Are Industrial Foods Making Us Sick?
Author and food activist Nina Planck was raised on a family farm in Virginia, where she learned to appreciate "real," traditional foods. She worked as a reporter for TIME Magazine and wrote speeches for the U.S. ambassador to London before opening the first farmers’ markets in London. Today her company, London Farmers’ Markets, runs fourteen markets. She is the author of two books: "Real Food: What to Eat and Why," and "Real Food for Mother and Baby: The Fertility Diet, Eating for Two, and Baby's First Foods."
Planck is a Big Think Delphi Fellow.
Question: Can eating more lard\r\n and butter\r\nreally make you healthier?\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n
Nina Planck: It’s about the \r\ntraditional foods\r\nversus the industrial foods and therein lies the tale I put in real food\r\nbecause when I started to eat all these foods I wondered will I feel \r\ngreat and\r\nI’m thriving, but perhaps the nutritionists and the cardiologists are \r\nright and\r\nsoon my arteries will be clogged like a drain and I’ll be dead at 32. So\r\n I\r\nwanted to do some homework on real food. So I set out to find out \r\nwhether it\r\nwas true. Is it true that these\r\ntraditional foods, these meats and these fats are responsible for what \r\nthey\r\ncall the "diseases of civilization" – and those are generally the three \r\ndiet-related diseases that are crippling Americans right now – and they \r\nare obesity,\r\ndiabetes and heart disease. \r\nThey’re known as the "diseases of civilization," but I came to \r\nfind that\r\nthat was a misnomer. They are\r\ntruly the diseases on industrialization because the ancient Greeks and \r\nothers\r\nwere certainly civilized and they did not suffer from these diseases. We began to suffer from these three\r\ndiseases around the time we started to convert traditional foods into\r\nindustrial foods, so one-by-one I looked at each food and once again I \r\nfound\r\nthat wherever you come from, whatever part of the world, whether it’s \r\nthe\r\ntropics where coconut oil is the norm, or its northern climes where \r\nyou’re\r\neating a lot of reindeer meat or seal blubber, or it’s the Scottish \r\nIslands\r\nwhere you have hardly any access to fruits and vegetables – wherever you look at traditional diets\r\nyou find a little list of traditional and what I came to call real foods\r\n and\r\nyou do not find the diseases of industrialization. All\r\n the foods are good, but I did look at each food and we\r\ncan talk about them. I looked at\r\nsaturated fat in particular. I\r\nlooked at cholesterol in particular. \r\nI looked at red meat, which is accused of causing cancer. And \r\nthen I\r\nlooked at the substitutes for these traditional foods that we’ve now \r\nadded to\r\nour diet: the industrial foods, soybean oil, corn oil, refined flour, \r\nrefined\r\nsugar, trans-fats, which are artificial man-made saturated fats and in \r\neach\r\ninstance I found that these industrial foods were responsible for \r\nobesity,\r\ndiabetes and heart disease. And other conditions too, but these are the \r\nthree\r\nthat people are most concerned with. And just add these three conditions\r\n are\r\ndefinitely diet related. It\r\ndoesn’t mean the diet is their only cause. They \r\nare famously multi-factorial conditions.
Question: Why do most of us \r\neat foods that\r\naren't good for us?\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n
Nina Planck: \r\nWell\r\nwe start with what traditional foods are and here is some principles: One is that they’re whole. They\r\n haven’t been broken down into\r\ntheir component parts or reassembled. And they haven’t had things added \r\nto them\r\nor removed, so they’re not engineered to be high in one thing or low in\r\nanother, so real food is… Low-carb\r\nbread is not real food. Orange\r\njuice with added vitamin A and vitamin D is not real food. So that’s \r\nthe first\r\nprinciple.\r\n
The second is that\r\ntraditional foods spoil and a good rule of thumb is to eat foods that do\r\n spoil,\r\nbut eat them before they do. There\r\nare a few wonderful traditional foods that don’t spoil. Honey\r\n is one that lasts forever. So\r\ndoes wine. These are some of the\r\ngreatest foods on earth, but they are unusual. Traditional\r\n foods spoil. And traditional foods work as whole foods,\r\nso their component parts are all created by God or nature, as you \r\nprefer, to\r\nwork together. So in egg for example the complete nutritional package \r\nis the\r\nyolk and the white, not one or the other. \r\nThe same is true of milk, which is a highly complex food. You require, for example, the saturated\r\nfats in particular in milk to absorb the calcium, so it’s no good for \r\nyour\r\nbones to drink skim milk.
So\r\n if we\r\nlook at those basic principles of traditional foods we begin to \r\nunderstand\r\nindustrial foods, because what they’ve done with industrial foods is \r\nthey’ve\r\ncreated foods that never spoil – and who does that serve but \r\ndistributors and\r\nretailers? – and they’ve created foods which have had parts removed, \r\nwhich are\r\noften the valuable parts, so for example, when they remove the bran and \r\nthe\r\nfiber from a whole grain and make white flour, the\r\n vitamin E, which is very valuable goes to industrial\r\ndairy cattle because without vitamin E in their diets, which they would \r\nget\r\nfrom grass, they would suffer poor health. And the fiber goes off to \r\nplaces that\r\nneed… places, people and animals that need fiber. So they remove things \r\nof\r\nvalue. Industrial salt, very\r\nsimilar, comes with dozens and dozens of trace elements. \r\n They remove those and they’re quite\r\nuseful for the chemical industry, leaving you with stripped-down salt, \r\nwhich\r\nthey have to re-iodize. So that is one important principle, shelf life \r\nand also\r\nremoving valuable items. But then by reengineering them and enhancing \r\nthem – and\r\nI put that in quotation marks – they then add value to them again, but \r\nreally\r\nonly to the food manufacturer. So by putting vitamins A and D in orange \r\njuice\r\nthey try to persuade the consumer that it’s a more nutritious product \r\nwhen in\r\nfact God or nature, again as you prefer, never put vitamin A and D in \r\norange\r\njuice because it doesn’t belong there and the product isn’t enhanced by \r\nit\r\nbecause vitamin A and D are fat-soluble, so a little bit of synthetic \r\nvitamin A\r\nand D in a glass of orange juice doesn’t do anything for your body. You have to consume some fat to absorb\r\nthose vitamins. If we look \r\nat animal\r\nproduction we also see that it’s just cheaper to feed animals on \r\nindustrial\r\nanimal food and produce an industrial animal than it is to feed them on a\r\ntraditional diet. We’re now\r\nlearning just how frugal and sensible in ecological and financial terms \r\nit is\r\nto raise animals on a traditional diet, but the industrial model of \r\nanimal\r\nproduction at the moment is very much to make the food… fatten them \r\nquickly and\r\nmake the food as cheap as possible and use as many drugs as possible to \r\nget the\r\nanimal to market as quickly as possible. \r\nThis is short-termism in the worst way for the animal, for the \r\necology\r\nand for human health, but that is their thinking.
Our ancestors had a much lower incidence of diabetes, obesity and heart disease. Could it be because they ate traditional, "real" foods?
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