03EatingWe all do it. We all do it daily. Many of us do too much of it, and some of us do so little of it, we risk our lives. It gives us pleasure, and sometimes it makes us sick. We do it alone, and we do it with others. We read and sometimes take advice about doing it. Sometimes we get it right, and sometimes we get it wrong.

Yes, we all eat, and lots of us try to eat well. But what the heck does that really mean?

The old food pyramid of meat, starches and vegetables of my childhood is a culinary relic, and even though I try hard to pay attention to the latest in nutritional learning and advice, I am still confused most of the time. How much protein is right for my size and age? How much fat? Should I give up all white foods – pasta, potatoes, rice, breads, mayonnaise? What about my chardonnay at the end of the day? What happens if I do? What happens if I don’t?

A new book posits that we should eat in sync with our ancient circadian rhythms, meaning during the 8 to 10 hours of the day when our bodies’ hormones and metabolisms are active and primed for processing food, like most other animals on earth. In “The Circadian Code” by Satchin Panda (yes, just like the pandas in China), the Salk Institute professor says extending our feeding times into the wee hours – remember that pre-bedtime bowl of ice cream? – simply ripens us up for weight gain and metabolic disorders.

Maybe Panda’s nutritional notions are spot on, as well as the oncefamous grapefruit diet, which gave me a stomach ache and on which I nary lost an ounce. Maybe so as well to food that arrives in boxes dropped on our doorsteps and all the fancy and expensive juice concoctions made with spinach, exotic fruits and
Lord knows what else. Maybe we should all be on a Paleo diet, eating just what we could have hunted or gathered way back when.

As the daughter of a mother who believed we could eat anything we want if we do so in moderation, the recommendations of Aaron E. Carroll, professor at Indiana University School of Medicine, who also blogs at the Accidental Economist, make good sense for most of us. They have lots of wiggle room for those things our diverse tastes and metabolisms just have to have and those we simply cannot tolerate. Carroll is quick to say that his recommendations are not etched in stone – that no foods are “demons” or “miracles.”

Here are some of Carroll’s recommendations.

• Take as much of your nutrition as possible from unprocessed foods, including fruits and vegetables and meats, fish, poultry, and eggs that have not been cooked or prepared in some way until you do it. Choose whole grains over refined ones, and eat your fruit instead of drinking it in juice form.

• Understand that most of us are all going to eat some processed foods. I have never made homemade pasta in my life and don’t expect to, but I have certainly cooked plenty of dried pasta. Fine, says Carroll, but not every day. Ditto for cookies, chips, breads and most cereals, which all contain processed ingredients.
Know that homemade really is better, but it is not unprocessed either. That said, eat homemade food as often as possible. It gives us more control of what we are eating, and in Carroll’s words, “you are much less likely to stuff yourself silly if you eat home-cooked food.”

• Use fats, including butter and oil, and salts in food preparation. Our bodies need them, but don’t go overboard. When we do this ourselves, we know what is in our food. We often do not know that in restaurant food.

•Drink lots of water, but other beverages, including coffee and some alcohol, are OK as well. Remember that except for water, black coffee and most teas, all beverages have calories, often far more than we think.

• This is probably Carroll’s best advice. Eat with other people, especially those near and dear, as often as you can. It will make you, or maybe some of them, more likely to cook. You will be happy in their company and will probably eat more slowly as you enjoy the conversation.

Well said, Dr. Carroll, well said. You and my mother are kindred spirits at the table.

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