A Sustainable Diet

November 25, 2008 at 1:29 pm

Melissa Graham

Believe it or not, every autumn, the first Christmas carol I hear strikes in me a certain chord of fear.  While I look forward to the sweet spiciness of gingerbread, the luxuriance of deep, dark chocolates and all of the other extravagances associated with the celebration days of November and December, I can’t bear the havoc that these indulgences wreak upon my figure.  In the past, I would formulate strategies to avoid the holiday five: lightening my menus, making fewer sweets, even starving myself during the week.  All were abject failures.  Each year, I couldn’t resist using pounds of butter, serving the most marbled of beef and making hundreds of cookies and confections.   And I would suffer the consequences.  But then, I stumbled upon the secret:  a sustainable diet.  My diet includes large amounts of fruits and vegetables grown by farmers that I know and trust; meats from producers who shun growth hormones and unnecessary antibiotics designed to keep animals unhealthy in unnatural circumstances; fish that have been caught or raised  in a way that doesn’t harm the ocean’s or the earth’s eco-system, and other products, like coffee, chocolate and tea, that have been produced in a manner that provides a safe environment for the workers that help bring them to market.

So why is a sustainable diet the best way to remain trim and fit?  Here are my four simple reasons.

1. It’s Healthier
For many years, the conventional food industry presented study after study suggesting that there was no difference in the safety or health-giving properties between organic and conventional foods. The big food companies kept assuring us that the pesticides, antibiotics, hormones and other chemicals that the industry used like a crutch to continually increase their productivity would have no impact upon our health.  Fortunately, more balanced surveys have since been published suggesting something different, including that that children who eat exclusively organic foods have far less chemicals in their blood stream, or that mice fed genetically engineered feed have lower fertility rates over generations. But even setting aside the question of chemicals, a sustainable diet is high in fruits, vegetables and whole grains. It’s low in corn-syrup, preservatives and artificial ingredients.  Few people gain weight eating this way.

2. It Involves Less Meat
Also, a sustainable diet, while not necessarily a vegetarian one, will be less meat-intensive. As a society, our consumption of meat has skyrocketed over the past 50 years. Our ability to do this has been propped up by artificially low prices driven down by cheap oil and cheap corn. This era is over and the prices of all food, particularly meat, are rising regardless of how it was grown, raised or produced. Should you decide to switch to sustainably-raised meat products, prepare yourself for some serious sticker shock. The silver lining in this is that it will encourage us to rethink our dinner plates. Instead of a standard meal of large portion of meat, medium portion of starch and small portion of vegetable, we may incorporate some vegetarian dishes into our repertoire or serve dishes where meat is the garnish and vegetables the focus. This simple change will go a long way to restoring our personal health and the health of our planet.

3. It’s More Satisfying
There’s a counterintuitive phenomenon in eating that the better the quality of the food that you eat, the less you’ll eat of it.  Take, for example, chocolate. Compare the feeling of satisfaction after eating a mass-produced candy bar and an artisan-crafted truffle.  This comparison can be made with many other foodstuffs, a pre-packaged American cheese slice versus hand-crafted cheese; corn-syrup sweetened “fruit juice” and fresh-pressed cider; tub margarine and farm fresh, sweet cream butter.  A little bit goes a long way with the latter, the former leave many a palate flat and unsatisfied.  A sustainable diet is long in fruits, vegetables and whole grains and short in empty calories.

4. It Burns More Calories
A sustainable diet requires more effort. Generally, it involves multiple shopping trips, including those to the farmers market where there are no carts to lighten the load.  It involves lifting and schlepping, which burns calories. And that’s simply in the gathering.  Unless you have an organic take-out place around the corner and the money to burn on it every evening, eating sustainably means more home cooking. Cooking at home provides many advantages in addition to the calories burned, it also allows us to control the amount of calories that we consume.

Even throughout the immoderation of the holiday weeks, you can maintain an even keel by remaining satisfied and keeping active by eating a sustainable diet high in fruits, vegetables and whole grains.