“On Vegan and Low Fat Diets, My Health Suffered”

Question: How did your \r\nupbringing affect\r\nyour ideas about food?\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n

Nina Planck: \r\nMy\r\nmother raised us on real food and she was a fan of Adelle Davis who was \r\nthe\r\npioneering slightly out of the mainstream nutritionist, but a laywoman, \r\nright\r\nand so then a lot of people attacked her for not knowing enough, who \r\ncame out\r\nof California.  In the ‘60s and\r\n‘70s she had a pretty big following and Adelle Davis had very simple \r\nprinciples\r\nall of which have been pretty much borne out by the subsequent science, \r\nwhole\r\nfood, B vitamins, real meat, real milk, traditional fats. \r\n She has a few clunkers that don’t\r\nsurvive the test of time, which you come across in her books, but on the\r\n whole\r\neverything she said proved to be true and so my mother raised us on \r\nwhole wheat\r\nbread and the proverbial blackstrap molasses.  We \r\nmade granola once a week.  The children had an \r\nassignment to make granola.  We also ate all the \r\nmeats.  It was not a vegan, hippie commune, our\r\nlittle farm, so we had very traditional simple American meals like fried\r\n chicken,\r\nmeatloaf.  I remember a food I\r\nregarded as one of our super frugal meals was macaroni with tuna and \r\ncream\r\nsauce, which I loved.  My mother\r\nused to dip her toast in the bacon fat and nothing was off limits except\r\n white\r\nsugar and white flour.  Those would\r\nhave been my mother’s standards and she used to say no matter how little\r\n money\r\nwe have we’ll always have real maple syrup, real olive oil and real\r\nbutter.  We also had a cow and\r\nchickens in addition to the vegetables we were growing on our vegetable \r\nfarm,\r\nso we drank raw milk.  We didn’t\r\nmake any cheese or dairy products. \r\nThat would have been more homesteady than we were and we were \r\nreally\r\nbusy as commercial vegetable farmers, but we did have fresh eggs and \r\nfresh milk\r\nand then what we couldn’t raise ourselves we bought or bartered for at \r\nthe\r\nfarmers markets and in the dead of winter we shopped at the \r\nsupermarkets.

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Question: What is "real food?"\r\n

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Nina Planck: My concept of "real \r\nfood"\r\nwas grounded in my mother’s lessons for us, which were that it should be\r\nwhole.  It should be\r\nnutritional.  It should be\r\nsimple.  It shouldn’t be processed,\r\na small number of ingredients.  And\r\nthen I sort of went off track and in my teens and twenties became a \r\nvegan and a\r\nvegetarian and tried low fat diets and low saturated fat diets and low\r\ncholesterol diets and the reason I did that was not so much a thumb in \r\nthe face\r\nof my mother, although perhaps we’re all acting against our parents in \r\nsome\r\nways, but more because it was the conventional wisdom of the time in the\r\n late ‘80s\r\nand the early 1990s that less fat was good.  Less \r\nsaturated fat was good.  Less animal fat, less \r\ncholesterol, more plant foods, so I\r\nassumed that if all those things were true that a nonfat vegan diet was\r\nprobably the best of all and that’s what I tried. And things went along\r\nfine.  No one would have called me\r\nsick, but on vegan and low fat diets in fact, my health suffered and I \r\nwas 25\r\npounds heavier than I am now and I had a host of minor complaints and no\r\n one\r\nreally would have ever called me ill or certainly they wouldn’t have \r\nsuspected\r\nmy perfect diet because I was not a junk food vegan or vegetarian.  I ate brown rice and beans.  I \r\nate olive oil.  I ate fruits and vegetables.  I just didn’t eat many traditional\r\nfoods, how I now understand it.

\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nSo\r\n what brought\r\nme back to real food was a wonderful serendipity.  I\r\n was living in London and I had started the first American\r\nstyle farmers' markets in London in 1999 and when I grew up in the \r\nWashington D.C.\r\narea at the farmers markets there were the vegetable people like and the\r\n fruit\r\nguys and then there was the plant lady and the honey man and the baker, \r\nat\r\nfarmers' markets.  When I started my\r\nfirst little farmers' market in London I had farmers even at my first \r\nlittle market\r\nwith only 16 producers selling grass-fed and pastured beef and lamb and \r\npork\r\nand chicken.  They were selling raw\r\nmilk cheeses and cream and sausages and meat pies and fish and all sorts\r\n of\r\nwonderful things.  So then I got a\r\nbook contract and that was to write the farmers' market cookbook and I \r\nhad just\r\nbeen dabbling around with eggs and with fish and I was no longer vegan \r\nand no\r\nlonger a vegetarian, but I wasn’t eating… \r\nI was not yet a carnivore or an omnivore even, and so I didn’t \r\nwant to\r\nwrite a vegetarian or even a fish-and-eggs farmers’ market cookbook.  I felt I had to honor all the food\r\nproducers at the markets and all the eaters as well, so I looked around \r\nand I\r\nsaw the farmers of these wonderful traditional foods – the meat, the \r\neggs, the\r\ndairy, the fats – were healthy and happy people and seemed to enjoy \r\ntheir food\r\nand the eaters were healthy and happy people and certainly enjoyed all \r\nthose\r\nfoods and I began to wonder whether I shouldn’t try these foods. So for \r\nmy\r\ncookbook I tried every food at our markets and wrote recipes and ate all\r\n the\r\nrecipes. And it was along the way that I slowly became an omnivore \r\nagain. And\r\nwith each food I ate, with each fat, with each rich thing, with each red\r\n meat,\r\nwith each forbidden and taboo thing, with each item that the \r\ncardiologists were\r\nbanning in the U.S. – and in Britain as well – my health improved quite\r\ndramatically.  I lost 25\r\npounds.  I didn’t have to exercise\r\nas much.  I used to run six miles,\r\nsix times a week.  I had colds and\r\nflu in flu season.  My nails and\r\nhair and skin were dry.  My\r\ndigestion was terrible.  All of\r\nthose problems melted away when I became an omnivore again.

The author describes how growing up on the farm taught her to love "real foods" and how much healthier she became when she stopped being a vegetarian.

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