A few thoughts on food

In 1949, Dr. Elmer M. Nelson championed an opinion that I believe is at the foundation of our national health crisis: “It is wholly unscientific to state that a well-fed body is more able to resist disease than a less well-fed body.”

This position was and remains commercially expedient, but it is not, nor has it ever been, true. Our bodies are in a constant state of sustaining themselves on the fuel we provide. If the fuel we provide does not deliver adequate nutrition, we will break down. This has been proven hundreds of times in hundreds of ways. It is the very essence of a scientific statement.

The most prominent breakdowns in today’s America are linked to excessive sugar consumption (fructose, specifically): obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. Sugar is a problem on its own; on top of that, when we eat a lot of it, we’re probably doing it at the expensive of eating moderate quantities of the quality foods we require for good health.

I have lately noticed the suggestion that we should tax bad food and subsidize good food. While I like the idea of food subsidies going to organic food and vegetables rather than corn and wheat, I’m a little wary of the idea of taxing “bad food.” This is entirely because I do not completely trust our authorities to arrive at an accurate picture of what constitutes “good” and “bad” food. I would wholeheartedly support a tax on soda, but what if policymakers adhere to the outdated idea that dietary fat and cholesterol are inherently bad? Good sources of fat and cholesterol are essential for nutrition and health.

These days, I am one of the healthiest eaters I know. I eat so well that my body is healing itself from a thyroid condition that is commonly labeled “incurable”. (Proper credit should also be given to my whole foods supplement program – mostly Standard Process). Even so, I can think of three things in my diet that might be erroneously portrayed as “bad foods” and taxed under such a policy.

  1. Butter. Butter is part of my healthy diet. It would probably be a bad idea to eat it by the scoop, but I hope that not many people would find that notion appetizing anyway. I imagine that some butter is bad – specifically, butter that comes from cows that receive hormones and antibiotics. But that becomes a question of the source, not the food itself.
  2. The same goes for red meat. I eat beef that comes from grass-fed cows, not Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations or CAFOs. CAFO meat is a travesty – but again, that’s the fault of the source, not the food. Legumes (beans, lentils) are not a healthy choice for me. That being the case, if I could not eat meat, I would likely be unable to maintain adequate levels of protein consumption. A food that is necessary for the healthy nutrition of some people probably should not be labeled “bad.”
  3. Salt. I don’t eat processed foods, so my diet contains almost no salt. The salt I sprinkle lightly on dinner is kosher, mineral-rich, blah blah blah. I probably wouldn’t whine too much about this one, to be fair. I consume little enough salt that a tax on it wouldn’t be terribly meaningful to my budget.

That’s just me. What I’m learning on my road to health is that we all have different nutritional requirements. There are certainly people out there who do well on legumes, or who have no problem with whole grains. I’m not one of them. Those are examples of good foods that are not good for me. I’ll bet my ancestors probably didn’t eat much of them, and thus my body is inherently unsure of what to make of them.

If I were to have a point, it would be this: I think that as children we are not taught to perceive the connection between what we eat and how we feel. I believe that this disconnect in our own body awareness sabotages our efforts at good health, because on some level we would love to believe that all foods are created equal; that organic beef is equivalent to CAFO beef; that a calorie is a calorie; or that all sugars (glucose, fructose) are the same. It would be a lot easier for us if we could eat anything that our society calls food and still be healthy, but it’s just not the way it’s working out. “You are what you eat” doesn’t quite sum it up. But what we eat and how healthy we feel are inextricably linked – they are two sides of the same coin.

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