sunday life: how I eat

This week I eat close to the source


I have a robust disdain for banana bread. Wrapped as it often is in rustic sandwich paper, all brown and chunky-looking, the stuff poses as an innocuously wholesome breakfast food. Banana. And bread. So breakfasty! But what a slippery sell-in. One slice of the stuff contains up to 2339kj. You have yours with butter? Hold onto your digestive juices for this: this tasty package comprises a whopping one-third of your recommended daily dietary intake and contains up to 44g of sugar. Or, to keep things tangible, 10 teaspoons.

Disdainful much?

Slippery sell-ins are the reason why we’re getting fat. We’re bludgeoned with competing diet tricks and plans. And food is confusing; it’s rarely what it says it is. The net result: we have no bloody idea what we’re meant to eat anymore. We have food fatigue. And so we eat banana bread.

It’s not that we don’t know the information – the most read item in the home is the back of a cereal box. And yet, how many of us know that those little-flakes-of-corn-consumed-at-breakfast, for instance, are drenched with more salt than potato chips. One pasta sauce I found in the back of my pantry contains more sugar than chocolate topping.  And plain old orange juice…jamful with as much sugar as a can of Coke, about 10 teaspoons. True!

In my studies to become a health counselor I’ve weighed up more than 100 different diets. None work. The human condition is not made for restriction (we’re forward-moving beasts) and so our bodies rebel against diets at some point, in most cases putting on more weight than might have been lost (the evolutionary purpose of which might just be to teach us not to try such a stupid stunt again?).

So, if not diets, then bloody-well what?

Well, this week I took a closer look at the very latest eating movement, which tosses out every diet approach to date and replaces it with a simple credo:  “Eat close to the source”. That is, eat stuff that is as close to its original form as possible. An apple is close to the source. Chain-restaurant-derived-nuggets-of-poultry, not so much. (Factoid: they indeed contain 38 ingredients, one of which is also used to make Silly Putty).

The approach emerged a few years back, but had something of a pseudo-hippy, bourgeois, locovore-ish vibe to it.  Slowly, though, it’s taking hold as a sound way to wade through today’s food maze. American food activist Michael Pollan is a proponent. In his latest offering, Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual his advice boils down to this: Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much. By “food” he means, real food. Food that’s not been fiddled with. Food that’s not posing as something it ain’t.

Others have distilled the message further: choose food with the least number of ingredients. I like this. It’s a stupidly simple one-size-fits-all approach for when you’re making a food choice. This week, at the deli where I buy my lunch, I found simply choosing the option closest to its source steered me effortlessly to a good food choice – away from processed meats to tinned tuna, away from bread to brown rice. At the supermarket I went for the version with the least ingredients, which steered me away from processed “diet” products to the original full-fat version. (Diet products are generally pumped with extra sugar, emulsifiers and other toxic guff to make it goobier, which, in the end causes us to gain more weight. Either because we eat more of it. Or the toxins store as fat in our cells. )

The approach streamlines, but also curbs overeating. American uber-nutritionist Dr David Katz argues that when we eat one flavour (salty, sweet or savory) at a time, it stimulates a specific site in the brain telling us when we’ve had enough of that flavour. But when mish-mashed together, as they are in a sugar-packed jar of “savory” pasta sauce, these flavour points aren’t satiated and the “full” signal never gets through. Ergo, we eat more. I get that. I tried binging on apples earlier in the week. I got through three before my whole being said, enough with the Bonzas.

I won’t rant any further. I’ll start to sound like I have a diet plan to sell. I’ll just invite you to go read the back of your cereal boxes.  And count the ingredients.

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