Eating Better -- For Yourself and for the Planet

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Question: Can you be a food lover and a\r\nhealthy eater?

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Mark\r\nBittman:  I think if you are a true food lover,\r\nyou are a healthy eater.  Well,\r\nfirst of all, the term foodie is completely ridiculous because for someone to\r\n-- when you meet somebody and they say, "I really love to eat," I\r\nthink the appropriate answer is who doesn’t?  So, I mean look around.  Who do you know who is not a food lover?  Everybody's a food lover.

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The question is\r\ndo you eat responsibly?  Do you eat\r\nfor your own benefit?  Do you eat\r\nfor your planets benefit and do you eat the best food possible?  If the answer to all of those things is\r\nyes then you're eating well.  If\r\nyou're eating, if your style of eating is bad for your body, if your style of\r\neating is bad for the planet then you are not really eating good food.  You're eating lousy food and there's\r\nplenty -- as we know, there's plenty of lousy food around.

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Question: What is the most environmentally\r\nresponsible way to eat?

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Mark\r\nBittman:  The principled way to eat, if you were\r\ngoing to say, "I want to eat entirely for my own benefit, I want to eat\r\nentirely for the benefit of the planet, I want to eat in the most responsible\r\nway possible to minimize my carbon footprint, to minimize my impact overall, to\r\nminimize my effect on animals," you would be a vegan.  That's the bottom line.

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Veganism is the\r\nmost principled way to eat that there is. \r\nFrom the perspective of your own body, from the perspective of the\r\nplanet, from the perspective of animals, very few people are going to be\r\nvegans.  Let's be real.

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So what's\r\nnext?  I mean, if on the one hand\r\nyou have vegans and on the other hand you have people who eat whatever they\r\nfeel like eating, there's a middle ground.  The problem with the way most Americans eat right now is\r\nthat we are about as far from veganism as we could be.  So a vegan would get 100 percent of his\r\nor her calories from plants. 

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Most Americans\r\nget 90 percent of their calories from processed food, junk food, and animal\r\nproducts.  So, the goal, I think,\r\nis to move in the direction of eating more unprocessed plant food than we do\r\nnow and everybody's got a different starting place.  If you eat 20 cheeseburgers a week, or the equivalent, you\r\nmight look at eating 15 cheeseburgers a week or the equivalent.  If you're eating 15, you might look at\r\neating 10 and so on, and I think if people think about what's best for their\r\nbody, what's best for the planet, the answer is eating unprocessed plant food\r\nand then think about how can I eat more of that stuff at the expense of meat,\r\nwhich was the question, but also at the expense of processed food and junk\r\nfood.

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Question: What are some of the main things you\r\ncan do to eat healthily?

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Mark\r\nBittman: The idea is to\r\neat as many unprocessed plants as you can. What are\r\nplants?  Plants are vegetables,\r\nfruits, legumes, which means beans, nuts and seeds; what am I leaving out?  I think that's about it.  So the idea is to eat as many\r\nunprocessed plants as you possibly can and to eat those instead of eating\r\nprocessed foods, junk foods, and animal products. 

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Well, it works\r\nfor me -- what's worked for me for just about three years now, what works for\r\nme is to eat a very, very strict diet of plants only and unprocessed plants\r\nonly from the time I wake up in the morning until dinner time.  So from the time I wake up until\r\nroughly dark I eat a lot of fruit, I eat a lot of vegetables, I eat some whole\r\ngrains and sometimes I have some beans and that's pretty much it.  And then at night I eat whatever I want\r\nand that’s, which includes meat, which includes wine and which includes pasta\r\nand bread and stuff like that. 

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That's a huge\r\nchange for me.  I think that if you\r\nthink of your diet as a seesaw with the animal products, the processed or the\r\njunk food on the heavy side as it is for most people and the unprocessed plants\r\non the light side as it is for most people, I think for me my seesaw went from\r\nlooking something like this to looking something like this.  I think to the extent other people can\r\neat that way they will have a lesser impact on the planet, improve their\r\nhealth, probably lose weight, feel better.

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Question: Why did you decide to change the way\r\nyou ate?

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Mark\r\nBittman:  Well I think I decided to change the\r\nway I ate because of some of the things we've been talking about here.  One is that I recognize that one of the\r\nhighest contributors to greenhouse gases and global warming is the industrial\r\nproduction of livestock.  So I\r\ndecided okay that was one good reason to eat less meat.  The other good reason to eat less meat\r\nis that I was in my mid-50s and my health wasn't what it used to be.  So I was overweight, I had bad knees, I\r\nhad sleep apnea, had high cholesterol, I had high blood sugar or borderline\r\nhigh blood sugar, I think that's enough.

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So\r\nI decided to change my diet and it's so obvious to everyone who pays any\r\nattention to nutrition at all that if you want to be healthier the way to do\r\nthat is as I've already said is to eat fewer animal products and eat less\r\nprocessed and junk food.  So I\r\nstarted to do that and it worked. \r\nI lost 35 pounds; gained five of them back but hey.  Sleep apnea went away, I slept better,\r\nmy knees bothered me much less, in fact, they ran the New York marathon last\r\nyear.  My cholesterol is back to\r\nnormal and my blood sugar is back to normal.

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So it all worked\r\nand it's not a coincidence.  I mean\r\nno one would say it was a coincidence.

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Question: Are there any foods you avoid because\r\nof health reasons?

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Mark Bittman:  Actually not.  There's some things I don’t like.  But I think that it's important to recognize that there is\r\nno sort of single, I mean, arsenic and cyanide aside, there's not really a\r\nsingle ingredient that's going to outright kill you.  There's actually some evidence that a single can of soda can\r\ntrigger diabetes, but there's not a lot of evidence about that.  In general, one ingredient, one little\r\nkind of food, one meal, one day, even one week.  That's not what's determinant of your overall health or of\r\nyour impact on the planet.  What\r\ndetermines is your overall diet and if it's moving in the right direction,\r\nwhich for most Americans is towards plants and away from animal products and\r\nprocessed foods, than I think hip, hip, hooray.  That's the way to go.

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