April
23 - 2010

Food Rules 43-45: Yum!

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This is my ongoing,11-week series about Michael Pollan’s book, Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual.

Part II is called, “What Kind of Food Should I Eat? (Mostly plants.).” This installment covers rules 43 through 45.

Rule 43: Have a glass of wine with dinner.

Many studies have shown that moderate alcohol consumption has health benefits for most people. In addition to being an elegant way to dine and a culinary sensation in and of itself, indulging moderately in drinking alcohol has possible health benefits including improving circulatory function and reducing the risk of stroke; reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes; reducing the risk of dementia; and reducing the risk of gallstones, as well as generally better health.

Red wine contains antioxidants and other properties with apparent health benefits, and wine has fewer calories per serving than beer.

Do note, however, that the definition of “moderate” alcohol consumption is one 5-ounce glass of wine, one 12-ounce bottle of beer, or one 1.5-once portion of hard liquor per day for women, and twice that for men. Any more, and you’re no longer moderate.

Which brings us to the next two rules, about moderation.

Rule 44: Pay more, eat less.

The premise of this rule is that better-quality food is not going to be found among the cheapest food at your local grocery, because it is simply more expensive to raise food with care.

I lived this out in a purchase of some sustainably raised salmon steaks this week for a healthy dinner. Sometimes, we get into a funk where we wish to eat out constantly (or alternatively, in my case, eat ice cream for as many meals as possible). Clearly, those are not good choices economically or health-wise. So I picked up some salmon for the whopping price of $9 a pound. At the Cheap house, this is a significant splurge.

However, we were able to turn that salmon into a delicious, nutritious, super-satisfying meal. We used a Mark Bittman recipe to bake the salmon with a bit of butter and browned, slivered almonds; turned to the Vegetarian Epicure to roast fennel and onions as a side dish; and Mr. Cheap mixed up his polenta with corn and just a dash of cheese. For a total cost of about $8.50 per person, we had a dinner that would have been delicious at a restaurant — but it would have cost more like $25 per person and would likely not have been organic or sustainable.

Rule 45: Eat less.

You might know that Americans eat too much. If you’ve seen a magazine, “The Biggest Loser,” the diet book section of a bookstore or the rear view of the crowds at a major attraction, the issue is plain.

We are working hard at our house to stay in line with the “eat less” portion of the rule above, which also makes up the full extent of this rule. Our family has been watching Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution on Friday nights, which has been inspirational for Mlle. Cheap. Partly because of our own expanding girth, partly because of that show, we’ve been taking a closer look at portion sizes and calorie counts.

For many of us, portion sizes and content have been creeping up over the past decades. In 1970, the average American ate around 2,100 calories per day. By 2000, the average American ate about 2,700 calories per day. (For a look at more of these statistics and others from a USDA report on food habits, click over to this blog.)

Meat-eaters might grab a “little lunch” of a hamburger and fries, say — and at most fast food restaurants, that duo will set you back about 800 calories and 40 grams of fat, assuming you don’t choose a caloric drink or dessert with it. Vegetarians aren’t exempt, either: Plenty of restaurant salads are delicious, sometimes because they are loaded with dressing, nuts and cheese, which add protein but which also can make these meals soar over 1,000 calories.

My “eat less” nachos

I checked out portions this weekend when I made a junky favorite of mine, nachos, inspired by Jamie Oliver saying they can be healthy sometimes. Here are the portions I used when I measured (by scale and measuring cup):

2 ounces of tortilla chips:

1 ounce shredded cheese (about 1/2 cup, or 8 passes over the shredder):

2 tablespoons of guacamole:

For some perspective, here’s how much guacamole I used from the tray (please don’t judge the plastic – it’s a weakness!) for two servings:

Topped with 1/2 cup refried beans:

That’s more beans and less chips, cheese and guacamole than I would instinctively choose. The meal totaled 522 calories, 30 grams of fat (although 4g was “good” fat from guacamole, the total is about half my daily recommended consumption — good thing I held down the chips and cheese!), and 11 grams of dietary fiber, which is a good contribution toward the daily total. Since it was a “junky” meal, I split a small bottle of Coke with Mlle. Cheap for some more empty calories.

And if you want some global perspective on food, visit this blog which features amazing photos of weekly food consumption for families in several cultures, taken by Peter Menzel. You can see all the photos in Menzel’s book, Hungry Planet.

What do you think? Have you ever looked at how much you eat in stark detail?

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