Let’s talk about food. In fact, let’s start with one food in particular. Corn. Not the sweet crisp yellow stuff that you eat in the summertime, as part of the family barbecue. Not the creamy yellow stuff you add to lime beans to make succotash. Not the brown kernels that you heat and make into popcorn. Nope, we’re gonna talk about industrial corn, stuff that you can’t even eat just picked off the stem. That should be your first clue that this is something that is not good for you.
In order to have this conversation, I’m going to ask you to watch a movie–this movie: King Corn (No, really, I mean it. You NEED to see this to understand the rest of this blog. Please go watch it and then come back. I’ll be waiting.)
(As we have this conversation, I have included a couple links to some sites for information that you should click on to get a better idea of why I am even going on about industrial corn. Industrial corn is the term I will be using to differentiate it from truly edible corn. Industrial corn is BIG BUSINESS and health is not anywhere on their list of concerns–they only care about the profit margins.)
Corn is all around and Americans eat a lot of it without even realizing what they are actually ingesting because industrial corn doesn’t look like corn at all. It’s in our meat, salad dressings, candy, drinks…60% of what we eat is industrial corn. (Remember that percentage from the hair sample testing on “King Corn”?) What’s even more frightening is that there are more than 4,200 different uses for corn products, and more are being found each day. BIG BUSINESS has a completely selfish reason to keep finding new uses for their industrial corn–to increase their profit margin by keeping the demand for the corn high, high, high.
It would be very hard to find things to eat that don’t have corn in them. That sugar free, no calorie lemon drink has no lemon in it. The sour taste is ascorbic acid–made from corn. Xanthan gum? What the hell is that–sounds more like some science fiction ingredient than what it is, a thickener for things like syrups or spaghetti sauce. There are even an impressive amount of things that aren’t even food that have ingredients derived from corn!
The one particular corn product I would like to really focus on is High Fructose Corn Syrup, or HFCS. It’s in so many things I can’t even begin to tell you what they are–although I did find a pork sausage that listed HFCS as an ingredient. Why the hell was there HFCS (aka “sugar”) in a meat product? My husband and I have completely cut it out of our diet at home; eating out is a bit more difficult to manage the absence, but we do try. We have discovered that if we do eat more than just a small amount, we end up with migraines that would kill a horse. And there’s an interesting study out that suggests eating corn syrup makes you dumb. Not to mention the weird feeling you get in your mouth after eating or drinking something with HFCS in it.
The corn industry (read: ConAgra, Corn Products International, Corn Refiners Association and so on) will try to tell you that corn syrup (high fructose or not) is “just like sugar”, and that “your body treats it the same way”. Ask any diabetic if that is really true. Your body doesn’t really know how to handle HFCS and it overproduces insulin to handle it–which is a good way to become diabetic.
The part of “King Corn” that really frightened me and led me to make the changes to my diet that I have is the part where they talk about the cows. It takes about 3-4 years to get a calf up to market weight for butchering. If that same calf is fed corn, corn byproducts, sillage and so on, all corn based…it will get to market weight in about a year. BUT if they don’t slaughter it within a narrow timeframe, it will develop massive ulcerations in its stomachs and die. Yes, die…from eating corn. Cows aren’t made to eat just corn, and certainly NOT industrial corn. 80% of the antibiotics in the US go to animals–partly because of this business model of feeding industrial corn to the “meat units”–not even treated with any dignity or considered a live being at all. Just a number on a ledger page, part of the money you can make.
Guess what? Chickens don’t eat corn exclusively either. They eat bugs and greens as well if allowed to forage on their own (the term is “pastured” rather than free range; “free range” may just mean that you’ve got 100 birds in a 4 by 4 square foot area, rather than each one in a cage that allows little more than stretching the neck out to peck corn. Don’t even start me on chicken farms, it’s disgusting and you’d give up your KFC or Popeye’s faster than lightspeed if you REALLY knew how your fried chicken lived its life.
And really, that’s what this (and following blogs on lifestyle) is about: knowing WHERE your food comes from, HOW it’s handled, and WHAT it’s fed. That includes the plants–are they organically grown, or industrial units to be gotten to market in the shortest time possible from germination? What kind of pesticides are used? What kind of treatments are used to make them appear ripe (like picking tomatoes green because they can be handled rougher and then gassing them to make them turn red)?
What we eat is literally killing us–as a nation, Americans are becoming more obese (fattening up on the hamburgers made from the cows fattened up on corn?) and diet-related diseases like diabetes and gout are on the rise. Heart disease is also increasing in men AND women. Children are being diagnosed with high cholesterol. Other countries don’t have these issues because they aren’t using industrial corn and industrial corn products. Just us. We need to educate ourselves and take control of what goes in our mouth.
I can’t tell you how to do it for yourself, but I can tell you the changes my husband and I have made. I will also tell you that my beloved is a large man and he has lost almost 75 pounds or so over the past 2 years eating this way. I have also lost 50 pounds myself. Without exercising and without feeling deprived.
First and foremost, you must understand this: a diet is not something you do to lose weight. Your diet may help you drop pounds, but the truth of the matter is, a diet is what you eat. That simple. Your diet is what goes in your mouth every day, the food that you consume for each and every meal (and snacks!). To be healthy, you need to have a healthy diet. Without going into details for specialty diets, such as those for heart patients or diabetics, let’s talk about how you can make healthier choices for your meals.
READ THE LABELS. Let me say that again: Read the freaking labels. Understand what you’re reading. RDA is Recommended Daily Allowance and isn’t really accurate, but it’s a good starting point. Carbs means sugar. You probably want more protein than carbs–especially since most women do NOT get anywhere near the necessary amount of protein in a day’s eating.
Scientific explanation: You eat protein. Your body goes, “oh, good, nutrition” and digests it into its nutritive parts, fueling the various systems. Very little actually gets made into fat. You eat carbs. Your body goes, “Oh good, sugar. I can store this for later” and promptly turns it into fat. BTW, every fat cell has a blood supply, which is part of the reason losing weight can be so hard–and once you’ve got those fat cells, they are yours forever. (Barring actual surgery to remove them.)
Read the list of ingredients, which are in order from the item that is the highest percentage in the food down to the least. HFCS usually shows up within the top 5. BAD. Also, if what you’re eating has more than about 6 or 7 items, or if most of them are polysyllabic gobbledygook, then reconsider buying/eating them.
EAT FOODS IN THEIR PUREST FORM. That means that you should try to eat things as close to their natural state as possible. Limit the amount of processed foods you eat and you automatically cut out things like HFCS and salt. Industrialized (processed) foods have to have something in them to make them taste good and it’s either salt or sugar (or HFCS). Buy organic because frankly, organic foods taste like your brain thinks they do and will satisfy you quicker and in smaller amounts than the same thing in industrialized food. It’s sort of like the roses you get from the florist–in order to get those long, long stems and the beautiful colors, something had to go and it was the aroma. Industrialized food has to give up something to be able to be mass produced, packaged and stored, handled by machines in an assembly line fashion–and it’s usually the taste. They try to mimic or replace it with chemical additives, but because it’s not natural, your body is not satisfied completely until you’ve overeaten, trying to get that taste.
LIMIT THE “WHITE” FOODS. This means switch over to whole grain versions of bread, rice and pasta. Don’t eat potatoes; have yams or sweet potatoes–or some of those gourmet purple potatoes instead. Generally, the whiter the food, the more processing it has been through. You’d be surprised at the weight you can lose just giving up white. Oh and this includes sour cream, mayonnaise, cream and yogurt (which is surprisingly high in fat) or anything made with them that is predominately white or light in color. And yes, it means ice cream.
ORGANIC FOODS ARE USUALLY HIGHER QUALITY. They take a little more time and care and I repeat, taste like what you think they should. They are also usually handled by humans and are not mass produced. Higher quality means that even though they cost more, you can actually eat less and be more satisfied, both on the tongue/palate and in the stomach. However–when buying, get organic over non-organic but buy local over imported organic. The difference for pastured/grass fed meats is amazing. Also get organic eggs–they are just so much better and since the chickens are catching some bugs in their grazing, the protein count is higher.
With the growing demand for organic food items, there is an corollary increase in the availability of those foods in all kinds of stores, like WalMart, Target–even Costco and BJ’s wholesale stores!–and your local grocery store. Farmer’s markets and local butchers are still a good source, but you can have organic without living out in the boonies.
THERE ARE GOOD ORGANIC PROCESSED FOOD CHOICES. Target carries a line of products from “Archer Farms” which are organic and very tasty. Trader Joe’s markets have all kinds of processed or semi-processed foods available and I haven’t found any that I do not like. We also shop at the local Asian market and while a lot of things are (obviously) imported, we read those labels and choose things that don’t have HFCS or MSG. We both also prefer the fact that imported sweets aren’t quite as sweet as the American versions. (A matter of personal taste, but still worth knowing.)
HALAL MEAT IS AN ACCEPTABLE SUBSTITUTE FOR GRASS FED / PASTURED MEATS. Halal is the Muslim version of Kosher; the animals are treated humanely while they are alive (given the right things to eat) and then are killed in a peaceful way. An animal that dies peacefully doesn’t have all the stress chemicals coursing through its body as it dies–which does affect the quality of the meat. So if you can’t find organic, look for a Middle Eastern store that carries meat in your area.
PORTION CONTROL IS VITAL. Measure it if you can’t eyeball a portion. You should eat meat servings that are about the size of a deck of cards. NOT the Jumbo Gargantuan Hamburger O’Death. If you’re eating quality meat, that deck of cards is sufficient to satisfy your taste buds and fill your stomach–which by the way only holds about 2 cups. Even chewed, that’s not really a lot of food at one time. Theoretically, you should eat from 4 to 6 SMALL meals each day–and when I say small, I mean like half a sandwich, 1/2 cup of nuts, an apple…a 4 ounce serving of protein (that deck of cards thing again). You can eat just about all the vegetables you want as long as you’re not dragging them through fat (sour cream, mayo or yogurt based dips and my personal bete noire). Be careful about fruit because it’s still got a lot of sugar–but it’s fructose, not HFCS and your body knows what to do with it. Buy containers to portion out your meals; use compartmentalized plates–and the largest section is for vegetables.
When you go out to a restaurant, the minute they deliver your meal, divide it in half and ask for a to go box. Put one half into that box and set it aside. Then you may eat the rest. Try to find places that are doing the “farm to fork” and organic on their menu. Again, it’s a little pricier, but well worth the knowing you are getting a truly nutritious meal. Surprisingly, one of the fast food places has started putting grass fed beef into their hamburgers–yes, Burger King is really trying to use fresher, more local ingredients. The “toppers” are a good way to get some decent protein, even at a fast food joint–just remove the bottom part of the bun and eat the rest to cut down on the carbs.
SATISFY YOUR CRAVING. If you are really jonesing for one particular thing, even if it’s in the “bad” list–has HFCS or is high in fat, salt or whatever–then have it. Have a small portion of it. Don’t try to find something else to eat because that won’t satisfy your desires and you’ll end up eating lots more trying to assuage it rather than admit you want a slice of Pizza Hut pizza and just eating that one thing. Try not to have cravings very often…and if you’re eating foods that are better choices, I believe you will find that you don’t want industrialized food as much.
Remember that injunction against ice cream? If you really gots to have it, then get organic or high quality ice cream (like Hagen Daz “5 ingredient” flavors) and portion out the correct amount. Did you know that one of those little buckets of Hagen Daz or Ben Jerry’s is actually FOUR servings? And frankly, some of the HD flavors are so intense and rich, you just can’t eat much of it in one go. We actually get ours from the local dairy bar, from local cows that are grass fed. The ice cream is soooo rich and heavy, one scoop is almost too much. That’s a good indicator of quality–how much air is stirred into the product versus how much product you are actually getting. And watch out for the evil HFCS and Xanthan gum.
CORN. Only eat corn that is as close to its natural state as you can: corn on the cob, frozen or canned corn, hominy, pop corn, corn chips, corn meal…not the processed and industrialized stuff made from corn. If you are able, get heirloom corn which has a larger protein germ than the hybridized versions of modern corn, which have a larger starchy part.
You spend time and effort picking out a car, a house, jewelry. Those are only things. Your health and well being have no price, no way to improve them except by the choices you make about what goes into your body and how you live your life. Making better (different) choices for food can open up a whole new world of taste and satisfaction, maybe even start you cooking new foods and learning new cuisines, which makes for some wonderful dinner parties. Improve your food choices and improve your health. Be a knowledgeable and discriminating consumer and be good to yourself. And those you cook for.