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No food is healthy. Not even kale.


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If I may rephrase the doctor’s words: Our food is not healthy; we will be healthy if we eat nutritious food. Words matter. And those that we apply to food matter more than ever.

That is well said. Now we just need a good definition of nutritious food.

Food that is high in nutrients?

I submit to you that our beloved kale salads are not “healthy.” And we are confusing ourselves by believing that they are. They are not healthy; they are nutritious. They may be delicious when prepared well, and the kale itself, while in the ground, may have been a healthy crop. But the kale on your plate is not healthy, and to describe it as such obscures what is most important about that kale salad: that it’s packed with nutrients your body needs. But this is not strictly about nomenclature. If all you ate was kale, you would become sick. Nomenclature rather shows us where to begin.

...

Given the infinitely malleable language of food, it’s no wonder American food shoppers are confused.

I try to avoid things that are sold as "low fat" because low fat means high carb.

Not long ago, I watched a woman set a carton of Land O’ Lakes Fat-Free Half-and-Half on the conveyor belt at a supermarket.

“Can I ask you why you’re buying fat-free half-and-half?” I said. Half-and-half is defined by its fat content: about 10 percent, more than milk, less than cream.

“Because it’s fat-free?” she responded.

“Do you know what they replace the fat with?” I asked.

“Hmm,” she said, then lifted the carton and read the second ingredient on the label after skim milk: “Corn syrup.” She frowned at me. Then she set the carton back on the conveyor belt to be scanned along with the rest of her groceries.

[Forget government guidelines. Here’s how to eat better, in 6 easy steps.]

The woman apparently hadn’t even thought to ask herself that question but had instead accepted the common belief that fat, an essential part of our diet, should be avoided whenever possible.

Then again, why should she question it, given that we allow food companies, advertisers and food researchers to do our thinking for us? In the 1970s, no one questioned whether eggs really were the heart-attack risk nutritionists warned us about. Now, of course, eggs have become such a cherished food that many people raise their own laying hens. Such examples of food confusion and misinformation abound.

“This country will never have a healthy food supply,” said Harry Balzer, an NPD Group analyst and a gleeful cynic when it comes to the American food shopper. “Never. Because the moment something becomes popular, someone will find a reason why it’s not healthy.”

There is no reason on earth for fat free 1/2 and 1/2.  End of story.  You can quote me on that, Adam:) 

Thanks Dawn. Even regular half and half seems unnecessary. 

I agree that smart choices are hard to make.

This is not a judgment on what you choose to eat. If you hunger for a cheese product grilled between bread that’s been stripped of its nutrition, along with a bowl of Campbell’s tomato soup (made with tomato paste, corn syrup and potassium chloride), fine. It was one of my favorite childhood meals. Just be aware. Buy fat-free half-and-half if that’s what you like; just know what it is you’re putting in your body and why.

Because, and this is the judgment call, fat isn’t bad; stupid is bad. And until we have better information and clearer shared language defining our food, smart choices will be ever harder to make.

I call anything referring to "fat" as "grease", to make it less generic-sounding and more visceral. And manufacturers hide "sugar" under a multitude of names on ingredient lists, to deflect how much suger is actually in the product.

Grease is certainly more visceral.

Because sugar is hidden in ingredient lists, it seems like we should tread lightly when buying foods that have ingredient lists. 

Welll, okay, if you want....

It's difficult to trust any food that is processed. 

I laugh (snicker?) at "all natural ingredients", as if that makes it okay should spider parts or a mouse leg get mixed in.

Ugh, I'm never going to trust the phrase "all natural ingredients" again. 

Agreed... you should eat grilled cheese and tomato soup... Lots of recipes for that:)  I must admit that my tomato soup--though made with tomatoes fresh from the garden, is FILLED with fat... a million calories... 

Filled with fat isn't necessarily bad. Filled with processed preservatives and chemicals seems bad. 

Silent but deadly?

Today's kale-fixated juice-heads may doing themselves a disservice.

That's a possibility raised by an article in Craftsmanship magazine by Todd Oppenheimer. The piece doesn't establish a definitive link between heavy kale consumption and any health problem, but it does raise the question of whether too much of even a highly nutritious food like kale can have unhappy side effects.

The article focuses on an alt-medicine researcher and molecular biologist named Ernie Hubbard, who began to notice an odd trend among some of his clinic's clients in California's Marin County, a place known for its organic farms, health-food stores, and yoga studios. Extremely health-conscious people were coming into to complain of "persistent but elusive problems": "Chronic fatigue. Skin and hair issues. Arrhythmias and other neurological disorders. Foggy thinking. Gluten sensitivity and other digestive troubles. Sometimes even the possibility of Lyme Disease."

Hubbard began to find detectable levels of a toxic heavy metal called thallium in patients' blood samples—at higher-than-normal leves—as well as in kale leaves from the region. Meanwhile, "over and over," he found that patients complaining of symptoms associated with low-level thallium poisoning—fatigue, brain fog, etc.—would also be heavy eaters of kale and related vegetables, like cabbage.

Well that does it. Kale is off the menu. 

I've read the kale reports. I also realize that while failing as an urban poser homesteader who never tested my soil I probably lost a dozen lead-infused IQ points which is why so many of my crops died.  However, the key here is two things... no, three things... 

1. Balance.  Man cannot live on kale alone.  That's just stupid.  Even in California, lol.  2. Eat close to nature, and cook yourself.  If it's in a box, there are mystery ingredients.  End of story.  Sourcing... the better you source these things, the better you will do.  

It's not about organic, not-organic, or what microclimate grew your endive.  It's about knowing where your food comes from.  I know the farmer down the street.  I'm in the country now and I have good soil so no heavy metal from industrialization.  I have my own chickens and eggs... even being somewhat extreme, I still do my homework if I have to and have learned about such things. 

We all want convenience foods... the way I tackle that is large-batch cooking things I love from scratch.  No low fat for me, either, lol.  And spider guts are part of the menu... I get aphids in my leafy greens now and again... farmer trick (always listen to the farmer down the road...)  Get a big pot of water, salt it to about ocean taste.  Give your greens a good long soak.  Bugs float to the top.  Drain. Rinse.  There you go--truly vegetarian salad:) 

What I hear you say:

1. Balance. Vary what you eat.

2. Eat close to nature, and cook for yourself. That way you know what's in what you eat. 

Nice comment, Dawn.  Adam, if anything this is an argument for varying your diet, rather than excluding specific components.  There are different nutrients (and anti-nutrients) in each plant, even when growing conditions are ideal. 

Vary your diet BUT steer clear of most processed foods, right?

Yup. When possible... 

Isn't it possible in most cases?

The article was about language usage applied to foods:

1) People are healthy or unhealthy, not our foods (unless you're a farmer discussing seed motility, crop blight, etc. or a rancher discussing the prevalence of hoof and mouth among your herd, etc.).

  

2) If we also started eating people, then we could start discussing whether or not people are nutritious as well as healthy or unhealthy.

The article danced around and hinted at some common sense experience:

3) all industrially manufactured foods are synthetically crafted and literally labeled and/or use misdirected language so as to obscure any negative constituent Frankenstein parts, e.g. mechanically separated meat and low-fat Half and Half.

Readers can thus infer their own insights and either rationalize or keep faith in industrial food diets. What isn't said is that it's only hard to eat nutritiously when you continue to eat industrial manufactured and distributed food.

It's mindlessly easier and more nutritious to eat whole foods, raised by farmers and ranchers you know and trust.  This could even lead to robust health and enduring well-being...

...but I digress.

I appreciate your digression and I'm struggling to understand why most of the U.S. population keeps faith in industrial food. 

Great points re: the actual article Rob.  I'd say: this can be taken even further.  Are things once consumed, necessarily either healthy or unhealthy for people?  I don't mean a mix of substances generally considered healthy and unhealthy, as most foods have.  I mean individual substances.  And if you think about it, not really.  I suspect it's the rare substance (at least naturally occuring) that's universally damaging (e.g. huge molecules like cyanide for example), or vice versa, or even close to that.  Molecules don't emit "good rays" and "bad rays", they are electrically charged *shapes*.  So for example take what is commonly called IP6 or phytates.  There is significant evidence that traditional cultures, especially those eating a lot of meat, have acted to reduce this, thus it's commonly called an "antinutrient".  It is known to prevent the body from absorbing several minerals.  But there is also research showing promise for people who megadose the stuff as an anti-cancer agent. 

Another example that has struck me is melanin.  Not in a food way, but in the sense that substances aren't just one thing.  You probably know melanin as a pigment molecule.  Like that is it's function.  But, no it's an electrically charged shape.  Turns out it's also an antifungal.  Oh and it apparently has psychological effects (e.g. to explain higher crime rates among true albinos). 

So when we think about foods, or components of foods as having one alignment (like D&D ha ha) or even one function it's inherently misleading. 

The challenge here and in other places of human interrogatory is that much of what we understand and then try to intellectually convey using symbols (i.e words, pictures and in the case of Italians, gestures) as representations of underlying truths that often times don't fully translate, for some known reasons:

1) dimensionality – unknown unknowns

2) complexity – non-linear and multivariate compositions

3) pacing – applied and elapsed time and periodic cycles (as in 1 and 2 above) of causes and effects

So our bodies, and the relations we have with food, comprise dimensionalities (1) we are ignorant of and continue to explore, learning increment by increment to advance our understanding...for example, gut microflora and fauna.  No shit, our shit is actually good for others...

As to your point Adam, about individual substances, or in this case perhaps we could say focusing on the parts instead of the whole?  The challenge we face with this viewpoint is much more subtle than obvious in vitro versus in vivo variances – it's mistakenly believing that an individual element is somehow responsible for regulating and controlling an entire ecosystem simply because when we fuck with it things change... but in fact, it's much more complex (2) than that.  

In our bodies (and beyond) everything moves together (even if our opinions don't) and our ease or disease pulses across our internal system (microbiome) as it interacts with our environment (biome). These interactions are more relevant to our optimal wellbeing and health (i.e. homeostasis) than any individual element within them.  Granted some individual elements are more likely to get noticed when fucking with a wide array of human microbiomes, but many such noticed pathogens, such as e coli and salmonella, live benignly within many human microbiomes and cause them no disease whatsoever. 

[Note: I've had many arguments with my cousin who is a quasi-famous pathologist – he and his colleague discovered Toxic Shock Syndrome back in the day – that germ theory (the problem of individual substances) applies to less than 2% of causal illnesses; and, that killing germs as a health principle is a most destructive way to pursue vitality because it simply erodes long-term wellness by carpet bombing everything across our microbiome, not just pathogens. He disagrees.]

How we choose to pace (3) our lives by resting and reacting to life is also consequential.  Too much of a good thing can be wonderful in certain regards, in others not so much.  As far as food and individual substances go we can consider the concept of minimum effective dose across tolerance gradients.  For example, salt is a necessary and wonderful element in our foods and in our seas... but eat 10 teaspoons of salt and you'll die – no recourse – and begin that dirt nap waiting for all of us.  

Homeopathy is a recognition of the beneficial effect of provoking our immune systems through minuscule doses of toxins.  And so is the concept of kurtosis for growth, when applied in a similar manner.  But these concepts made more sense in the Newtonian world where what we could conceive and manipulate was only what we could grasp with our hands and senses.

But the cat's out of our mind since Einstein showed up and now we've entire industries fucking with things beyond our sensibilities... and those things are fucking with our sensibilities right back.

Good comments, Rob. 

Good comments.  (I'm not Adam though)

I can see how he would confuse us. :)

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