I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the job of parenting. As a mom, I’m always trying to find the right balance between holding on and letting go; worrying and relaxing; and encouraging vs. teaching (sometimes admonishing). When it comes to nutrition, I’m a mess.
First off, here’s a disclaimer: I’m going to come off as a huge food snob. Now that you’ve been warned, let me say in my defense that I’ve conducted a boatload of research in the last few years. The sometimes astonishing facts I’ve learned have changed the way I view food and health. Most importantly, there’s no going back. I feel a responsibility to myself and to my family not to ignore what I’ve learned.
I act on my ever-changing knowledge of nutrition with the food we prepare in the home, where we (usually) eat quite well. We try to eat whole organic foods, locally-grown, when possible. We avoid or strictly limit consumption of
- trans fats
- fake sugars
- low-fat dairy
- most unfermented soy products
- msg and its analogues
- food colorings
- genetically-modified foods
- vegetable oils, except for olive oil
It’s a tall order and other people think we’re nuts to eat so much butter, heavy cream and saturated coconut oil. When I shop, I read labels. Most of the time, I choose not to buy products because they contain an ingredient that I know to be bad for us. In fact, unless you’re eating completely unprocessed foods that have been grown without pesticides and animals that have been fed what nature intended them to eat, there’s a good chance you’re getting something that’s harmful to your body.
That’s at home.
Out to Lunch?
Other times, all bets are off. I cross the threshold when we eat out. Though I know restaurant foods contain many of the ingredients I try desperately to avoid, we go out to eat fairly often. We gobble up pizza, french fries and enchiladas at restaurants where the flour most certainly contains gmo soy, and the potatoes and corn are mutants. We let our son buy the beloved school lunch many days. Sometimes he comes home from school and we know by his behavior that he’s eaten a birthday cupcake loaded with food coloring. We have tough afternoon, but he still fits in with his classmates. What a choice.
We love to eat meals that friends have prepared for us and we don’t criticize the ingredients, or even think about them. We simply enjoy the food and camaraderie.
Our Body’s Threshold
Scientifically, when does a body start to notice and react to all the infractions and slip-ups? Do I need to eat a certain threshold amount of monosodium glutamate (msg) in a day before too many of my brain’s neurons fire themselves into early death? What about all the industrially-produced soy flour, protein, soybean oil, lecithin and isolates found in most foods we buy? Is there a slow accumulation of damage over time? Then there are the foreign proteins we ingest each time we dine on a genetically-modified vegetable. Allergic reactions can occur violently and without warning. What if the cow ate the gmo corn for us?
Most importantly, the majority of these new “foods” that my son eats on a regular basis didn’t exist when I was growing up. How do I keep him from being a part of this huge Fake Food experiment in which most American children are unwitting participants? In order to protect our health, must we eat all meals at home? (Believe me, I fantasize daily about living on our own farm!)
Processed Foods to the Rescue
I absolutely hate to admit it, but I was grateful for powdered, boxed chicken soup, ginger ale and a lollipop a few weeks ago when our slender 8 year-old came down with a violent gastrointestinal virus that landed him in the ER for dehydration. He was so sick that he couldn’t drink for a day, took sips the rest of the week, and ate virtually nothing. I was petrified watching him waste away lethargically. So, I made him a batch of my chicken stock, lovingly sprinkled with sea salt. I cooked him egg yolk-rich vanilla pudding when thought he’d like to give it a try. Coconut water — which is a wonderful oral rehydration solution and can even be infused! — was a no go.
After a week living on soda, I tempted him with a lollipop. He perked right up. I boiled water and reconstituted the chemicals mixed with salt that made up the boxed soup. He loved it. The next day he was better. Go figure.
Happy Mother’s Day!