When I introduced the idea of The Real Food Diet, there was understandably some confusion and skepticism. Sounds a bit too good to be true, no? Husband most certainly thinks so, and the majority of people that I’ve talked to about it have expressed similar reservations.
The other thing I’ve found is that a lot of people say “Oh I already eat that way”, but really, they don’t. It’s not a competition on who does it best, and really I don’t care how they eat, but I think their assumption that they are already eating “the Nina way” stems from a fundamental misunderstanding of what the diet is all about.If it is a food altered from it’s original state, or includes ingredients not found in nature, it’s not “real”. Graham crackers? Out. Pretty much every kind of cracker? Out. Laughing cow wedges? Out. Every single type of chip you can imagine? Out. Margarine? Out. Lowfat yogurt? Popsicles? Anything other than 100% whole wheat bread? Flour tortillas? White rice? Fruit snacks? Anything other than whole wheat pasta? Cereals containing some form of corn oil (most do)? Out. Out. Out. Out. Out.
All of the above listed are things I used to eat on a somewhat regular basis. That doesn’t mean I haven’t had any of these things since I first read Nina’s book, but like anyone trying a new eating plan, I’m doing my best to avoid and minimize them in any way.
Overall I’ve attempted to eliminate 4 things that have really revolutionized my diet.
This one should come as no surprise to anyone. If you haven’t eliminated Trans Fats from your diet you should do so immediately, no matter what you believe about The Real Food Diet. Trans fats = bad. You know what item is filled with Trans Fats? Chow Mein Noodles like these . I was so sad when I realized this as the Mormon staple dish called “Hawaiin Haystacks” was one of my favorites growing up.
Paritally and Fully Hydrogenated Oils
Oh those sneaky food manufacturers. They always know how to find the loopholes! Did you know that under the new guidelines Trans Fats only have to be declared present in a food if the product in question has more than .5 grams of Trans Fat per serving. What’s the best way to get around the rule then? Change your serving size! I urge you to go into your kitchen right now and read the ingredient list of every single food item you have. Did you know most peanut butters have hydrogenated oils, and thus Trans Fat? That’s why graham crackers are out. I never pick up a single thing at the grocery store anymore (unless it’s produce) without reading the label. I learned that lesson when I brought home a container of trail mix and realized that the raisins found inside were coated with hydrogenated oil.
Now on to the ingredients eliminated that modern science might disagree with!
It’s industrial, so it’s no surprise that Nina advocates staying away from plant sterols. The ADA loves them, but did you know that Plant Sterols were once regarded as mere waste products of the wood pulping or soybean industries? According to the Weston Price Foundation:
As reported in the BMJ, sterols can trigger adverse reactions in people taking statin drugs. This occurs because both sterols and statins lower cholesterol, thus causing potentially dangerous dosage problems. In addition, plant sterols can increase heart disease risk by thickening the arteries. Consumers should also be concerned about hormonal disruption, as sterols are estrogenic. In Australia and New Zealand, sterol-containing “functional foods” must carry warning labels advising against their use by pregnant women and children.
All authorities, including the FDA, should publicly and conspicuously warn consumers that phytosterol-containing products are unsuitable for pregnant or breastfeeding women, and for infants and children. This is because they accumulate in the fetus by transplacental transfer.17, 18 As they are fat-soluble, they can be found in breastmilk.Studies have shown that phyto- sterols have adverse effects in ovarian structures, and also alter follicular development;19 they work synergistically with the natural hormone estradiol to promote anabolic effects,20 and to alter the sexual balance of the neonate’s brain. It is an accepted axiom that “the hormonal environment during the critical period exerts permanent organizational effects that may affect the behavior in adult animals.”21
I won’t be eating them even after the baby comes, but if you are pregnant or nursing, you might want to think about avoiding them as well.
This includes corn, vegetable, safflower, sunflower, and soybean. I find the argument against such oils rather compelling when obesity rates are compared to those of other countries around the world, and when one considers the immense amount of vegetable oil Americans consume, especially corn and soybean oils. Corn has been taking a particular hit lately, lampooned in the documentaries Food, Inc., and King Corn, both of which I watched recently on Netflix on Demand. Michael Pollan is one of the most recognized opponents of the overconsumption of corn in the US, and I agree with the things he says below:
Q. You look at the three food chains which sustain us: industrial food, organic or alternative food, and food we hunt and gather. In industrial food, corn is king. Why is corn so important to the modern food industry?
To try to understand how we got into this predicament, and how we might get out of it, I decided to do some detective work, tracing a handful of the most common foods in our diet back to their source in nature. I quickly realized there are several different food chains in America, but the biggest and most important food chain—the one that feeds most of us most of the time—is based on a remarkably small number of plants, most notably corn. This was a revelation to me: if you follow a Big Mac or a Coca-Cola or a Twinkie or a box of breakfast cereal or virtually any snack food or soft drink back to its ultimate source you will find yourself, as I did, in a cornfield somewhere in Iowa. Corn is what feeds the steer that becomes the beef; is refined into the high fructose syrup that sweetens the soda; is shaped into the Fruity Pebbles or distilled into any one of the hundreds of food additives in our processed foods. Of the thirty-eight ingredients in the chicken nugget, no fewer than eighteen of them come from corn. The Mexicans have always called themselves “the people of corn” but in fact, now, it is we Americans who deserve that label—without even realizing it we have become the corniest people on earth.
That’s not just a conceit, either. If you take a snip of hair or a nail clipping from an American and run it through a mass spectrometer, as I have done, you will discover that most of the carbon in his or her body (and we consist mostly of atoms of carbon) originally came from corn. We’re even cornier than the Mexicans, who still sweeten their sodas with cane sugar and feed their cows on grass. As the biologist who did some of these experiments for me put it, “to the machine, we look like corn chips on legs.” This plant has not only colonized our land—80 million acres of it—and our food supply, but it has literally colonized our bodies.
Q. What are the implications of eating so much corn?
There are several reasons it’s not a good idea to base your whole diet around a single species. First, we are omnivores, designed by evolution to consume a wide variety of nutrients and micronutrients. The need for a diverse diet is built into our biology, and there are all sorts of important nutrients we simply can’t get from corn. To turn a bushel of corn into so many different foods involves a lot of processing, and processing diminishes the nutritional value of any food. We’re finding that people who eat an exclusively fast food diet (highly processed corn-based food) not only get fat but are actually malnourished, because they’re not getting the essential micronutrients present in fruits and vegetables. Overweight inner city kids are showing up in health clinics with rickets!
Second, growing all that corn is disastrous for the environment. Corn is, as farmers say, a greedy plant, requiring more nitrogen fertilizer than any other crop—nitrogen that runs off the fields into the water and has created a “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico that is now the size of New Jersey. It also requires more pesticides, so all that corn we’re growing is polluting the environment. Feeding livestock corn on feedlots produces huge amounts of pollution too, not to mention misery in animals which, like the cow, were never designed to eat a corn diet. It makes them so sick we have to feed them antibiotics.
Finally, it’s never a good idea to put all your eggs in one basket, as the Irish learned in 1845 when the Potato Famine hit. The Irish had a relationship with potatoes much like our relationship with corn—it was the mainstay of their agriculture and their diet. Monocultures are inherently precarious, which is why you don’t find them ordinarily in nature. When blight hit the Irish potato crop, it was decimated overnight, and a million Irishmen starved. We’re tempting fate by basing so much of our food supply on a single plant. A more diversified agriculture would be much more secure as well as healthier. (Source)
Vegetable oils are made up of polyunsaturated fats, which the Weston Price foundation has detailed some of the dangers of here.
Eliminating vegetable oils from my diet was certainly the toughest step I had to take. In fact I think it’s impossible and so I should probably say I’m working to severely limit them. Grocery shopping takes much longer now as I spend the majority of my time scanning labels looking for any sign of vegetable oils, and often trying to decide if the offensive oil in question is far enough down the ingredient list to make it something I feel okay buying. Out of all of the things I’ve eliminated, I consider this to be the number one reason why most people aren’t following a “Real Food” or “Traditional Food” diet. Again, go to your pantry and start reading through your pantry ingredient lists. I was shocked at how many things are packed full of vegetable oils!
I’m also working to limit several other foods (admittedly, with varying success), including:
Carbage (carb garbage)
Attempting to buy organic produce when it comes to The Dirty Dozen (when our teeny tiny food budget allows)
High Fructose Corn Syrup
I don’t think anyone can argue that my diet is better off without these things. Well except firm believers in the benefits of plant sterols and the producers of vegetable oils. I’m hoping for good cholesterol levels in my future so that my kids can consume diets low in the above ingredients as well.
Next week? Ingredients I re-introduced. (Whole milk!)