are allergic to nuts, or shellfish. But they are food, and these are the choices if you are looking to nourish yourself.
Everything else is manufactured calories.
Like non-dairy creamers, artificial sweeteners, margarine, candy, soda pop, fruity pebbles, Crisco, froot loops, boo-berry (not blueberry), or apple cinnamon cheerios. You see, the food industry knows that we know that we’re supposed to eat more fruits and vegetables, so it gives products names like vegetable oil, or vegetable shortening. What vegetable would that be, exactly?
The food industry also knows that we have a biological imperative to eat color. Each and every color represents a different phytonutrient, a different building block for your good health. Because you never know which nutrient you’re going to need next. You could step off the curb wrong, or scratch your cornea, or catch a nasty virus that strips your gut and knocks you off your game for an entire weekend. But if you’re well nourished, and your immune system is able to mount a strong defense against that virus, maybe you won’t even catch it.
Being well nourished is about eating the rainbow. That’s why I want you to cover your plate with purple cabbage, radishes, apples, carrots, oranges, blueberries and greens. There’s a reason we are drawn to color. We crave color, which is why there are so many products like skittles and M&Ms and lucky charms and bright blue icing. It’s easy to see why they appeal. And it’s not that you can never eat them, by the way. It’s just that they don’t go in the plus category. You can’t count them as food.
Consider this: Imagine you go to the movies, and you eat a big bag of sour patch kids, and then you go out for dinner afterwards. Totally believable scenario. Happens every day in this country. But what if they sold roasted Brussels sprouts and grilled salmon at the movie theater? Nobody would go out for dinner afterward! Why not? Because your brain knows the difference. And when you eat a bag of candy, despite the fact that there’s 300 calories worth of sugar and gelatin in your stomach, your brain knows it wasn’t nourished yet, and IT’S STILL HUNGRY!
I want you to be a well nourished human being who sometimes enjoys a little entertainment. I would never ask you to take away your slice of key lime pie on Sundays if that’s what makes life worth living. But Americans are eating the equivalent of key lime pie three times a day. When you eat a bowl of breakfast cereal in the morning, and a sandwich with chips for lunch, and a bowl of pasta for dinner, then all you ate all day was entertainment.
If I had just ten seconds to give someone nutritional advice, it would be this: eat more fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables nourish us. And you can always find them in a box of real food.