It is that time of year.
My mother-in-law showed up with lots of cookies, including my favorite peanut butter blossoms, except she switches out the Hershey’s Kiss for a peanut butter cup. They are amazing and very difficult to resist! My husband roasts goose for Christmas dinner and stuffs it with the best sage stuffing. Our friend Joel always shows up with an extra dessert, that is sweet and creamy and chocolatey and delicious. It’s just always a lot of food and a lot of sweets and a lot of good company.
My insides are starting to rebel and I’m thinking I might do a juice fast for a few days to get things back to normal (If anyone would like to suggest a good course of juice action, feel free to leave a comment). This decision was reached while pondering my bloated belly in the mirror. And of course, it got me thinking about how Americans eat.
My assessment of most whole foods in their unadulterated state is that they are not inherently bad for us. Take butter for example: For thousands of years, butter was healthy. Seriously. In India, ghee (clarified butter), has been used for over 3,000 years, and was considered such a highly prized food, that is was worthy of the gods. Butter is mentioned in the Judeo-Christian Bible – Abraham offered it to angels.
So when did it become the Lord of the Evil Empire? I’m not sure of the exact moment, but somewhere in the middle of the 20th century, when margarine manufacturers got on to some good advertising. Butter isn’t really bad for you, but excesses of processed fats, not only trans-fats, but all processed fats are bad for you. And as the fat-o-phobia raged on people began to think of all fats as equally evil.
Ditto sodium. One of the ways to market a processed food as “Healthy” is to lower the sodium content. This resulted in people not using salt. While there are more health risks related to high sodium content in the body, there are also health risks related to too little sodium in the body. The thing to keep in mind is that homemade food that uses salt is not that same as eating a processed food that is using too much salt to cover up the fact that the artificial flavor is not as good as the real thing. Sadly, too few people know what “the real thing” tastes like anymore.
“What flavor is that?”
There is such a thing as balance.
My mother and father were over for dinner one night and my husband was at the stove, finishing some sautéed greens. He sprinkled salt on top.
My mother asked, “Is that your secret spice? Can I ask what it is?”
Everyone raves about my husband’s cooking (including me — it is extraordinary). He has two secrets: 1. Don’t be afraid to use fat. And 2. Use salt.
What went wrong in our diets? Excess. That’s what went wrong.
If we look at heart disease and obesity, two of the biggest killers in the US today, and we look at butter consumption, we need to consider these facts: Heart disease and obesity were not a problem in the country in the early 1900’s. Between 1920 and 1960, heart disease became the number one killer in the US. Butter consumption went from and average of 18 pounds per person per year to 4 pounds per person per year. I’m not a math major and I hated my statistics classes, but even I don’t see a correlation there, let alone causation.
And the problem with sodium is not salt, in and of itself. The problem is with the amount of processed food we consume. According to the CDC, the high sodium levels that Americans have is caused by the amount of processed and restaurant foods we consume, not salt that we add to home made foods at the table.
So maybe something to think about for the coming year is Excess. If you eat out, or open packages in your kitchen for 21 meals a week, maybe you could decrease this excess by making one meal a week from scratch. Don’t go for an entire food transformation all at once. Just take one step!