Over the last decade, the number of foods promoted for their nutritional advantage has grown significantly. At the same time, savvy food marketing efforts have been quite successful at confusing the public about what makes foods nutritious. Are potato chips seasoned with natural herbs, sea salt, and sporting a nature scene on the package better for us than the ones we used to buy? Is chocolate really good for us or just another marketing half-truth? With the never-ending barrage of mixed messages, most of us should be confused. As you might suspect, a confused consumer is far easier to influence with oblique suggestions about nutrition.
When confused, we often resort to our instincts to make decisions. In this arena, marketing analyst knows quite well the false beliefs that most carry with them. And, rightly they should, considering the billions spent creating the myths. The result is that far too often, many reach for the myth.
If you have found yourself reaching for foods with “superpowers” like extra vitamins, extra calcium, extra protein, or less fat then you may have also been reaching for a myth. The reality is that aside from a few foods that benefit from cooking or fermentation almost nothing else makes a plant-based whole food more nutritious. As for animal-based products, less is almost always better unless you happen to be approaching starvation.
A search for convenience blindsides many when looking for nutritious foods. This, of course, creates a food marketer’s playground where foods low in nutrition can be sold to a public that will eat more of almost anything that is convenient.
Once convenience becomes the top priority, the choices narrow to selecting between multiple bad options. Granted, life isn’t always within our control, and at times we have to go with convenience. With proper planning, getting control of what we eat 90% of the time is still a pretty realistic goal for most. The way to make this work is by collecting recipes that are so easy to prepare that cooking with plant-based whole foods is almost as easy as popping a hot pocket in the microwave. The good news is that’ it’s doable, saves money, and offers many health benefits.
When in the checkout line at the grocery store, I often glance at other baskets. What I notice is the amazing variety of bad choices people make. If you think of the shopping challenge as a game of chance, you might compare it to a game of darts with one chance in 50,000 of winning. While I would expect that your odds would be far better because I know you are interested in learning, from what I see in baskets at the checkout line most have played and lost.
Some show signs of trying to do better than pizza for dinner. Most it seems are in a habit loop of shopping for convenience, familiar taste, coupon deals, or myths. Far too many baskets look like a party is in the plan with ice cream, sodas, cookies, snack foods, etc. Not wanting to be accused of nutrition negligence, I often see the obligatory gallon of milk and bananas. It’s sad to see nutrition interpreted as picking up iceberg lettuce, fruit juice, or near fibreless bread you can squeeze like a sponge.
No surveys are needed to know that America is missing important information about nutrition. A walk through any grocery store tells the story well enough. The chance that the average person can walk out of a grocery store with a bag of nutritious food based on the information advertisers ply them with is on par with winning the Mega Millions lottery.
Why has it happened that basic knowledge of nutrition is so rare? How can it be that the numerous advantages and health benefits of a plant-based whole-food diet are not getting through to people? Is there a lack of support from schools and doctors? I often think about this and wonder, what is the best way to educate people?
For anyone confused about the best dietary guidelines, they are straightforward. For most, it’s a diet that is rich in vegetables, legumes/beans, fruits, whole grains, nuts, and seeds. Animal products, including meat, poultry, eggs, fish, and dairy products, should be limited as much as possible. Heavily processed foods should also be restricted. For those wanting to reduce the risk of most chronic diseases or lose weight and keep it off forever, it’s the only diet that has substantial research supporting it.
I appreciate that some may ‘live to eat’ as a lifestyle. As a doctor, however, my mission is to advise patients about how to ‘eat to live.’ In a country with an epidemic of excess weight gain and chronic diseases, I would be remiss if I didn’t give lifestyle concerns a top priority. To a large degree, this is what motivated me to extend my knowledge to include lifestyle medicine. Without the additional training in lifestyle medicine, you could have rightly wondered if I was shooting from the hip or really had research to back up my recommendations. The research is clear, lifestyle changes are often the best prescription for longevity and quality of life. Pharmaceutical therapies still have an important place but rarely produce the best possible outcomes unless accompanied by lifestyle changes.
Each person has a lifetime of habits, beliefs, needs, and desires that can affect their daily decisions. My goal is to initiate a constructive dialogue that helps each person find an opportunity for change. It’s a discussion that seeks an opportunity for change through mutually understood goals. When that happens, it makes my day.
Having arrived here, you likely know far more than the average person about how to make wise decisions about nutrition. If still hitting roadblocks to change, then you may be caught in a habit loop and will need to change the process you shop by. The first and best step for most is to make a list of what you need before shopping and stick to it. Next, be encouraged by the possibility that you can have it all. You can ‘live to eat’ and ‘eat to live’ by collecting the amazing recipes that have it all. Beyond that, stay informed, teach others what you have learned, and when the opportunity comes to vote for sensible changes in nutrition policy – make your vote count.
Nancy Neighbors, MD
Easy Veggie Tacos
Compliments of Dr. Michael Greger we have another tasty taco recipe created by his in-house team. For a short video that explains the steps click here. After watching the video, scroll down and select the “View transcript” tab to display the list of ingredients, directions, etc.