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 Diets: Cultural Diets  

Higher protein levels, especially from the protein-concentrated meat foods, may contribute to kidney problems, hypertension, and an increased risk for certain cancers, although this has not been well documented. The dairy foods may also cause digestive problems because of many adults’ inability to properly utilize them (lactose intolerance), as well as common allergy or hypersensitivity reactions to milk. Another concern is with the chemicals fed to dairy cows that may then end up in our milk. Dairy foods also add more saturated fats to the diet unless only nonfat products are used. The higher calcium content of milk can be helpful, but the extra vitamin D intake can cause problems when combined with even higher phosphorus ingestion from more meats and carbonated beverages. This mixture of nutrients affects bone metabolism and may be a major factor in osteoporosis. Maintaining adequate calcium intake while keeping it in balance with phosphorus is probably important in this regard.

The three aspects of the American diet that have received the most attention in the last decade are salt, red meats, and fats. Salt restriction is often suggested for people only after they have high blood pressure, but there should be attention to avoiding high-salt foods and reducing total sodium intake (and raising potassium intake) before this problem arises. Salt contributes not only to high blood pressure but also to kid-ney disease and to heart disease as well. Salt is contained in so many foods, often hidden, that we may need to read labels and avoid certain restaurant foods to really reduce our intake of sodium.

Eating red meat, the cooked muscles (and organs) of dead cattle, sheep, or pigs, is both a nutritional and a philosophical issue. Nutritionally, these meats, especially the domesticated, overfed animals, contain a high amount of fat, and regular consumption of meats may add to an already fatty diet. Meats are also high in protein, phosphorus, and usually sodium, and are low in fiber, all of which may contribute to other difficulties. Meats, of course, do provide nourishment; we just need to moderate their intake.

The idea of an association between meat eating and war is an interesting one. Throughout history, meat eating has been correlated with hunting, fighting, conquering, and a desire for power. Eating meats seems to stimulate aggressiveness, hostility, and competitive feelings. Now that most people do not hunt for food, meat consumption may stimulate these same feelings of aggressiveness, which we now take to the streets, to our jobs, or home to our families. In contrast, the vegetarian diet has always been associated with peace and nonresistance and a general respect for life, as manifested in a spiritual sense of our connection to all living beings. This is seen in the peoples of India and exemplified by the life of Mahatma Gandhi. While many people are reducing their meat consumption for health reasons, this may have the fortunate secondary effect of improving the relationships between people and among nations, increasing the chances for peace.

Meats, as I said, also contribute to our total fat intake, as do milk products. Vegetable oils, of course, are all fat, but of greater concern are the hydrogenated fats, which may contribute more specifically to disease. The use of these fats as magarines, in cooked or fried foods, and in baked goods has greatly increased; the trend should be in the other direction. Fats in the diet contribute specifically to increased cholesterol levels, atherosclerosis, cardiovascular disease, and many types of cancer, particularly cancer of the breast, colon, prostate, and uterus. Atherosclerosis, or clogging of the arteries with fatty plaque, is the basic process that contributes to all kinds of cardiovascular diseases. Reducing total fat intake is probably the most important step to creating a healthier diet.

Overall, we need to ask how can we make the American diet better so that it will nourish a healthy and long-lived race of people? What can we do with this diet based on quick eating, fast preparation, microwave meals, stop-and-go diets; the diet we can fit between two pieces of white bread; the diet we can eat with one hand while driving our car or working at our desk; this processed, refined, junk food, high-sodium, high-fat diet; this diet that generates death more than life? Generally, we need to reevolve back to the basics, back to nature, back to the garden.

Suggestions for Making the American Diet Healthier

  1. Consume less fat via
  2. Consuming less red meat, lunch meat, bacon, ham, and so on and
  3. Consuming less milk and milk products.
  4. Consume less fried foods and
  5. Less hydrogenated oils.
  6. Eat less refined flour products,
  7. Less white sugar and simple sugars, and
  8. Less salt and salty foods, such as crackers, pretzels, chips, and pickled foods.
  9. Consume fewer calories.
  10. Consume less coffee and alcohol.
  11. Smoke less or not at all.
  12. Eat more fresh fruit and
  13. Fresh vegetables.
  14. Eat more whole grain cereals, such as rice, whole wheat, oats, and so on.
  15. Eat more fiber foods—the fruits, vegetables, and grains.
  16. Eat more fresh fish and poultry to replace red meats and
  17. More vegetable protein, such as nuts, seeds, and beans and the sprouts of these foods to replace animal proteins.
  18. Drink more filtered or spring water.
  19. Drink more fruit and vegetable juices and herbal teas to replace coffee, black teas, soda pops, and other stimulating beverages.
  20. Get more regular, preferably daily exercise with some aerobics—that is, more vigorous exercise. In other words, let’s get in physical shape.
  21. Take better care of our air.
  22. 22. Keep our waters free of pollution.

Getting back to the basics means learning to take the time again to shop for, prepare, and sit down to eat wholesome, nourishing meals—to generally be more conscious and conscientious with our diet. This is a tough request for a very busy population always trying to catch up with their bills and credit cards. Believe me, it is worth the price, because we will feel better longer and be more productive.

New Healthy American
The new healthy American diet is basically what I am clarifying in this book. It is what many of us have turned to as we realize the consequences of this refined, processed, and chemicalized American diet. The new “health food” industry and health or natural food stores are providing us with the ingredients needed to create our new diet. Hopefully our own garden will also help. More supermarkets and chain stores are supplying many of the new, more natural, less processed “health foods.” Furthermore, the use of chemical farming (see Chapter 11) brings the term “organic,” grown without chemicals, to national attention. Even animals are considered “chemical” when they are factory farmed, treated with antibiotics or hormones, and fed chemically-treated foods, or “natural”

This “new American diet” is thus more natural and really a traditional diet, but with the advantage of industrialization where we have many well-made and tasty packaged foods. However, the basis of our new diet is a return to whole, unprocessed foods—fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, and whole grains. With this diet, there is an avoidance of refined flour products, refined sugar, red meats, lunch meats and sausages, high fat and high salt foods, and the regular use of dairy products and alcohol. More and more people are turning to a vegan or lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet, or to one that I have followed for a few years, the “pesca-vegan” diet, which is fish added to the vegan diet. In this diet, milk and egg products are avoided as are poultry and meats. All the foods eaten are high in nutrients, and fish protein (and oils) is chosen over milk and eggs, which, in many people, are not handled as well.

My personal diet has shifted over the last two decades from standard American to this new American diet. It recently has ranged from strict vegetarianism to pesca-veganism, even with occasional organic or free-range poultry, mostly at holiDay s. Because my weight rises so easily when I eat with my usual love for foods, I focus my diet on vegetables and add other foods as needed—seeds and nuts, legumes or fish when I feel I need more protein and fuel, or fruits and juices (even to fasting) when I feel I need to lighten up and clean out.

As an example, over the winter of 1989, I was working hard, exercising less, more stressed, and consuming more foods, especially grains, which put weight on me. I organized a ten-Day fast for myself and patients in my office, which we began in early spring. It felt so good, so right for me that I continued for 16 Day s; I felt great, light, and productive with lots of energy on my lemonade diet, the “Master Cleanser” (see my first book, Staying Healthy With the Seasons). Though cleansing like this is not for everyone, it certainly works for me. (For more specifics, see the Detoxification programs and Fasting in Part Four.) Now my diet is moving slowly back into a strict vegan diet for the spring and summer and I will maintain a high-alkaline diet, consisting of green salads, fruits, sprouts, millet, soybean products, and some soaked nuts and seeds. Meals are protein/vegetable or starch/vegetable, described in the Ideal Diet of Part Three, and this spring will include a lot of green salads. I will avoid all animal products, refined foods, and wheat and other gluten grains (oats, barley and rye) as well as minimize rice and corn, which I so love. This will clearly be more strict than I have been in years, but my body and energy is already knowing the benefits, and I look forward to the final production and publishing of this monumental undertaking you now hold in your hands.

Australian/New Zealand
As well as a great deal of meat, the people of the down under countries eat large amounts of milk, cheese, and other dairy products. These two food categories mean a diet high in saturated fat and protein, which contribute to high blood fats and the higher incidence of atherosclerosis, high blood pressure, heart disease, and cancer. Skin cancer is very prevalent in the hotter, northern climates of Australia. The high beer consumption may undermine the liver and general health of the inhabitant. Luckily, vegetables are grown by many of people and eaten in good quantities along with the other, richer foods.

British Isles
The diet in Great Britain is notorious in Europe as one of the worst. The diets of surrounding Scotland and Ireland, which make up the British Isles, are very similar. Overall, there is a high amount of industrialized, processed foods consumed in England along with their classic meat-and-potatoes diet. And some claim that, unlike many cultures, the poorer people often have the worst diet with a lot of refined and fried foods.

In general, this northern, cold climate island does not have much agriculture, and therefore does not provide many fresh foods most of the year. Most of their fresh fruits, vegetables, grains and nuts must be imported, and this is usually expensive and seasonal. It is known to be very difficult to find fresh fruits and vegetables in Great Britain; a raw green salad is a rare treat. Often, visitors from Europe will carry fresh food with them. With this situation, the British have a low intake of high-nutrient, whole foods that are so important to health.

In the British Isles, the consumption of red meat is high, with pork and mutton eaten as much as beef. Raising sheep for food is very common in the countryside. Fish is readily available for those that live near the sea, but most often it is eaten fried, with fried potatoes, a meal called fish and chips. Butter is the main cooking fat, and milk, cheese, and butter are also regularly consumed. All of these animal foods provide a high-fat diet, and since this is generally not an exercise-oriented culture, but does have a lot of smokers, cardiovascular diseases are a prevalent process of aging. With its industry-oriented culture, chemical carcinogenesis is another big concern in Great Britain.

(Excerpted from Staying Healthy with Nutrition ISBN: 1587611791)
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 About The Author
Elson Haas MDElson M. Haas, MD is founder & Director of the Preventive Medical Center of Marin (since 1984), an Integrated Health Care Facility in San Rafael, CA and author of many books on Health and Nutrition, including ...more
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