Posted by: beyonddinner | December 30, 2008

Sometimes it’s all about dinner…


Here’s a picture of our dinner tonight (a professional food photographer, I am not!) and it made me think of an article by Michael Pollan from The New York Time Sunday Magazine, “Unhappy Meals” from January 2007. In that article he talks about how our culture’s focus on nutrients rather than food has cost us a lot in terms of health and well being. He emphasizes eating whole, real food, mostly plants and mostly leaves of plants. He also advocates for eating a wide diversity of foods – which brings me back to tonight’s meal. Every once in awhile I look at our meal an marvel at how many different plants are represented on our plates. Tonight’s meal was the following:

  • Vegetable Soup with Swiss Chard (from Greens, Glorious Greens by Johnna Albi and Catherine Walthers)
  • Green-cabbage and red-apple slaw with brussels sprouts salad (from a Living Magazine from a long time ago)
  • Biscuit

The following plants were represented in this meal: green cabbage, brussels sprouts, red onion, orange, lemon, dill, mustard seed, poppy seeds, black pepper, olives, red apple, green apple, yellow onions, leek, celery, carrots, oregano, basil, thyme, bay leaves, parsley, corn, swiss chard, zucchini, green beans, tomatoes, wheat, and garbanzo beans for a grand total of 27 different plants (and this doesn’t include the biscuit)!

Of course I only seem to count this sort of thing when I know that we hit a high point in diet diversity :-).

Here’s one of the things Michael Pollan says about that diversity:

Biodiversity in the diet means less monoculture in the fields. What does that have to do with your health? Everything. The vast monocultures that now feed us require tremendous amounts of chemical fertilizers and pesticides to keep from collapsing. Diversifying those fields will mean fewer chemicals, healthier soils, healthier plants and animals and, in turn, healthier people. It’s all connected…

Earlier in the article he says this about the complexity of whole foods:

Indeed, to look at the chemical composition of any common food plant is to realize just how much complexity lurks within it. Here’s a list of just the antioxidants that have been identified in garden-variety thyme:
4-Terpineol, alanine, anethole, apigenin, ascorbic acid, beta carotene, caffeic acid, camphene, carvacrol, chlorogenic acid, chrysoeriol, eriodictyol, eugenol, ferulic acid, gallic acid, gamma-terpinene isochlorogenic acid, isoeugenol, isothymonin, kaempferol, labiatic acid, lauric acid, linalyl acetate, luteolin, methionine, myrcene, myristic acid, naringenin, oleanolic acid, p-coumoric acid, p-hydroxy-benzoic acid, palmitic acid, rosmarinic acid, selenium, tannin, thymol, tryptophan, ursolic acid, vanillic acid.

This is what you’re ingesting when you eat food flavored with thyme. Some of these chemicals are broken down by your digestion, but others are going on to do undetermined things to your body: turning some gene’s expression on or off, perhaps, or heading off a free radical before it disturbs a strand of DNA deep in some cell. It would be great to know how this all works, but in the meantime we can enjoy thyme in the knowledge that it probably doesn’t do any harm (since people have been eating it forever) and that it may actually do some good (since people have been eating it forever) and that even if it does nothing, we like the way it tastes.

Isn’t it nice that we really don’t have to worry about getting enough vitamin A, selenium, calcium, fats, carbohydrates, etc. etc. etc. if we concentrate on eating plants as the basis of our diets? For a period of several months in 2007 I tracked the food I ate in After a while I took a look at the nutrient summary (which, I know, goes against what Michael Pollan is talking about in the article) because I was curious about how I was doing. Here’s what a typical healthy day looked like:

  • Calories: 1316
  • Fat: 19%
  • Carbohydrates: 67% (Fiber: 48 grams)
  • Protein: 15% (46 grams (exactly enough for my height))
  • For every vitamin and mineral (except B12 that day) I met or exceeded the daily minimums by quite a lot and I didn’t need to take a supplement.

It works out. I’m glad I have this history of tracking my intake so that I can rest assured that I have been getting all the nutrients I need and much more. These days, I don’t need to track my food for the sole purpose of making sure I get the nutrients – with a diverse meal like tonight’s I know that I have all my bases covered.


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