Building A Successful Family

The quick answer: If you want to succeed you must organize.  Don't leave your life—or your diet—to the chaos of chance.  Organize your eating with menus and shopping lists.


Tiger Moms

Amy Chua—the Yale law professor who touched a nerve in mothers with Tiger Mom, her book about high-achieving children—has partnered with spouse Jed Rubenfeld on another book that should sell well:  The Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America. 

Always curious about the roots of exceptionalism, I had two questions:  Who are these high-performing cultural groups, and what are the three winning traits? 

Notably, seven of the nine cultural groups are recent immigrants—Cubans (beginning in ’59), but also Nigerian, Indian, East Asian, Iranian, Syrian and Lebanese Americans.  The question now is whether they can continue to excel after they’ve gotten comfortable in America. 

The other two groups have religious origins: Jews and Mormons.  If you're ambitious for your family and seek the advantages exhibited by all these groups there’s only one you can actually join—the Mormons.  (It’s not hard; they actively seek new adherents.)

The three traits for success:

  1. A belief in one’s specialness (I hesitate to say “superiority”). 
  2. An anxiousness to excel (the flip side of insecurity).
  3. The self-discipline to defer momentary pleasure for more lasting benefits.  (Not so common in today’s live-in-the-moment society.)

The authors note how these highly successful groups defy racial stereotypes—they include Blacks (Nigeria), Hispanics (Cuba), Asians, and Middle Easteners.  All this led to the big question:  Do the traits behind economic success also define people who eat well?  It’s a good subject for a study.  I’m starting to think the discipline to succeed includes a healthy food culture.  BUT, it all starts with bringing order to the chaos of life.

Ordering Your World

There’s a food reformation going on and you’re part of it (thanks for reading WOWL).  Here’s the prime indicator:  Last year sales of soda drinks dropped and diet drinks dropped even more (down 7%).  This is monumental.  Even better, “fast food” is becoming a derisive term.  It’s a trend, not a blip, and scares the dickens out of Food Inc.  That’s all good.

Darya Rose—a San Francisco neuroscientist, food blogger (Summer Tomato), and author (Foodist)—claims you can lose weight without dieting by eating real (whole) foods.  That’s our claim also.  Dieting and food fads are out—real and traditional food is in.

Of our 13 Healthy Change themes (visited once each quarter), the third theme is Organization.  The goal is to organize/create an island of wellness in an unhealthy world.  Though modern factory food is uniquely unhealthy, it's also true that mankind has never had so mamy options to eat well.  If you organize, you can eat better than mankind ever has.  This is a a blessing peculiar to our time that is seldom embraced.

Healthy Change #3 advised writing weekly menus.  We do this on Mondays, at breakfast, using a clean piece of paper.  I make two columns and write the days of the week in the left column (we don’t plan Saturday night).  In the top-right column we note what needs to be eaten (from the refrigerator, freezer, and pantry).  In the bottom-right area we make a shopping list, divided by stores.  We’ve gotten into a rhythm that works for us.

Brooke's Shopping List

Here's a link to a shopping list done by the talented Brooke.  Brooke makes everything better—if the Beautiful Wife had just delivered identical Brooke triplets the world would be even more beautiful.  And here's the original post on shopping lists—if you want to read more.

Please comment:  How do you organize grocery shopping?  Got an app for your iPhone?  Use a printed list you keep in the pantry during the week?  What works best for you?  Please share.


A Primer on Dietary Fat 

The quick answer:  Most of what you’re heard about fat is wrong.  For best health enjoy natural fats in your diet, including omega-3 fats from plants and animals.  Fats make everything taste better and improve bioavailability of fat-soluble vitamins (K, A, D and E) and nutrients.


Omega-3 Fat Primer (in 285 words)

A fat (fatty acid) is a chain of carbon atoms with a head and a tail.   The number of carbons is variable but all chain lengths provide needed benefits.  In the last 50 years we were taught that fats were unhealthy and many processed foods were introduced in low-fat or nonfat versions.  This was big mistake #1. 

Think about a fat, composed of a chain of carbon atoms with a head and tail:  If all the carbons have two adjoining hydrogen atoms the fat is saturated.  Saturated fats are stable—meaning they have a long shelf life.  They’re also solid at room temperature.

If a carbon atom is missing its hydrogen atoms it is unsaturated to some degree.  Unsaturated fats are more reactive—a good thing for your body—but when exposed to oxygen in the air they will oxidize which is why your olive oil can go rancid.  Because shelf life is critical for processed foods, those more reactive omega-3 fats were unknowingly removed.  Call this big mistake #2. 

Omega-3 fats are divided into two groups: short chain (found in plants) and long chain (from the fish and animals that eat plants).  You need both forms—the long-chain fats are especially critical to brain health.  There is a link between the rising rate of adult dementia and eating too few long-chain omega-3 fats. 

Your body can convert short-chain omega-3s to long-chain forms but at a limited rate, so for optimum brain health you need fats from fish and animals.  Feedlot animals eat dried grains (high in omega-6 fats) and few green plants (which supply omega-3)—big mistake #3.  So for a good balance of omega-3 to -6, include some pastured meats and fish in your diet.

The Queen of Fats

For more, read Susan Allport's book about omega-3, "The Queen of Fats." discussed in this post.  For additional info, check this past omega-3 fat post.

Skip Protests

For healthcare, the Beautiful Wife and I joined Kaiser Permanente.  In my prior life in the medical device industry I visited many of their California facilities and admired KP’s organization of preventative medicine.  At doctor visits, for example, there is a routine check of your weight and blood pressure—thus emphasizing two keys to good health.  Their goal is to keep you out of the hospital.

They also have a newsletter to support healthy living.  But a recent issue addressed the issue of fat in our diet and repeated all the errors we have been hearing about fats for the last generation.  I fired off a letter of objection that pointed out five grave errors and requested they publish a correction.  I also suggested five true statements familiar to you good readers of Word of Wisdom Living:

  1. Avoid any product containing hydrogenated oil (shown on the ingredient list) due to issues such as trans fat toxicity.
  2. Enjoy minimally processed traditional fats like butter, domestic olive oil, and properly processed tropical (coconut and palm) oils.  Healthy fats taste good and are filling.
  3. Minimize consumption of so-called vegetable oils (solvent-refined soybean and seed oils).  Likewise, avoid foods from commercial deep fat fryers, which contain oxidized vegetable oils.
  4. Balance the omega-3 and omega-6 oils in your diet by minimizing processed foods (high in omega-6 and deficient in omega-3 fat) and focusing on whole foods and healthy meats (omega-3 is intact).
  5. Fresh nuts are a good source of healthy fats.

It’s been six weeks—I’m still waiting for KP’s correction.

Please comment on your experience with omega-3 and omega-6 fats.  People need both, but we have to get back to a balance.  In our home we minimize refined oils in favor of traditional fats like butter and olive oil.


Sugar and Revolution

The quick answer:  The Industrial Revolution brought us unlimited sugar.  We must learn to limit our sugar intake.  Candy is this week's Healthy Change—a timely topic as we approach Easter.


Revolution and Reformation

In Derbyshire, England, the River Derwent flows quietly by hillside pastures divided by moss-covered stonewalls where sheep graze as they have for centuries.  The ancient villages of Hathersage, Belper, and Milford slumber peacefully now.  But two centuries or so ago a revolution exploded here with the world’s first cotton mills—powered by the river and manned 24/7 by women and children. 

Once-bustling mills now lie in silent decay—the Derwent Valley is a World Heritage Site, cradle of the Industrial Revolution and the factory which changed the world for good and ill.  In time the factory system reached our food supply under the guise—better-said disguise—of “modern convenience.”  It changed how we eat—highly processed factory foods, stripped of nutrients and laden with additives, replaced natural, home-cooked meals.  In time, these packaged foods led to today’s chronic diseases including diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and maladies too numerous to mention.  Together they form a modern plague. 

The task before us now is to restore our food chain to its former natural healthfulness—we call this the food reformation—and all who read this blog are part of that restoration, defined by Word of Wisdom Living’s 52 Healthy Changes.   

Derwent Valley Origins

Last week the Beautiful Wife, our eldest son, and I traveled through this same Derwent Valley, visiting the villages of Belper, Milford and Hathersage where ancestors once lived and labored in the early factories. 

We share an ancestor—William Frost of lovely Hathersage, the scene of Charlotte Bronte’s revolutionary Romance Era novel, Jane Eyre.  Bronte lived in the church vicar’s cottage while writing Jane Eyre in the 1840s.  My ancestor Robert Hellewell (of Belper and Milford) married William’s lovely daughter Rachel Frost in the adjoining chapel in 1844.  The BW descends from Rachel’s younger sister Maria. 

Robert, Rachel, and Maria all worked in the textile factories.  It was an era of new ideas driving radical change and they were as the leaves blown before the first gusts of a coming storm.  In time Robert and Rachel, accompanied by Maria, heeded the preaching of early Mormon missionaries and immigrated to the Utah Territory to help build a new Zion in the wilderness.  That new Zion is a work in progress and one task is to restore the wholesomeness of food.  In the Derwent Valley, I though I saw the closing of a circle.


Before the Industrial Revolution, there was a pre-revolution—the sugar boom.  Fortunes could be made building sugar cane plantations in the New World.  Before sugar availability had been limited by Nature—bees could only make so much honey.  Now there was an unlimited supply flowing into Europe and the nature of food began to change. 

Sugar’s sweetness made hot drinks popular according to the colonies supplying European countries—hot chocolate in Spain, coffee in France, and tea in England.  As sugar became cheaper a new treat arose—candy.  In the beginning sweets were an occasional treat; today it’s hard to find a processed food that doesn’t include sugar. 

Soda drinks are a major—and harmful—source of dietary sugar.  So-called diet drinks are equally unhealthy.  Therefore, the year started with Healthy Change #1:  If you consume sodas or other sweet drinks, limit yourself to one (12 oz.) serving per week.  It’s a rule we can live with.

As you know the Healthy Changes follow 13 themes that repeat each quarter of the year—now we start the 2nd quarter and revisit the subject of sugar with this Healthy Change:

Please comment:  How will you manage the Easter candy glut?  Tell about your experience with a "sugar fast."  Or share your sad story of falling off the sugar wagon.


Let The Sun Shine

The quick answer:  Enjoy the sunshine; it’s the best source of vitamin D.


In The Beginning . . .

I love the Genesis Creation story.  I find great lessons about nutrition—for this is where our food supply was created.  There are a great variety of plants and animals on our planet and people everywhere do quite well eating whatever is at hand.  The body is remarkable for how it can flourish on such a varied cornucopia. 

In the 20th Century man reinvented food—today food mainly comes in packages from factories.  Sadly, we are now learning that though man can flourish on many combinations of plants and animals, there is one form that doesn’t support a long, healthy life—the factory foods of the modern American diet.

You could state a guide to nutrition in two simple sentences:

  1. Eat food as close as practical to how it was created.
  2. Show reverence for the creatures that are part of our food.

“God saw the light, that it was good”

Aside from a diet of natural foods and regular exercise, the next best thing you can do for your health is get a little sunshine.  Light, when it was formed or created, was given a benediction, that “it was good.” 

Sunshine works on the cholesterol in our skin to form a new molecule that is acted upon by the liver and kidneys to become vitamin D.  More hormone than vitamin, “D” plays many beneficial roles.  There’s been a steady drumbeat in recent years of new discoveries about the benefits of vitamin D. 

There is wide deficiency and insufficiency of vitamin D.  Most people know their cholesterol number, and nearly all men know their PSA number, but very few know their serum vitamin D level.  Some feel we have this backwards—the best number to watch would be vitamin D.

Fear of Sunshine

The weatherman, when he foretells a sunny day, typically warns you to hide from the sun by covering up, staying out of the sun, or slathering on a sun block.  You've been told to fear the sun.  We have an excellent dermatologist and she has it right—get a little sunshine, fifteen minutes on each side is plenty, but don’t get burned. 

The Vitamin D Solution

The best book I’ve seen on vitamin D is The Vitamin D Solution, written by Dr. Michael Holick, PhD, MD.  Holick suggests a 3-step solution of 1) testing, to know where you are, 2) sensible sunshine, and 3) safe supplementation when sunshine isn’t available. 

The book makes two remarkable statements about vitamin D and cancer:

First, on the benefit of getting sensible sunshine: “vitamin D could be the single most effective medicine in preventing cancer, perhaps even outpacing the benefits of . . . a healthy diet”.  We hear all the time that we should avoid avoid sunshine to prevent skin cancer, which brings us to the second point.

Second, the book quotes Dr. Edward Giovannucci on the benefits of sunshine for vitamin D versus the risk of skin cancer:  sufficient “vitamin D might help prevent 30 deaths for each one caused by skin cancer”.    I like those odds: 30 better outcomes at the risk of one bad outcome.

Please note the term "a little" sunshine, sun that burns or turns the skin pink may be harmful and should be avoided.  (If you live in the northern latitudes, don’t tolerate the sun, or are concerned about your vitamin D, consult your doctor.)

Please comment:  Want to share your experience with vitamin D, or how you tested?  Do you live in the northern latitudes?  If so, what do you do in winter to maintain vitamin D.



The Joy of Salad


The quick answer:  Eat a big salad, with lots of dark leafy greens, daily.  It’s the easiest way to get your vegetables and very affordable.


The Magic of Salad

Most people eat about 15 servings of food a day, traditionally divided between three meals and a couple of snacks.  Nothing wrong with that.  (A serving fits in the palm of your hand, about ½ C for most folks, less for kids.)

Of those daily servings, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans say we should get 4-5 of vegetables.  A lot of what’s in the Guidelines is nonsense, but this is good advice.  The problem is Americans average just one daily serving if you throw out French fries (and you should).  So here is one of the most critical issues in nutrition—eating enough vegetables. 

Here’s the solution—put a green salad in the center of your plate at lunch or dinner.  Depending on the size of the salad, you can get 2-4 servings.  How easy is that?  Making salad is pretty easy for the cook too and that’s a good thing.

A salad is any mixture of greens served with a dressing, though it’s good to include a variety of colorful vegetables.  Back in the day when fats were out of favor I ate salads without the dressing.  That wasn’t so good because lots of nutrients are fat-soluble so having a little fat makes them bio-available.  (Vitamins K, A, D, and E are all fat-soluble.)  There was a lot of wisdom in that old olive oil-and-vinegar salad dressing.

 Dark Greens

I bet half of our vegetable intake is dark leafy greens.  They’re rich in vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants.  Dark greens are also full of omega-3 fat, folate and carotenoids.  Dark greens contain the stuff of life and you can buy them year around for around $1.00/Lb. That’s less than half the price of less-healthy processed foods. 

The bagged, prepared greens in the produce section of the store make salads even easier.  Our family likes Brooke’s Broccoli Salad.

I think this might be the easiest Healthy Change:

Please comment:  Share your favorite salad recipes.  Tell what salads your children love. 


Protecting Your Brain

The quick answer:  You can blame brain diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s on the modern diet—that’s the quick answer.  The big question is whether you can escape them.


When You Outlive Your Brain

Though dementia is a bigger problem, Alzheimer’s disease is plenty scary.  Rates of both are soaring; it’s a modern tragedy.  Dr. Perlmutter has written a book—Grain Brain­—that gathers the best available info on how to protect your brain as you age.  Perlmutter is a natural medicine neurologist who believes the cure is in lifestyle, especially diet, not prescriptions.  He takes a dim view of grains, but there’s more you’ll want to know.

My point isn’t to defend grains as the staff of life; I’ve already done that here.  Rather, I would like to review some excellent conclusions from Dr. Perlmutters book.

How Your Brain Dies

Dr. Perlmutter summarizes the process by which brain-wasting diseases arise.  You can blame it on the modern diet:

  1. We eat a high-sugar diet of refined, processed foods that are deficient in natural nutrients.
  2. This diet leads to high blood sugar, chronically high insulin, overweight and obesity for many, inflammation, and oxidative stress due to free radicals.
  3. These conditions lead to diabetes, heart disease, and diseases of the brain.
  4. Science, wrongly applied, falsely blamed heart disease on dietary saturated fat and cholesterol.
  5. In retrospect this made little sense—our brain is actually 70% fat; ¼ is saturated fat and ¼ is omega-3, mainly DHA.  Cholesterol, a form of fat, is essential to brain health; it’s also the precursor for vitamin D.  So these fats aren’t villains, they’re the stuff of healthy brains.
  6. The brain is energy intense—though just 2% of your body weight it uses 20% of all calories.  So there’s a fire in the brain as those calories are oxidized—lots of free radicals are produced and antioxidants are needed to neutralize them.  Unfortunately our diet and lifestyle aren’t helping.

That's a very brief account of how the modern diet harms the brain, and other organs.

Surprising Facts from Grain Brain

#1  The Beautiful Wife has an above-average cholesterol level and this had been a worry.  Dr. Perlmutter argues that cholesterol is necessary for brain health and people with higher cholesterol levels actually live longer and with less dementia.  The BW is guardedly pleased to hear this.

#2  The incidence of dementia is rising in step with diabetes.  Diabetics suffer a doubled risk of dementia.  They also have a higher risk of heart disease.  So managing your sugar intake is about more than getting fat—it’s about saving heart and brain.

#3  As many as 30% of people of Northern Europe extraction may be intolerant to some degree of the modern glutens.  Gluten intolerance doesn’t only attack the intestine (Celiac disease), it can attack any organ, including the brain and this can go on for years; when the damage becomes obvious it may be too late.  Here are some signs to look for.

#4  If you suspect a gluten intolerance, ask your doctor about being tested.  This is a serious issue.  Dr. Perlmutter recommends the Cyrex Array 3 test.  For more information, visit

Twelve Steps to Brain Protection

You may recognize these from our Healthy Changes, but here are some of Dr. Perlmutter’s recommendations, slightly paraphrased:

  1. Fast periodically, 24-72 hours.  (I’m thinking 24 hours each month is a wise plan.)
  2. Do aerobic exercise most days.
  3. Eat real food especially low G.I. fruits and vegetables; avoid processed foods. 
  4. Minimize sugar and avoid refined carbs.  (The fiber>sugar rule is a good guide.)
  5. Avoid refined seed oils (soybean oil, corn oil, etc.)
  6. Enjoy natural oils including EVOO, coconut oil (and good butter).
  7. Get omega-3 fats daily (fish or DHA from algae or fish oil)
  8. Avoid soda drinks.
  9. Get plenty of sleep, 7 hours or more, in a darkened room.
  10. Get plenty of vitamin D, from the sun if possible.
  11. Meditate (or use some method of stress relief).
  12. If you’re sensitive to gluten, avoid it. 

The title of Dr. Perlmutters book was misleading—as you can see, it’s about much more than grains. 


Home Cooking

The quick answer:  Want to live a long healthy life?  You’ll have to cook—that’s the secret to health—or be on good terms with someone who cooks.


Mom’s Cooking

Some stories are so full of wisdom they merit repeating, like this one:  A few years ago my Mom observed with surprise that her friends had all stopped cooking.  They had diligently reared their children but as their husbands retired from work, they resigned as the family chef.  From then on, their daily bread came from a package, take out, or fast food.  What was the result of this?  They’ve all passed away, except one who suffers from dementia.  Mom’s still cooking, living independently, practicing the prudence and thanksgiving she learned as a child of the Great Depression.  She misses her friends but at her last drivers test they renewed her license for five years.  She's not shy about her age anymore—94 is an accomplishment.

Our family had two special places that we all remember, despite the passing of time—Mom’s kitchen and Dad’s garden.  I wrote a nostalgic post about Dad’s Garden that I invite you to read.  If you want more peace in your life, Dad’s thoughtful advice is a good place to start.

Back to Cooking

The Beautiful Wife and I have discovered eggplant.  We’ve been experimenting with recipes.  My best reference is The Flavor Bible, a hefty tome that lists the spices traditionally used with foods.  I refer to The Flavor Bible whenever I’m reinventing a recipe to make it healthier.

Visited our local Farmers’ Market last Saturday.  It's a good place to learn.  I was surprised to see Valencia oranges, best for juice, because we were still eating the winter Navels.  But the winter was warm—there’s a drought in California—and the Valencias are ripening early. 

The cauliflower looked good, as did the Brussels sprouts.  I made a cheese sauce last night and we started on the cauliflower, with Skip’s Blackened Salmon, and a kale salad by the BW.  Food is even more satisfying when it's wholesome.


Last week I told about the English village of Todmorden that resolved to become self-sufficient with local food.  They now have dozen of public gardens offering seasonal vegetables and are reinventing local, sustainable farming.  In reading about Todmorden’s food reformation, one quote remains with me:  “When we started, many homes didn’t have cookbooks.” 

I see this rediscovery of real food and home cooking as the first, tentative completion of a greater cycle—for it was in this area back in the late 18th Century that the Industrial Revolution started.  The Industrial Revolution changed everything.  It was like the marriage vow . . . “for better and for worse.”  So we are about saving what is better, like the home refrigerator, and reforming what is worse.  The worst thing was the transfer of cooking from the home to the factory and the loss of cooking skills using real food, especially vegetables. 

I love to reinvent traditional recipes by adding the good things from our modern food supply.  My basic format is to replace sugar with healthy spices, incorporate whole grains, traditional fats, and feature natural foods.  Because it’s still winter we’re eating lots of soup, using recipes from the post The Virtue of Soup.  Last week we enjoyed Skip’s Black Bean Soup—recipe here.  Isn’t it crazy, how I have the nerve to put my name on recipes people have cooked for millennia when I’ve only made a few changes?  It makes me smile.

Past Cooking Posts

It might be a blessing to invest 10 minutes in looking over these past cooking posts:

2011: Home Cooking and In Praise of Spices

2012: The Love In Your Food

2013:  The Joy of Cooking

Please comment:  Please comment on what you are doing to advance home cooking, or tell of someone who helped you.  Or share your idea on how to spread the word.


Staff of Life


The quick answer:  For good health eat your grains whole.  That’s a simple statement—to implement it you must reinvent your food culture and avoid factory foods.


Tracing One’s Footsteps

I’m a stay-at-home guy but with some encouragement the Beautiful Wife and I are taking a trip to the Derwent Valley in north England.  Derwent Valley is notable for two things:  First, it was the cradle of the Industrial Revolution—the water-powered textile mill was invented at Cromford in 1772.  You can read about it here

Second, the Derwent Valley is where my Hellewell ancestors worked in the textile mills before they immigrated to the Utah Territory in 1853.  So it’s sort of like coming home—we want to walk the cobblestone streets they trod.  (If readers live in this area, please leave a comment, or send an email.)

We’ll also visit the ancient upland village of Todmorden in nearby Upper Calder Valley.  Todmorden is the center of a recent food revolution.  A grassroots sustainable farming movement has arisen here with the goal to become locally self-sufficient for food.  It started because a guy named Nick Green—the perfect name—planted a cabbage and rhubarb garden in a vacant lot (without permission) and posted a sign inviting people to help themselves.  That was the start; now there are dozens of such lots and a local food movement has found traction.  People who didn’t own cookbooks and got their food from packages are rediscovering real food, and cooking.  You can read about Todmorden here.

The Roller Mill

The Industrial Revolution changed everything, including the nature of food.  Not long after Cromford’s textile factory, the roller mill was invented.  The roller mill separated the starch in wheat from the nutritious germ and bran (the latter became animal food).  The benefits were irresistible:  Now you had white flour that was sweet and lasted forever because the perishable nutrients had all been removed.  It wouldn’t even keep a weevil alive.  Soon similar processes were applied to the other grains—polishing for rice, and degerming for corn.  It was a nutrition catastrophe we’re still trying to cure.

Staff of Life

If we didn’t have grains most of the planet would starve to death—grains really are the staff of life but for best health you should eat them whole.  We talked about the importance of this at In Praise of Whole Grains.

 Gluten is problematic for a few people.  Gluten intolerance is hard to diagnose but if you’re in this group you need to heed the guidance of your doctor—it’s a serious issue.  We’re not sure why gluten intolerance is a growing problem but there are two factors:  First, many new wheat hybrids have been developed which contain new forms of gluten to which mankind is unaccustomed.  Second, we have gone from slow-rising sourdough breads to fast-rising yeast breads so there is less breaking down of the gluten before consumption. 

In our home we’re buying sourdough mostly whole wheat bread these days and want to start baking our own.  (We also grind our own flour at the time of use for freshness.)  Does anyone have sourdough experience or a recipe to share?

Healthy Change

Comment:  Whole grains are one of the best food values but we think it best to enjoy a variety.  Please comment on how you include whole grains in the diet of your family, or share a favorite recipe.


Meat Sparingly

The quick answer:  Eat less meat—as in “sparingly”—but better.  "Better" means pastured or wild-caught, with very little cured/processed meat.


Meat Sparingly

A famous tome on eating—The Original Fannie Farmer 1896 Cook Book—included a month of dinner menus.  Study shows the ideal 1896 meal consisted of meat in the center of the plate, accompanied by potatoes and gravy, an occasional vegetable, and a dessert.  We were a meat-and-potato-eating nation with a growing appetite for sugar and an aversion to vegetables. 

When fast food came along the main change was that meat came from a feedlot, potatoes were deep fat fried, and the sugar was in the drink.  Ouch—trouble was on the horizon.

The Word of Wisdom prescribes a better meal: seasonal vegetables in the center of the plate, flavored by a little meat, washed down with water.  It’s way healthier, and a better value.

Meat and Disease

The main killers of our time are heart disease and cancer.  Is meat to blame?  First of all, these diseases are multi-factorial—they have more than one cause, beginning with too much sugar.  But meat is a factor as shown by these studies:

  1. A Harvard meta-analysis (a statistical methodology that combines the sum of many studies) put the biggest blame on processed meats (bacon, sausage, etc.).  Each 50-gram daily intake of processed meat added 42% to your risk of heart disease. 
  2. The long-term NIH-AARP study (focused on whites>50 years old) found a 20-60% greater risk for lung, colo-rectal, and other cancers from eating processed and red meats. 
  3. Though we worry about pesticides on fruits and vegetables, meat is the primary source of harmful toxic dietary chemicals.  Meat is especially harmful when charred, as often happens with BBQ.
  4. It’s not just about the meat.  There seems to be a “meat-eaters” syndrome—meat eaters eat fewer fruits and vegetables, exercise less, are more likely to be overweight, etc. 

The Meat Prescription

Science has revealed that you do need a little meat in your diet.  Meat products contain nutrients not found in other foods:

  1. Omega-3 fats:  These are essential fats (meaning your body must have them) and come in two groups:  Short-chain (found in green plants, on land or sea) and long-chain (found in the creatures who eat plants such as pastured animals but especially cold-water fish).  Your body can convert some short-chain to the long-chain forms but only a little, for good health you need meat products.
  2. Vitamin B-12:  This vitamin (actually a group of cobalt-based vitamins) is essential to every cell in your body, especially the brain.  Insufficiency of B-12 is common, especially in older people, and a factor in dementia, depression, and fatigue.  B-12 is symbiotically produced by bacteria and found in animal products.
  3. Vitamin K-2:  This family of vitamins, essential to processes like bone formation, is also found in animal product (bacteria produce it from K-1).   It’s in hard cheeses, fowl and beef (especially in organ foods, including liver pate), and egg yolks.  K-2 helps avoid osteoporosis.

Enjoy meat products sparingly, it’s good for your health and improves the taste of food.  But do minimize intake of processed (or cured) meats.  We love BLTs but probably average just one per month; ditto for sausage and cured hams.

What is "sparing"?  I love this term because you have room for your own preferences.  We keep animal protein under 5% of calories, 3-4 servings a week, including 1-2 fish portions.  We also look for sources of pastured animal products and wild-caught fish. 

Whole Food Plant Based

Depending on how you read the Word of Wisdom, meat intake can be “sparing,” mainly in winter, or only in times of famine (which may never happen in the U. S.).  This brings us to a new book by Jane Birch, Discovering the Word of Wisdom.  Birch’s book looks at the W of W from a “whole food, plant-based” perspective.  The phrase “whole food, plant-based” usually means avoiding all meat products, what used to be called “vegan.”  (You could be vegan and eat a lot of processed food so WFPB means whole foods.)

If you’re attracted to very little or no animal products in your diet, you might read Birch’s book, she has real passion for the subject.

Healthy Change #9

You can review the last two posts and the many reader comments here for 2012 and 2013.

Please comment:  Share the ways you feature meat in your diet.  Where do you find healthy meat?  How do you use it as a condiment, rather than the main course?  What do you do to show reverence for the Creation of animals?


Wholesome Snacking

The quick answer:  Snacking can be good or bad.  If you eat healthy meals of real food you’ll snack less, and crave more wholesome snacks.  That’s bad news for Food Inc.


A Foodist?

America is learning how to eat—rediscovering food wisdom lost in the last century.   I’m totally into this search, reading all I can.  My food library is nearing 200 books.  Currently I’m reading Darya Pino Rose’s book, Foodist, Using Real Food and Real Science to Lose Weight Without Dieting.  

I really believe this, that eating real food is the only path to your best weight and better health.  So I guess I’m a “foodist.”   Rose shared a great quote from Mike Pollan’s writing:  “The most consistent predictor of weight gain and poor health is how much processed food we eat.”  Here’s more wisdom from Rose’s book:

  1. Foodists don’t diet.  Hunger will beat will power, sooner or later so dieting is hopeless.  But do make permanent changes to your diet, away from processed factory foods and towards real food.  By doing this you get enough to eat without fattening calories.
  2. Wisdom about will power:  Studies show that people with the best will power use it infrequently.  Sounds backwards, but they use their will power to form good habits, rather than doing daily battle with bad habits.  So abandon factory food for good and make healthy eating your primary habit.
  3. Enjoy three meals each day but minimize snacking.  Keep unhealthy snacks out of your home.
  4. The simplest rule:  Eat more vegetables (and less sugar).  The most neglected vegetables:  legumes (beans, lentils) and roots (carrots, radishes, beets, sweet potatoes/yams).
  5. Enjoy hard cheeses.  They’re rich in vitamin K-2, which protects against cancer, heart disease, and osteoporosis.
  6. Learn “mindful eating.”  Slow down and think about the food (and chew more).
  7. Exercise!  Exercise makes you hungry, but for better food.  Start by walking, with a goal of 10,000 daily steps.  (The BW wears a pedometer.)


Snacks are the subject of the week.  They’re typically the worst foods we eat but it doesn’t have to be that way.   If you eat wholesome food at meal times, you’re less likely to snack, and more likely to enjoy healthy snacks.  Here are highlights from past posts:

In Healthful Snacks we cited Mike Moss, author of Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us, from a N. Y. Times article that described a meeting of Food Inc. titans.  The addictive nature of factory snack foods via the deft but unhealthy combination of salt, sugar, and fat, was presented and they were likened to the tobacco companies and a call was made to change their ways.  What did they do?  They declined to make changes.

In The Joy of Snacking we proposed a fundamental change to snacking:  Eat real food!  We also listed ten healthy and affordable snacks.

In a post The Snack Plate we noted how a healthy breakfast of whole foods reduced the tendency to snack during the day—snack calories were reduced 81%.  It was also a money saver as snacks are typically the most expensive but least nutritious food we eat.  Like we said above, it doesn’t have to be that way—eating healthy meals of whole foods reduces snacking, and improves the quality of snacks we do eat. 

Please comment:  When we eat regular, healthy meals, we snack less and make better choices.  You can find healthy store-bought snacks but ours are mostly homemade.  The best snacks are minimally processed—whole food snacks are best; we draw the processing line at granola and trail mix.  Please share your favorite snack ideas.