We live in a culture that loves food and hates being told what to do. I am part of that culture, as can be seen by the fact that for one dinner this week I had ice cream and pasta, even when I told myself that was a bad idea. Then, when somebody besides ourselves tells us Americans what is healthy and good for the environment, some of us lose our freakin’ minds and say, “The Big Evil Government is trying to take away our freedom!”
Our country thrives on individuals believing that they are right, regardless of what facts may show. Some turn their backs on scientists, others on members of the “opposite” political party, and still others on members of religions that don’t match our own. I recently read an article posted by a friend on Facebook claiming that the government was trying to take away our rights to eat giant steaks and fatty foods whenever we want. What was that “big bad government” action? It was a report by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) basically saying that we Americans need to change the way we eat or die and take the planet along with us. And you know what? The HHS is right. We are swimming in a sea of gluttony, with two-thirds of adults in the US being overweight and one-third of adults being obese. Obesity is an epidemic, and we can’t get off our high horses long enough to see that maybe, just maybe, the HHS is trying to do the right thing in releasing this report.
But what can we turn to in order to change our lives for the better? There are so many conflicting diets out there, all promising increased health–or at least quick weight loss. Everyone’s considered an enemy, from environmental activists who choose to eat little or no meat to government agencies who may or may not be lobbied by companies that want them to hide a few facts here and there so they don’t go under. Even Michelle Obama, who wants children to eat healthier, is thrown under the bus by companies who don’t want her to speak about true healthy eating and by parents who complain that kids won’t eat healthy food anyway so we might as well not try (plus there’s the ever-present “Don’t tell me what to do!”).
What does healthy eating even look like? The saying, “All things in moderation” comes to mind, but then what is moderation? There are some food items (like ice cream) that should be eaten rarely or not at all (obviously, I need to work on that point) and some things that seem like you can never eat enough without exploding (like me and vegetables. Have you ever tried getting the full 9 servings of mostly vegetables and some fruit in a single day? I can barely get five in without feeling like a behemoth).
Then there’s our obsession with large portion sizes. I once, when trying to save money, bought two fresh steaks at the grocery store and cut them up when I got home into the recommended card-deck size. I got five steaks out of the two. And yet the original size was what is sold in the supermarkets and served at restaurants.
So who do we turn to? I found a good article on Harvard’s School of Public Health’s website that details how we should eat compared to what we’re told is okay to eat and what we are currently eating. They included a food pyramid and a food plate that is far more useful than what the Dietary Guidelines for Americans have cooked up. Here’s a peek at Harvard’s pyramid:
Notice that there is an entire category for exercise, and that red meat and refined grains are teetering on the top of the pyramid. As much as we don’t want to admit it, we need to change these major things if we want to survive as individuals and as a nation. Also, I highly recommend clicking and reading on Harvard’s article. It is far more educational than any diet book I’ve read.
(The recommendations made in the article also, when followed, have a secondary effect of helping the environment by reducing our reliance on red meat and dairy products. But that’s a whole other blog post. The one thing that is still worrisome is the reliance we have on fish in this food pyramid. True, fish is an excellent source of healthy fats and meat, but the way we’ve overfished our fisheries makes me think we need to rethink how we use fish in our diets as well. Of course, if we lived a true “paleo diet” (not the one that’s advertised), then we’d eat fish/meat maybe once a week if at all–unless you live in an area where plants just don’t grow that much, like the arctic. Then it’s whale blubber and seal meat for you)
In conclusion, read that Harvard article. And don’t get mad just because it recommends that we eat less red meat. After all, this isn’t a government agency (in fact, they point out flaws in government programs), so you don’t have that excuse. Oh, and eat healthy! I know I will (unless I buy ice cream).