Tuesday, July 10, 2012

What I Eat These Days

Our heat wave broke last week with a big rain overnight on Thursday followed by all day fog on Friday. I'm feeling so much better.

As I said before I have been eating a lot of salads, fruits and other things that require no or almost no cooking. This has been going pretty well, and I'm thinking this is not a bad way of eating overall. I've also been reading some books that have to do with good and bad ways to eat, and of course, even NPR has stories and news items and whatnot about what we all should be eating, and not eating, to keep us as healthy as possible.

I've decided on some general principles for myself that I think, overall, are good ideas, but that don't make me an obsessive nut about what should be an overall pleasurable part of living. Most importantly, it's a plan that I know I can actually live with.

My very first rule .... and this one is a rule ... is that no food is forbidden. There are a heck of a lot of foods that are low priority, not the greatest idea in the world, whatever I might call them. But I do say to myself that if I really want to, I can eat any food. So, I'm not a vegetarian, a vegan, a locovore, a paleo person, or any other label. I'm happy to buy and eat good, seasonal, locally produced, carefully made foods, but I can't always find those things.

I figure that any thing sold in the US as a food is not poisonous, I don't have diabetes, pre-diabetes, any food allergies or in tolerances or inborn errors of metabolism. I'm not alcoholic, and I'm not worried about becoming so. Also thousands of years of human history across all cultures just can't have gotten things wrong. I mean, what did Jesus eat? I'm don't know everything, probably dates, pomegranates and goat cheese were in the mix, but for sure he ate loaves and fishes and drank wine. How can billions of people all over Asia, across centuries and centuries, be wrong about rice? And I think those Spanish guys made at least one good decision when they introduced potatoes to the rest of the world.

(I have to comment on what I have read about paleo diets ... I don't care if that's what's needed so we don't get fat. I, for one, cannot imagine eating such a diet ever. There are a lot worse things than being fat, like, for example, having to live on a paleo diet. I think if I had to eat a paleo diet, it would probably shorten my life, because I can imagine getting suicidal after eating that way, especially if I thought I had to continue my whole life. There is more than one reason why our ancestors from long ago abandoned it as soon as they could.)

Rule #2 is to be a good guest. I don't want my hosts to have to cook special for me. I want to be gracious and eat what's put in front of me. I can limit portions and know how to politely refuse the few foods that I truly don't like (clams and oysters, for example ... but living where I do, these are not real popular menu items in friends' homes). And, Mom had a wonderful rule which was that there are no calories in a birthday cake. It all just comes down to portion size and frequency of eating.

Now I'm moving from rules into a list of general principles to follow. I teach my students this, "nothing is more practical than theory." Theory, or a group of principles or ideas, are what you need when you don't know what to do in some specific situation. No one can make enough rules to possible cover everything that happens to us as we go about our lives. We need to be constantly solving little problems in novel ways. Theory is the tool we need to be able to do this. So, when confronted with the question, what should I eat now? Should I eat this or that? Theory to the rescue!

The first principle is don't sweat the small stuff. I know I never use any of the following things to excess anyway, so I don't care about a sprinkle of salt, a shake of soy sauce, a dollop of ketchup or mayonnaise, a teaspoon of cream, a pat of butter, etc. I add neither milk nor sugar to coffee or tea, but I always add a spoonful of sweetener (maple syrup, brown sugar or honey) plus a splash of cream or half & half to hot cereal like oatmeal. I'd be choking down oatmeal if I didn't do that which means I wouldn't ever eat oatmeal in the first place. But just a bit of good flavoring makes oatmeal something that's really good. Butter is so flavorful, that a little goes a long way and again, makes all the difference.  Sometimes something just cries out for a bit of salt. I don't eat pancakes that often, but when I do, real maple syrup is what they clearly need, and a little of the real good stuff, as always, goes a long way.

And a corollary to this is don't worry too much about ingredients which are used in small amounts. So, for example, I don't care a bit about the egg, milk and sugar that I add to my recipe for healthful muffins which have plenty of whole grains, fruit and nuts in them. The egg, milk and sugar get divided up over so many individual servings as to be negligible in the end.

That said, I've decided I'll classify foods into four general categories, my own categories, and use the categories to build menus.

The top level of foods are all fruits and vegetables prepared in any manner. If it's a F or V, it's all good, no matter what things like the gylcemic index say. (I mean, really, when was the last time you eve had a meal composed only of huge fried potatoes, a lot of corn, several bananas washed down by 20 oz. of orange juice? Me neither.) And F&V can be eaten raw, cooked in any way, dried, pickled, frozen, preserved, juiced or whatever else a person might do to them. The other "food" in this category is water, including water that has flavorings but no calories (coffee, tea, dashes of fruit juice like lemon or lime). I have no rules about how much of these things I should eat beyond "a lot." I've never in my life drunk anything much more than 1-2 cups of coffee or tea a day, so I have no worries that I'll suddenly go nuts and become a coffee maniac.

So principle #1 is simple, eat a lot of fruits and vegetables and drink a lot of water.

The next level down of food categories are those things that I eat regularly, but only in small to medium sized portions. This list is more specific and includes whole grains in any form (bread, pasta, a bowlful of rice, cereal, whatever), nuts, peanuts, added fats for flavoring (see rule #2), tofu or tempeh, chocolate, wine, and ice cream/ gelato or pudding.  What I tend to do now is to have a grain serving with every meal, a small amount of excellent chocolate every day, nuts sprinkled on things like oatmeal or on salads, some nuts as an afternoon snack along with some fruit, one glass of wine in the evening with dinner most nights, and a small dish of ice cream or pudding a little bit before I go to bed (and none of that sugar free or low fat stuff ... if I eat the real, good stuff I don't eat very much, and I enjoy it tremendously. Again good quality means less quantity).

Principle #2 is just watch the portion number  and size, eat the best stuff, and call it good.

The next level down is foods that I eat every so often and try to balance out with extra F&V at the same time. This is more or less the animal protein group ... meat, fish, dairy, eggs .... but also includes refined grains, sugar, candy, and baked sweets. Other alcohol would be here too, but I don't much like beer so that's not really an issue, and I don't keep liquor around the house to make cocktails either. ( I was in a brew pub and told the waiter that I really didn't like beer. He responded that he didn't like Budweiser either. I tried a bit of the lighter brew pub stuff. It was pretty good. I probably do like some kinds of beer.)

The portion and number principle really applies here too. If I crave a hamburger, I eat it, but I don't have the double bacon cheeseburger kind. In Salt Lake I can buy great baked goods in real bakeries, so if it's a cupcake I want, I go to Mrs. Backers and get just one. I don't hang out in bars, but one day I am going to go check out the Red Door bar in downtown SLC, and I'll probably order a real martini. The good guest rule comes into play here too. If my hosts serve it, I'll eat it.

A few words about soda pop. I seldom drink this either, but every so often, it's just what I want, and sometimes it's all that is served at a gathering. You know those cans of Coke & Sprite that are tiny and 90 calories? I keep a package of each on hand at home. The 8 pack will last me maybe 2 years or so. I don't think soda pop is evil. I just don't drink it very much or very often. And I drink the full sugar kind. I hate the aftertaste of most artificial sweeetners, and Nutrasweet gives me an instant headache. I can tell it's in anything within seconds of eating even a small amount. No thanks.

Principle #3 is I am an omnivore, just not a very big one.

And finally there are level 4 foods which are all the 2Oth & 21st century manufactured ones. I'm not talking about things like condiments, sauces, jams & jellies,  pickles, dried F&V, cheese, baked goods, preserved meat like ham or bacon. All those things have been around for centuries, could be made at home, and fall into the other categories. I mean things like Cheetos, Twinkies, Cocoa Puffs ... you know what I mean. AND I also mean fake foods ... egg substitute, "spread", soy "milk", & those things that are made for people like vegans so they can have their meat but not feel guilty about it. Fake foods are fake foods, and I don't see any reason to use them.

And so I'm back to the main rule ... nothing is forbidden, ( but  just try not make some things into any kind of a habit.) I've eaten a Twinkie within living memory, and if I want one this afternoon, I'll go to the C-store and get one. But I'm not too worried that I will actually want one.

I'm thinking these principles form an overall decent plan that I know will work for me. I'm already pretty much doing it.

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