What’s the Best Way to Eat?

An article entitled Can We Say What Diet is Best for Health? by David Katz and Stephanie Meller, from Yale’s School of Public Health, was published in the Annual Review of Public Health a few years ago. A story about the article was published in the Atlantic by James Hamblin, who called it Science Compared Every Diet, and the Winner is Real Food. I would have edited out the word “Real” and simply called it “Food.” Then I might have presented a review of the differences between Food (With a Capital F) and manufactured calories.

Like a presentation I give from time to time, Katz and Meller compared a number of popular diets, including low-carb, low-fat, low-glycemic, Mediterranean, DASH, Paleolithic, and vegan, among others. They concluded that “A diet of minimally processed foods close to nature, predominantly plants, is decisively associated with health promotion and disease prevention.”  Michael Pollan said it in just seven words: “Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much.”

While the fight continues about the precise components of the healthiest diet, Katz, Meller, Pollan, and Sukol have reached the same conclusion: If you restrict your carbohydrate intake to intact carbs, and your fat intake to nourishing fats, and your protein to high-quality protein, your double chin will begin to shrink away almost immediately, you skin will begin to shine in just a few days, your pants will fit better in two weeks, and your energy level will improve dramatically. Your risk of chronic disease, including heart disease, diabetes, strokes, and many types of cancer, will fall by up to eighty percent. It doesn’t matter what you call the diet as long as you eat real food.

Here are a few definitions to help you:

1) An intact carb refers to any and all vegetables, beans, fruits and whole grains with an intact fiber matrix. If a carb has had its fiber matrix stripped away, it becomes a stripped carb. The most important examples of stripped carbs in the American diet are white flour, corn starch and corn syrup, white rice, and sugar. These carbs have had their fiber matrix and phytonutrients stripped away. It’s not a coincidence that white flour looks exactly like corn starch and powdered sugar. The original identity of the food has been stripped away, and all that’s left is a pile of white powder. Be “carb selective,” and don’t eat stripped carbs if you don’t have to. Don’t worry about the glycemic index; it becomes a non-issue when you avoid stripped carbs.

2) Nourishing fat sources include avocados, olives and olive oil, nuts, seeds, dark chocolate, and deep-sea fatty fish. There may be more, but for the meanwhile these are the ones that most of us agree on. Stay away from ultra-processed fats that were invented in the 20th century, and don’t buy any so-called “food” with the word “hydrogenated” in the ingredient list. Vote with your wallet: if you stop buying it, there’s a good chance that they will stop making it.

3) No matter what other kinds of protein you eat, high-quality protein includes beans (peanuts are a bean, too). Chickpeas, lentils, tofu, pulses, legumes. Many cultures consider beans to be magic, probably because they happen to have the rare quality of being rich in both protein and fiber at the same time. If you desire, you can also obtain high-quality protein from fish, poultry, eggs, dairy, and certain meats, as long as they themselves were raised on a nourishing diet, such as grass (cows and steer), phytoplankton (fish), or bugs and worms (poultry), where those food sources have been a significant part of their diet for thousands of years. On the other hand, when you eat highly processed or industrially-based protein of lesser quality, you are just concentrating low-quality food up the food chain. Straight into you.

David Katz says that “…We’re paying for ignorance with human lives…” and “…With [the] knowledge already at our disposal, we could eliminate eighty percent of chronic disease…”

If you remember just one thing from this post, remember this: “If you focus on real food, nutrients tend to take care of themselves.”


Can You Believe It? Fat is Good for You!

A few years ago I read a cookbook called Fat, a celebration of flavor written by Jennifer McLagan. A few days later, I tried the sage butter sauce recipe with pasta: Fry 30 fresh, whole sage leaves in ½ lb. butter on medium heat for about 10 minutes, just until the butter begins to brown and the leaves turn crispy. Meanwhile, boil ­­­3/4 pound of pasta in salted water and drain when done. Pour the sauce over the cooked, hot pasta and serve with a simple green salad and some fruit. I added steamed beet greens to the pasta as well. It was heavenly. The sage lost its tangy, sharp, fuzziness as it was transformed into something much softer around the edges. The gentle, flavorful crunch paired with the chewy, slippery pasta was unbelievably satisfying, and we ate nothing more that evening — no popcorn, no chocolate, no ice cream.

One-half pound of butter?! It sounds like a lot, though each serving ended up with significantly less, of course. A small portion is extraordinarily satisfying; a large portion is overdoing it. You need fat, and you’ll get it wherever you can if you don’t get it from nourishing sources. The “French paradox,” the observation that the French remain slender despite the quantity of butter and cream in their diet, is only a paradox if you believe that fat is the enemy. There is no paradox. Fat is nourishing. Good fats, that is.

Fat nourishes and satisfies. Fat is absorbed by a pathway that uses virtually no insulin. That’s why, one hundred years ago, before there were any medications for diabetes, the ONLY treatment for diabetes was a high-fat diet. Fat is dense with nutrients, vitamins and, most of all, flavor.

The low-fat, no-fat message is a major contributor to America’s diabetes and obesity problem.

You may already know about the variety of nourishing fats in olive oil, avocados, dark chocolate, nuts (and nut butters), seeds (like pumpkin or sunflower), and deep sea fatty fish. If not, I hope you’ll start to include a lot more of them in your diet.

The butterfat in dairy products is unique, in part because it contains an unusually diverse collection of fatty acids. These fatty acids serve as building blocks for the ceaseless repair and remodeling that goes on all our lives. Of course, they are especially important for all young mammals, who are busily building and growing their bodies in the months and years immediately after birth. 

Which fats aren’t food? The fats that were invented in the 20th century. Like soybean, corn, “vegetable,” cottonseed oil. When did cotton enter the food supply? I’m not sure about canola either, frankly. Canola stands for CANadian Oil Association. That’s not the name of a food.

Where do you find those fats? In synthetic fat products, such as margarine, Crisco, partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, coffee whiteners, and refined, ultra processed oils. These products are not food. They are food-like, but they do not nourish you. You may put them into your mouth and swallow, but they do not sustain you. Let’s talk about margarine. Any way you slice it, margarine is not butter. Most margarines are made from hydrogenated soybean oil. Sometimes with a little bit of butter. But don’t be fooled.

The word margarine is related to margalit, the Hebrew word for pearl. Margarine exits the machine a pearly gray color. My mother, born in 1936, remembers when “oleo” was sold with a tiny bead of red food coloring. Kneading the red bead into the gray, waxy material, as she did with her thoroughly modern Aunt Helen, slowly turned the gray wax into a yellow-colored product that more closed resembled butter. In those days, the dairy lobby was more powerful than the soybean lobby. Now it’s the reverse.

One way to identify products that are not really foods is by their names. Instead of being called by names our great-ancestors would have recognized (like butter and yogurt), they have fanciful names with healthful, pseudo-scientific, old-fashioned, or playful connotations that are meant to evoke all kinds of warm, cozy feelings. 

Product categories like margarine, with its endlessly creative, industry-generated names, are not food. Think about Smart Balance (seesaw), Blue Bonnet (hi granny!), Promise (not really), Country Crock (old-fashioned, homemade), Benecol (bene means good, col evokes cholesterol), or I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter (why not—we just told you?). These are not foods, and your own granny would likely have told you the same.

One last point I’d like to make. When you choose animal-based fats, such as dairy from cows or eggs from poultry, do your best to choose products that come from the most well nourished animals to which you have access. I know these products cost more, but if that means you eat better quality animal-based food less often, and eat more vegetables and beans at other times, that’s a win. 

Remember that you are what you eat, and you are also what what-you-eat eats. Any time you eat anything that ate a substandard diet, you concentrate it up the food chain. Into you.   


YOUR HEALTHY PLATE: Golden Gazpacho Soup

You can think of gazpacho as soup and salad, both, at the same time. It will make a great first course at a nice dinner, but you can also take it to work for lunch (maybe with Mary’s Gone Crackers or a slice of toasted whole-grain bread). It would also make a scrumptiously satisfying mid-afternoon snack. Continue reading


YOUR HEALTHY PLATE: Joe’s Sassiest Asian Slaw Ever

My buddy and longtime fan Joe Gardewin has come up with what he calls “the very best and sassiest Asian slaw ever.” He says it’s great on turkey tacos but you should also feel free to eat it plain, right out of the bowl, if you want! His list of veggies is somewhat flexible, but includes cabbage, daikon radish, and hot peppers at the very least, and he is proud to say that he is a legit food snob since he hand-cuts his slaw. Go, Joe! Continue reading


Fourth of July Celebration (almost)!

Here’s one of my all-time favorite posts, reposted from July 4, 2010:
It’s the fourth of July today, and my sibs and I have converged on the family home for the great annual bash. On and off since yesterday evening, five strapping grandsons have been carrying cartons of beer, wine, soda, water, and iced tea up to the deck, where great drums of ice stand ready to receive them all. Continue reading


Eat, Drink, and Be Merry (plus one glorious recipe!)

An article on the obesity epidemic once ran in our local paper with the headline “Eat, drink, and be sorry.” Eat, drink, and be SORRY? The actual quote reads, “Eat, drink, and be merry, so that joy will accompany him in his work all the days of his life.” And herein lies the problem. Continue reading


Fruit: Friend or Foe?

Here is how this all got started:
Last month I received an email from a friend asking about whether it was okay to eat a lot of fruit every day. She had seen an article in the NYTimes, “How to Stop Eating Sugar,” in which she read that fresh fruit is a good way to satisfy a sweet tooth without resorting to processed items with their excessive (absurd even, I would say) amounts of added sugar. Without specifying exactly how much was too much, the author included a warning… … Continue reading




The Box-of-Real-Food Diet

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. Continue reading