Saturday, July 14, 2012

Locally grown, locally raised, natural food

I have, of late, taken a bit more of an interest in nutrition than in recent past.  I used to work out religiously, and I used to eat cleaner than I have the last couple of years.  In part, I started running, and so I ramped up the carb intake a bit.  That was fine as long as I was training hard doing martial arts and cardio kickboxing, but when I stopped doing that (and stopped burning in excess of 3,000 calories a week from doing that), the pounds started creeping back on.  I went from a "fighting weight" of around 170 to a high of over 200, with my usual weight hovering between 190 and 195.  My wife and I decided both of us wanted to do something about our new middle age padding, and so we began researching nutrition and exercise.

Like a lot of my friends, we are currently eating Primal, what some folks colloquially call "the caveman diet."  This is not, as some people assume, Atkins with a twist.  It is a lower carb diet, but unlike Atkins, you can eat potatoes in moderation, and particularly sweet potatoes.  You can eat fruits in moderation.  No one is saying "don't eat carrots or other sweet vegetables."  With Primal living, it is the type of carb that matters, not the fact that you are eating carbs.  So we have cut out grains, the sole exception being a VERY moderated portion of rice on occasion, and any type of refined sugars.  We allow ourselves up to 1 large potato a day, and we eat fruit in moderation, which we define as "not at every meal, but okay for breakfast or snacks."  Like Atkins, this is a high fat diet, but we strive to eat what everyone agrees are the "healthier" fats such as fish, avocado, olive oil, nuts, etc.  But we do not worry about eating saturated fat on occasion, and we cook with butter as well as olive oil in lieu of using vegetable oil.

I will say that although the immediate results are impressive -- I am down nearly 7 pounds in right at 2 weeks -- I am not entirely sold on the Primal living philosophy.  The exercise program is fine for most people, concentrating as it does on 4 core movements for strength training (pullup, pushup, squat, plank), low intensity cardio such as long walks, hiking, etc., and weekly sprints.  Obviously, something like Crossfit or HIT or cardio kickboxing is much better for elite fitness.  But while I do believe we eat way too many grains in this country as well, I'm not really sold on the idea that grains are poison and to be avoided at all costs.  We still take communion, and we still eat the blessed bread after communion, every Sunday.  And I'm sure as time goes on, once we're out of the "lets get in shape" phase and into the maintenance phase, we'll introduce very limited grains back into our diets on rare occasion.  However, one thing about Primal living that I am absolutely sold on is eating food.

That sounds ridiculous at first blush.  Most people say "well, I eat food."  But when I say "food," I don't mean box-packaged, processed, chemical laden garbage that lines our grocery store aisles.  I mean REAL food.  We have been sold a bill of goods in this country about how red meat and saturated fat, and even fat in general, are "bad" for you.  This ignores not only common sense, which indicates that our forefathers lived just fine on animal fat for millennia without issue, but also a growing body of scientific literature indicating that fat, per se, is not the problem.  If you look at when our obesity epidemic started, it was right about the time I turned age 10.  I remember eating vegetables and fruits out of my maternal grandfather's garden growing up, and real meats and sausages that my paternal grandfather raised and slaughtered himself, and fresh fish that we caught out of the lake ourselves.  Chickens were smaller, but still basically a chicken.  Beef was darker and uglier, but still basically beef.  With the exception of SPAM and bologna, even our cheap food was for the most part decent food like canned tuna or salmon.

Now, chickens and beef are both chemical and hormone laced cocktails.  Fish is farm raised rather than wild caught.  And "foods" that used to be pulled off the vine or stalk are now boxed with preservatives and chemicals galore.  Not only are the foods themselves not really "food" anymore, but eating produce grown across the world out of season means we lose the healthy variety of eating food grown locally in season.  I can now eat strawberries year round.  But what is done to the strawberries to make them keep so far out of season?  Add to that the fact that so much of our diet comes from a box or a bag, and is grain-laden, processed crap, and it is no wonder more than one-third of adults and nearly twenty percent of children in our country are obese.  Read labels sometime and look at how much corn and grain are in foods that aren't supposed to have corn and grain.  Even healthier alternatives like Moe's Southwest Grill, which offers grass fed beef and farm raised poultry, still use soy marinade and wheat or glutens in much of their offerings.  Not to mention the rice content of a simple burrito and the effect that has on insulin production.  While I am not at all on the no carb bandwagon -- my favorite breakfast and midnight snack is still berries in Greek yogurt with a teaspoon of honey -- the types of carbs we eat in this country are literally killing us.  Put simply, we don't eat food anymore.  We eat food plus chemicals, hormones and additives.

Today, we went to the Marietta farmer's market and purchased some fresh green beans, avocado, whole organic Greek yogurt, fresh peaches and 6 pounds of grass fed beef.  Interestingly, the beef looks a lot like processed venison.  Because it is a lot like processed venison.  The cow it came from ate natural plants and, after slaughter, was processed by a local processing facility that also caters to deer hunters.  There is no ammonia laden pink slime to "pretty it up," and there is no effort to make it look like other than what it is.  It is 100%, grass fed, organically raised beef.

What does this have to do with Orthodox Christian living?  Quite a lot, actually.  Something Orthodox Christian living stresses heavily is simplicity.  Living less complicated lives, so that we can concentrate more on living the Christian life in prayer, fasting and almsgiving.  Stephanie and I have discussed growing a garden one day.  We would love to be in a position to not only supplement our diets with whole, real foods, but to have our dietary needs completely met by such foods.  That is easier to do in our society that in recent past, but doing so often comes with a price -- instead of living simply, we go to the Whole Foods market and live out a 21st century, bourgeoisie version of so-called "simple" living.  That's not what I'm talking about.  We would actually like to grow some of our own food, and where we cannot, support local farmers who grow it for us.  In doing so, we recapture a sense of community that is lost in our current, supermarket and shopping mall, global economy driven society.  The food I bought today, I bought from my neighbors.  People who live near me.  This is not only healthy for the body, but it's healthy for the soul as well.  If I decide to go to Wal Mart or Kroger to buy the same food next week, then my neighbor may suffer as a result.  And if we manage to grow our future garden and have an overabundance of yield, we can do as our friend Daniel from Church did this past week and share with our friends and neighbors.

I have written before that we are saved in community.  I am firmly convinced that eating fresh, locally grown and raised food is much more healthy for my body than eating hyper-processed "food" that is shipped all over the world so we can buy it cheaply at the supermarket.  But having considered the theological impact of this lifestyle, I am also firmly convinced it is better for my soul, and the souls of those around me as well.


Tina said...

Hi David. I am interested in primal eating and have done various forms of it for years (though never the Primal Blueprint). I feel so much better when I cut out grains and processed foods, especially sugars. I've started to grow my own tomatoes, cucumbers, and herbs and plan to do more in the future. My question is how to do it during the fasting periods? Do you have any suggestions?

David Garner said...

I have the same concern, Tina, and I recently asked my priest for advice. He asked me to e-mail him the details of the diet, which I have, and I hope to speak to him this weekend about it.

My guess is that for my wife and I, we'll work legumes back into our diet in lieu of meats during the ascetical fasts, and perhaps look into options where meats are concerned such as getting a dispensation to allow canned tuna or some other cheaper source of protein other than shellfish. If that is unworkable or unwise, we will probably make do as best we can, and if that means working grains back in a bit for 80 days out of the year, so be it. As always, the best rule is to ask your priest for a rule.

I'll post a follow-up once I speak to my priest about it.

Dixie said...

One aspect of the fast is that eating a diet so high in carbohydrates (even if the carbs are more complex and sourced from fruits and legumes) in the end leaves you a bit unsatisfied...which I believe is the desired outcome, so that we quit being slaves to our bellies. And yet, one doesn't lose a lot of body weight from the fast that is so heavily dependent upon carbs. It really is rather perfect by design. The ancients were brilliant!

There is something about primal that doesn't ring true with negative reaction to it is quite viceral. I wish I understood that reaction a little more. I suspect it linked to the whole "caveman" theory and the nullification of the last several thousand years of history. I don't know. But regardless...getting food at the source, without processing, is the way to go. I am convinced that processing is at the source of our epidemic (worldwide now) obesity problem. Even GMOs don't seem as threatening to me as processing (although I have significant objections when it comes to genetic modifications for the purpose of being able to use certain pesticides). Farmers have been tinkering with genetics long before Mendel explained why their tinkering worked.

This past Lent I was on Weight Watchers (as I am today). It was a good match. I was never satisfied...! :)

David Garner said...

Hey, Dixie! Good to hear from you again!

I agree -- I'm not at all trying to get around the fast, and I always eat to short of satiety when fasting. I am concerned about getting a proper nutrient load.

One possible concession would be, as indicated above, to work in more legumes and (especially) potatoes. The former isn't "good" under this diet, but it's not really that "bad" either. The latter are perfectly fine. Same with rice. So I'm confident it's do-able.

I am curious about your negative reaction to it. I don't think it's so much a nullification of the last several thousand years as a statement that we have not evolved to process grains properly. I do think that is problematic as well from a Christian perspective -- the Bible references us not only eating grains but making grain offerings as well, so is it really bad per se? Some of my Christian friends who are devotees say "well, that's not exactly the same bread Jesus took in His hands," meaning wheat today is genetically modified, etc. But to my mind, it's more a matter of emphasis. I think the problem is not that we eat grains, but that we eat way too much grains. There will come a time when I am happy with my progress and I will work a moderate amount of grain back into my diet. Hopefully not refined grains (though I have been Jonesing for a Martins' bacon biscuit lately). But maybe more rice and the occasional whole wheat bread side. Still, I think having a bread serving with every meal, and a starch serving with every meal, and limited vegetables and limited meat, is a fundamentally bad way to go.

I read an article a while back in the NY Times called "Eat Food, Not Much, Mostly Plants." I think that is wise counsel. That article did not recommend eating NO grains, but it definitely recommended eating FEW grains, and no refined, processed grains. That, for me at least, is the likely endgame. The chief benefit being I will subsist on real food as the bulk of my diet.

Dixie said...

I don't think it's so much a nullification of the last several thousand years as a statement that we have not evolved to process grains properly.

That's what I can't agree with...that we haven't evolved sufficiently to do well with grains. If that presumption was valid, mankind would have been fat for thousands of years because we have been eating grains for millenia...when the reality is that we have only been fat for recent decades. Why is that? Why all of a sudden? And so quickly? Why could the French eat bread and pasta and the like without being fat until recently? Why is it that rice is THE staple for so many other cultures and those cultures are not fat--in fact, far from the contrary. I would venture to say it is not because we haven't evolved sufficiently to process grains.

In fact recent scientific data does support both quicker weight loss and higher metabolisms with a low carb approach. You can eat more calories, lose weight faster and slow down the rate at which the weight returns if you go lower carb. But, in evolutionary terms, grains have been the staple for the largest populations for thousands of years and people on a largely grain and high carbohydrate diet need less calories to maintain their weight...quite an evolutionary perfect adaptation to an agricultural society by my estimation.

My guess is that in addition to processed foods we sit on our backsides too much behind computer monitors, we drive to the gym and try to get the closest parking space to the door, we travel with bags we wheel behind us instead of carry, we have machines wash our dishes and clean our cloths. In short, we are less active just in daily living (maybe enough so that even 3 visits a week to the gym can't compensate)...AND we eat crap and drink chemically laden, sugared drinks. To me that is more believable as the perfect combination to make fat people than a theory that we haven't evolved sufficiently.

I could be wrong though...just the rambling thoughts of a fat old lady....

David Garner said...

I think I would agree with most of that. As I mentioned in the original post, I'm not sure grains per se are the issue. Rice isn't considered among the Primal folks to be as bad as some other grains (it is discouraged primarily for its lack of nutritional value versus its high insulin response). And you are correct that some cultures eat quite a lot of bread with a high degree of health.

Having said that, when I ate fewer carbs (not no carbs, but fewer), and better food, and worked out a lot, I was in great shape. Having eaten more carbs and run a lot, I'm convinced the former approach works better.