Nina Planck says it's time to get back to real, whole foods again
1. What a real treat we have at the “Livin’ La Vida Low-Carb” blog as the author of the book Real Food: What To Eat And Why is here with us today. She’s food enthusiast Nina Planck and she has quite a perspective as it relates to advocating people start eating more “real food” in their diet while shunning the processed garbage that unfortunately has become all-too-common in the modern diet.
Welcome Nina and I appreciate you spending a few moments with me and my readers. You grew up around fresh produce and quickly fell in love with farmer’s markets. How did that experience shape you into the enthusiastic lover of “real food” today? And what is “real food” as opposed to “fake food?”
My mother read Adelle Davis and she taught me that real food is whole food. We ate meat, fish, poultry, dairy, eggs, and lots of produce. The only thing that was restricted in our house was junk food, and that boiled down to white flour and sugar of all kinds. So dark chocolate was a popular dessert. So was proper ice cream, not too sweet, and homemade fruit pies, and real pancakes, made with whole grains we ground ourselves.
My definition of real food is food we’ve been eating a long time and food which is more or less farmed and prepared the way it used to be. So that means wild salmon and grass-fed beef; ecological fruit and vegetables; traditional fats and oils (animal and vegetable); raw milk cheese (not processed fake cheese or low-cholesterol cheese); and whole eggs (not egg-whites, pasteurized eggs, and powdered eggs). If you eat around the edges of the supermarket, you’ll be eating real food. Avoid the highly processed, high-profit-margin, low-nutrition foods in the center. Except, as my mother would say, the brown rice and olive oil.
2. You believe (as do I) that most people would actually enjoy eating a more traditional diet of fruits, vegetables, grass-fed meats and dairy products, and other real food if they simply tried them again and greatly reduced or eliminated their reliance on the overabundance of what I like to call “carbage” from their diet. But we are a nation full of people who wants what we want (junk food, fast food, meals in a box) and we don’t want to pay a lot of money for it.
How do you convince someone who says they can’t afford to eat a “healthy” diet with all those foods and is that a good enough excuse for not eating “real food?” Should the government or some other third party step in and help make fresh healthy foods more readily available to the lower-income consumer?
Carbage is expensive and because it contains so little nutrition, it’s worse than expensive: it’s wasteful. Why put all those empty calories in your body? The nutrients are in the foods we’ve eaten since the Stone Age: meat, fish, poultry, produce, nuts, and fats. I’m also a fan, nutritionally and personally, of real dairy foods (especially raw milk and good butter) but they’re not for everyone.
3. Many people have come to the conclusion that the best way for them to start eating better and living a healthier lifestyle is to start cutting the fat out of their diet. After all, we’ve always been told--at least over the past three decades--that dietary fat is the reason why we have become such a nation full of overweight and obese people. But you devoted an entire chapter of your book on the reasons why fat should be consumed, including saturated fat.
For my readers who may still be skeptical about why fat will not “clog” their arteries and give them a heart attack, explain why real foods like butter, coconut oil, beef, and other high-saturated fat sources are indeed safe for consumption. If fat is not the culprit in heart disease, then what are we eating that is contributing to this health problem?
The main villains of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease are industrial foods: corn oil, corn syrup, white flour, and trans fats. Don’t eat them. The good guys are omega-3 fats in foods like wild cold-water fish; whole eggs; and natural fats, including saturated fats, like coconut oil, and unsaturated ones, like olive oil. If you eat traditional fats rather than industrial ones, you’ll be fine.
Many traditional cultures eat traditional fats, including saturated fats, and don’t get heart disease. That’s because natural saturated fats don’t raise cholesterol in unhealthy ways AND because they don’t eat industrial foods. Coconut oil in particular BALANCES HDL and LDL. Deficiency of B vitamins raises homocysteine, which damages arteries.
How did we get deficient in B vitamins? By eating carbage. Don’t eat white flour and sugars, which deplete the body of B vitamins. You’ll get plenty of B vitamins from meat, fish, poultry, and whole grains.
4. As Michael Pollan outlined in his amazing book The Omnivore’s Dilemma, one of the real problems we face with our food supply nowadays is the prevalence of a corn derivative in virtually every food out there. And the worst culprit of them all is sugar’s evil twin--high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) which sneaks its way into just about everything the average American eats.
Why do you think people are so unconcerned about eating all these foods that are nutrient-deficient and absolutely loaded with excessive amounts of sugar and carbohydrates? Is there any practical way to get through to them and hammer home the message that they are destroying their body and their health by forgoing a “real food” diet?
There is only one way: you must eliminate all forms of industrial corn from your diet, including corn oil, corn syrup, and even corn-fed beef. Of the three, corn-fed beef is by far the healthiest food. But what a New Year’s Resolution!
For the average American, a personal ban on industrial corn would be a radical move, and, I think, not a difficult one, if your eyes are open to all the foods that ARE good for you. There are so many real foods. I’m getting hungry just thinking of one category: nuts. Brazil nuts in my pantry, almonds, walnuts, pecans, pine nuts – I love them all. On you can go, with another category of real food: cheeses, say, or fruits.
5. I'm with you on the nuts and cheeses! Your passion for “real food” is so evident as I read through the pages of your book and I’m sure it makes you wonder why more people aren’t as enthusiastic about adding fresh, whole foods to their diet as has become such a normal part of your life.
Let’s see if we can help people who sincerely want to change their diet from a typical, meal-in-a-box one into a farmer’s market-styled plan. What would you suggest they do to begin making that transition starting right now?
After the corn suggestion above, I suggested eating fresh fruits and vegetables at every single meal. People are astonished at how much produce I eat everyday and I’m too often astonished at how little they eat. It’s more important to eat fresh fruits and vegetables every single day wherever they come from than to eat local and seasonal foods. The grocery store is your friend in this respect. Even the sorriest grocery story has a produce section. Use it.
6. A major problem that people who are unfamiliar with eating “real food” may not even be aware of is the big factory-styled farms. Before I lost 180 pounds eating a healthy low-carb diet in 2004, I didn’t care how a tomato got to my supermarket’s produce section. I just wanted to be able to buy one to slice up for my cheeseburger when I wanted it.
But not all fruits and vegetables and even beef are the same, are they? Explain the difference between a mass-produced food product and one that you can purchase at a farmer’s market.
Local food tastes better. There’s no doubt about it. And there is junk-–pesticides, fungicides, waxes--on a lot of industrial produce. But there is a greater difference, for your health, between processed foods and junk foods and whole, real foods. If your only choice is supermarket broccoli and grain-fed ground beef, eat it. Don’t eat the other garbage that comes in TV dinners and canned soups. Eat simple, whole foods.
If you can afford it, spend more money on foods high up the food chain. So, in our house, we spend more on grass-fed and pastured meat and dairy and eggs, and on wild seafood. Ideally, these foods should also be free of hormones and antibiotics. We buy local fruit and vegetables because we love them and are lucky to get them near us in New York City, but in the winters, my mother raised us on the produce department at the local discount chain, Magruder's. You must eat fruit and vegetables every day.
7. We hear a lot of nutritional buzz words these days that don’t mean very much to the uninformed. They’ve become such marketing slogans for food manufacturers that they are almost rendered useless in the modern vernacular since nobody really knows what they mean. Perhaps you can help clearly define what “organic,” “healthy whole grains,” and “grass-fed” means for my readers. Are there any other popular labels that you feel have become too convoluted, too?
Organic is defined by US law and it means the food was produced without chemicals, nitrogen fertilizer, irradiation, and genetic modification. Organic food is certainly a better choice, a cleaner choice, than industrial food.
Grass-fed is not defined, but it means, generally, that the beef or dairy cattle, goat, or sheep was raised on its God-given diet of grass, not grain. Many grass farmers feed some grain, so you’ll need to ask if you want 100% grass-fed.
Whole grains should mean the whole grain is there: bran, fiber, germ, and starch. Don’t be fooled by "wheat flour." It must say 100% whole wheat or whole rye to be whole grain.
8. I blog about these issues all the time, but we seem to have an ever-increasing problem with people becoming overweight and obese, getting diabetes, and putting their health at risk with such calamities as heart disease, stroke, and cancer, among others. All of this seems to coincide eerily with the nationalized promotion of a high-carb, low-fat diet ever since I was a child.
If there is such a rise in weight problems and disease despite the fact that our government and health organizations like the American Heart Association, American Diabetes Association, and others have been pushing this kind of a diet, then why haven’t other nutritional alternatives such as a low-carbohydrate diet become more embraced as an alternative for those who don’t do well on the recommended low-fat regimen?
They just haven’t moved with the science. It’s clear from the Nurse’s Health Study-–heck, it’s clear from observing the population even superficially--that the high-carbohydrate, low-fat advice has led to a nation ever more fat, diabetic, and heart-diseased. The folks in the nutritional establishment will come around when the last people who believe the failing theory have died. That’s how scientific and nutritional opinion changes shape--slowly. Too slowly!
9. One of the world’s most perfect foods in my opinion is eggs. They are chock full of some of the healthiest ingredients in the world--including protein, antioxidants, omega-3s and other essential nutrients. And yet we’ve been sternly warned against consuming them because of their high cholesterol content no thanks to the erroneous hypothesis forwarded by Ancel Keys regarding cholesterol.
Like the “fat will clog your arteries” concerns that many people have, how do you overcome the perception that a high-cholesterol diet is unhealthy? Why shouldn’t people worry about their LDL and total cholesterol so much that they’ll take a statin drug like Lipitor or Crestor to artificially lower it?
Eggs are a perfect food. They contain excellent protein, digestible fats, and many nutrients for eye and brain and heart. We have known for some time (1999, I think) that people who eat MORE eggs have LESS heart disease. We have known for some time that DIETARY cholesterol has little effect on BLOOD cholesterol. So there is no reason not to eat eggs.
There is a very good reason not to eat junk eggs: powdered, spray-dried eggs contain oxidized cholesterol which does clog arteries. Not natural fresh eggs. Don’t eat phony foods; eat real foods. One thing we notice about cholesterol-rich foods is that cholesterol likes to hang out with other nutrients. Thus some of the most nutritious foods are rich in cholesterol: eggs, shellfish, dairy, organ meats.
All these foods were (and are) prized by traditional cultures. That tells you something. There are many skeptics on statins and statins do have serious side effects. Read more at www.thincs.org.
10. What an honor it was to have you with us here today, Nina Planck. Your book Real Food: What To Eat And Why is absolutely amazing and I cannot recommend it highly enough to my readers interested in learning to eat better by putting more “real food” in their mouths.
It seems like an impossible task to get people to stop spending their money on “fake food” and to begin investing in “real food” for the sake of their weight and health. Do you believe a major paradigm shift could happen to make people become more conscious of their choices and to begin caring about the food they put inside of their bodies? And what final recommendations would you make for people wanting to adopt your "real food" philosophy?
Remember this: the information is there for anyone to read--nutrition counselors, government advice-givers, individuals. And the carbage and other junk food is also there for everyone to eat. You can’t change that. You can only change yourself. Start with your fridge.
If you’re doing all this already, you’re probably at your natural weight, so relax. Here are a few final tips I've learned along the way:
• Eat breakfast every day
• Get a lot more sleep
• Exercise (take the stairs & walk everywhere)
• Take smaller portions
• Eat real meat, poultry or fish every day (think deck of cards)
• Eat whole dairy foods as often as you like
• Eat real eggs as often as you like
• Eat a lot of vegetables at every meal (more than you think)
• Eat as many whole grains as you need (the size of your fist)
• Eat nuts, chocolate & coconut (if you like them)
• Eat a lot of omega-3 fats from wild fish (daily flaxseed oil for vegetarians)
• Don’t eat industrial vegetable oils
• Reduce or eliminate white flour, white rice & sugar
• Don’t eat junk food, diet food, or foods engineered to be low-fat
Learn more about Nina Planck and her Real Food concepts by visiting NinaPlanck.com. And be sure to sign up for her newsletter to stay current on all the latest news and information about living healthy with "real food."