Strangers in A Strange Land: Nutrition Science and Food Culture

STRANGERS IN A STRANGE LAND: NUTRITION SCIENCE AND FOOD CULTURE

Navigating the modern food environment is not a task for the faint of heart. Throughout the day we hear varying food opinions—whether on social media, at lunch with coworkers, or around the dinner table. People are debating which macronutrient groups to eat, or completely cut out, and there’s no shortage of finger-pointing.

The grocery store isn’t any easier. The nutrition facts are frequently changing, ingredient lists look like a foreign language, and there are “heart healthy” labels on every other packaged food item but none of the vegetables. So what is the truth, and what are we supposed to eat? How is a person supposed to be healthy in 2018 America?

In defense of nutrition science

As a lover of nutrition science, I feel compelled to explain (and defend) why the world of nutrition seems so conflicting.

Firstly, nutrition is a young science. It hasn’t been studied for as many centuries as physics, algebra, or astronomy. Macronutrients (fat, carbohydrates, and protein) were discovered in the mid-1800s, and vitamins weren’t discovered until the 1900s. And newer problems, like the relationship between our bodies and food in industrialized society, only began to be researched several decades ago.

Second, industrialism changed the way our world operates in countless ways—but it brought about unforeseen health repercussions with its corporate agriculture and food marketing.

Fortunately, there are some concrete principles that can guide our health decisions without risk. Namely, food quality, behavior change, movement, sleep, stress management, and establishing our own nutrition culture at home.

It starts with food, and it starts at home

There once was a time—and indeed in some places this remains to be so—where food selection was a matter of wisdom and culture.

For example, when someone was sick, the members of the family knew to consume a certain food that helps the body heal; or when a woman was pregnant, she knew to eat particular foods that encourage fetal development.

The food wisdom was passed down through generations, discovered by the culture to assist in the health of the individual as well as the entire family.

Food was tradition.

Food was local.

Food was culture.

As a whole, America has no cultural parameters that encourage the consumption of certain foods for particular health reasons. There are no engrained eating patterns. There are no classic or traditional foods. This leaves us open to the vastest dilemma—the modern omnivore’s dilemma. We can eat just about anything, and at this point in human history, we have all foods at our disposal. The problem is, the lack of food culture leaves us vulnerable to both “food industry” marketing as well as “health industry” marketing. Some of us are eating takeout every night and some of us are cutting-out entire food groups and drinking meal replacement shakes. On average, households are not consuming adequate amounts of fresh foods, nutrients, or eating together.

In 2016, the average high school student’s main source of vegetables was french fries:

“8.5% of high school students nationwide met fruit recommendations and 2.1% met vegetable recommendations. The median fruit and vegetable intake for 14 to 18 year olds was .5 cups of fruit and .8 cups of vegetables eaten .2 and .1 times per day, respectfully.” -Moore et al. 2016

This lack of food culture takes a toll on the health of the individual, the health of the family, the health of the land, and the health of the nation. However, I believe that we can change this.

How?

We need to develop food cultures at home.

Picking, cooking, and eating

To develop a healthy food culture at home, we have to first focus on the source. Different diet camps are often at odds with one another about how much of each macronutrient a person should consume—whether to cut-out carbs, remove all fat, or perhaps even greatly reduce protein. However, no one with an eye on research is going to thoughtfully argue about food quality.

If we can do one thing, it would be to increase our food quality—with no goal in mind other than giving our body the nutrients that it both requires and expects. Thousands of years of evolution has led the human genome to utilize rich sources of vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, protein, fatty acids, and carbohydrates.

If we can establish patterns of eating at home centered around food quality, we’re on the path to nourishment. Some of my favorite ways to make this process fun, active, and creative include:

  • Visiting farmers markets
  • Discovering local sources of pasture-raised, grass-fed protein
  • Experimenting with new foods
  • Eating in-season and learning about what’s growing during each time of year
  • Focusing on minimally processed food sources
  • Creating family recipe books centered around traditions and favorite meals

Not only does picking our ingredients provide us with the healthy interaction that we should have with our food, but it ensures we’re buying fresh foods, and hopefully supporting our local food economies. This has a major effect on the soil quality and pastures from which our food is harvested, and thus the nutrition profile of our ingredients. This can fundamentally change our nutrition. I believe it’s the perfect place to start our food journeys.

The final frontier: individualization

Establishing a wholesome nutrition culture at home is a fantastic way to get all members of the family eating nutritious sources of vegetables, starches, fats, and protein.

However, we know that some nutrition endeavors are easier said than done. Which is one reason that receiving help from a nutritionist can be such a powerful asset in our health. And of course, the possibility remains that an individual may need additional assistance with weight loss, resolving gastrointestinal issues, optimizing athletic performance, and problem-solving.

In this regard, customization is key. Eating for healing, eating for performance, or eating with very specific health goals in mind requires strategy.

Beyond teaching people about food quality, some of my most thought-provoking work goes into customization. GI pain, blood sugar issues, fatigue, weight loss, or nutrition for performance all require evidenced-based protocols. This is why food quality must always be addressed, followed by customization to help individuals meet their body’s specific needs.

A body deserves to thrive

In 2000, there were 2,863 farmers markets in the United States. In 2014, there were 8,268. Our food culture is changing–slowly but surely–and we can celebrate by being a part of that change.

I believe that in order to thrive, humans need to be properly nourished, they need to feel whole, loved, cared for, relaxed, energized, in control, and in touch with their food, bodies, and environment. This is the perspective that I approach health with. I am passionate about helping people thrive (not just “get by”) so that our days are filled with delicious meals, high energy, happy bodies, and confidence. I’m honored to be joining the Pure Performance team, and I’m so excited to work with those who are seeking to take control of their health.

In 2000, there were 2,863 farmers markets in the United States. In 2014, there were 8,268. Our food culture is changing–slowly but surely–and we can celebrate by being a part of that change.

I believe that in order to thrive, humans need to be properly nourished, they need to feel whole, loved, cared for, relaxed, energized, in control, and in touch with their food, bodies, and environment. This is the perspective that I approach health with. I am passionate about helping people thrive (not just “get by”) so that our days are filled with delicious meals, high energy, happy bodies, and confidence. I’m honored to be joining the Pure Performance team, and I’m so excited to work with those who are seeking to take control of their health.

STRANGERS IN A STRANGE LAND: NUTRITION SCIENCE AND FOOD CULTURE

Navigating the modern food environment is not a task for the faint of heart. Throughout the day we hear varying food opinions—whether on social media, at lunch with coworkers, or around the dinner table. People are debating which macronutrient groups to eat, or completely cut out, and there’s no shortage of finger-pointing.

The grocery store isn’t any easier. The nutrition facts are frequently changing, ingredient lists look like a foreign language, and there are “heart healthy” labels on every other packaged food item but none of the vegetables. So what is the truth, and what are we supposed to eat? How is a person supposed to be healthy in 2018 America?

In defense of nutrition science

As a lover of nutrition science, I feel compelled to explain (and defend) why the world of nutrition seems so conflicting.

Firstly, nutrition is a young science. It hasn’t been studied for as many centuries as physics, algebra, or astronomy. Macronutrients (fat, carbohydrates, and protein) were discovered in the mid-1800s, and vitamins weren’t discovered until the 1900s. And newer problems, like the relationship between our bodies and food in industrialized society, only began to be researched several decades ago.

Second, industrialism changed the way our world operates in countless ways—but it brought about unforeseen health repercussions with its corporate agriculture and food marketing.

Fortunately, there are some concrete principles that can guide our health decisions without risk. Namely, food quality, behavior change, movement, sleep, stress management, and establishing our own nutrition culture at home.

It starts with food, and it starts at home

There once was a time—and indeed in some places this remains to be so—where food selection was a matter of wisdom and culture.

For example, when someone was sick, the members of the family knew to consume a certain food that helps the body heal; or when a woman was pregnant, she knew to eat particular foods that encourage fetal development.

The food wisdom was passed down through generations, discovered by the culture to assist in the health of the individual as well as the entire family.

Food was tradition.

Food was local.

Food was culture.

As a whole, America has no cultural parameters that encourage the consumption of certain foods for particular health reasons. There are no engrained eating patterns. There are no classic or traditional foods. This leaves us open to the vastest dilemma—the modern omnivore’s dilemma. We can eat just about anything, and at this point in human history, we have all foods at our disposal. The problem is, the lack of food culture leaves us vulnerable to both “food industry” marketing as well as “health industry” marketing. Some of us are eating takeout every night and some of us are cutting-out entire food groups and drinking meal replacement shakes. On average, households are not consuming adequate amounts of fresh foods, nutrients, or eating together.

In 2016, the average high school student’s main source of vegetables was french fries:

“8.5% of high school students nationwide met fruit recommendations and 2.1% met vegetable recommendations. The median fruit and vegetable intake for 14 to 18 year olds was .5 cups of fruit and .8 cups of vegetables eaten .2 and .1 times per day, respectfully.” -Moore et al. 2016

This lack of food culture takes a toll on the health of the individual, the health of the family, the health of the land, and the health of the nation. However, I believe that we can change this.

How?

We need to develop food cultures at home.

Picking, cooking, and eating

To develop a healthy food culture at home, we have to first focus on the source. Different diet camps are often at odds with one another about how much of each macronutrient a person should consume—whether to cut-out carbs, remove all fat, or perhaps even greatly reduce protein. However, no one with an eye on research is going to thoughtfully argue about food quality.

If we can do one thing, it would be to increase our food quality—with no goal in mind other than giving our body the nutrients that it both requires and expects. Thousands of years of evolution has led the human genome to utilize rich sources of vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, protein, fatty acids, and carbohydrates.

If we can establish patterns of eating at home centered around food quality, we’re on the path to nourishment. Some of my favorite ways to make this process fun, active, and creative include:

  • Visiting farmers markets
  • Discovering local sources of pasture-raised, grass-fed protein
  • Experimenting with new foods
  • Eating in-season and learning about what’s growing during each time of year
  • Focusing on minimally processed food sources
  • Creating family recipe books centered around traditions and favorite meals

Not only does picking our ingredients provide us with the healthy interaction that we should have with our food, but it ensures we’re buying fresh foods, and hopefully supporting our local food economies. This has a major effect on the soil quality and pastures from which our food is harvested, and thus the nutrition profile of our ingredients. This can fundamentally change our nutrition. I believe it’s the perfect place to start our food journeys.

The final frontier: individualization

Establishing a wholesome nutrition culture at home is a fantastic way to get all members of the family eating nutritious sources of vegetables, starches, fats, and protein.

However, we know that some nutrition endeavors are easier said than done. Which is one reason that receiving help from a nutritionist can be such a powerful asset in our health. And of course, the possibility remains that an individual may need additional assistance with weight loss, resolving gastrointestinal issues, optimizing athletic performance, and problem-solving.

In this regard, customization is key. Eating for healing, eating for performance, or eating with very specific health goals in mind requires strategy.

Beyond teaching people about food quality, some of my most thought-provoking work goes into customization. GI pain, blood sugar issues, fatigue, weight loss, or nutrition for performance all require evidenced-based protocols. This is why food quality must always be addressed, followed by customization to help individuals meet their body’s specific needs.

A body deserves to thrive

In 2000, there were 2,863 farmers markets in the United States. In 2014, there were 8,268. Our food culture is changing–slowly but surely–and we can celebrate by being a part of that change.

I believe that in order to thrive, humans need to be properly nourished, they need to feel whole, loved, cared for, relaxed, energized, in control, and in touch with their food, bodies, and environment. This is the perspective that I approach health with. I am passionate about helping people thrive (not just “get by”) so that our days are filled with delicious meals, high energy, happy bodies, and confidence. I’m honored to be joining the Pure Performance team, and I’m so excited to work with those who are seeking to take control of their health.

In 2000, there were 2,863 farmers markets in the United States. In 2014, there were 8,268. Our food culture is changing–slowly but surely–and we can celebrate by being a part of that change.

I believe that in order to thrive, humans need to be properly nourished, they need to feel whole, loved, cared for, relaxed, energized, in control, and in touch with their food, bodies, and environment. This is the perspective that I approach health with. I am passionate about helping people thrive (not just “get by”) so that our days are filled with delicious meals, high energy, happy bodies, and confidence. I’m honored to be joining the Pure Performance team, and I’m so excited to work with those who are seeking to take control of their health.

2018-05-26T11:24:13+00:00

About the Author:

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Erin is a graduate student working toward a Masters of Science in Nutrition and Health Promotion, as well as completing the Didactic Program in Dietetics to become a Registered Dietitian. She’s also a Precision Nutrition Certified Nutrition Coach and Certified Sports Nutritionist.