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Nutrition 911, Part One
Emergency Nutrition Class

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We hear a lot about nutrition on TV these days. Carbs, net carbs, impact carbs, trans fats, essential fats . . . on and on. Yet studies show that this is way over most people's heads. In fact, it seems that most people have forgotten what they learned back in eighth grade nutrition class—at least those who had a nutrition class. Nowadays, most people get through school having taken no nutrition at all.

But we've all got to eat. So forget about Nutrition 101. There's no time for math; let's break it down even simpler than that. Maybe we'll call it Nutrition 1. All we want to do is get you out of Vons with some idea of what you just bought. For some of you, this 411 on nutrition is more of a 911, so let's call it that. A bit more impact than Nutrition 1, and maybe not as patronizing. It's like Traffic School, but for nutrition. You've been cited for poor eating habits. You can pay the fine and endure a chronic disease, or take Nutrition 911 and get your health back. Ready for class?

Hello class. I'm Prof. Edwards, but you can call me Sir Steve—Hey, you, in the back. Stop shooting spitballs at Mr. Kroc! Give me that thing. What's your name, son? Okay, Carl, one more slipup and you're back on bypass waiting list. Seems the situation is more dire than I thought, so let's get straight to it.


We're here to talk about food. This is the stuff we eat that gives us nutrients. You in the clown suit with the big red wig, stop laughing. This is a lot more important than it sounds! Because we also eat a lot of stuff that's not food but comes with our food. Some of it we're supposed to eat. Things like fiber in plants. But many companies also add things to foods that aren't food at all. Stuff like color, flavors, and things to make the food last longer sitting on a shelf waiting for you to buy it. It has no nutritional value and, often times, is bad for youYes?

Why do they do this, you ask? That's a very good question, Ralph, but we can't answer that here. This is Nutrition 911. Politics 911 is in the other room.

Anyway, the part of food that your body can use gives it its nutrient value. Nutrient value, in packaged foods, can be found on the food label. It breaks down what you are eating into various components. For more on food labels, read Learning to Read Food Labels from Issue 101 of the Beachbody Newsletter. These various components are vitamins, minerals, proteins, fats, and carbs. Nutrients have something called calories. Most of us know what these are because we blame them for making us fat, but, in fact, they are just a measurement for the energy of food that we turn into the energy of us. We'll talk more about this later, but first let's talk about natural foods. Natural foods, in general, come without food labels.

Lesson # 1: Foods without labels are better than foods with labels

Some foods don't require a label. These are mainly very fresh and haven't been tampered with, making them more healthy alternatives. The more unlabeled food you eat, the better chance you have of being healthy. Of course, all of these foods can also be bought in packages with labels, but that means they've been, in some way, processed, which gets rid of some—or a lot—of their nutrient value.

First are foods like apples, oranges, broccoli, and many other things that you can buy in the state that they come from the earth. We call them fruits and vegetables. These foods have parts that aren't really foods either. Called fiber, it's the indigestible part of a plant. It has no nutrient value, but it's still important because it does all kinds of things, including cleaning out our digestive tract. It's very important that our diet features plants. They are loaded with nutrients and fiber and have no man-made ingredients (okay, some have pesticides, but we'll get to that later). But when we do things like cook or make juice from these items, they lose their nutrients and fiber, and get a label.

Next are grains and legumes. Things like rice and beans—also plants—these foods have more protein and calories than fruits and veggies. They are less easily found in their natural state. Rice, for example, often has its shell stripped, so it's white. Grains get turned into breads and crackers, often at the expense of their healthiest ingredients. Beans get smashed and have things added to them. As a rule, the closer you can get a legume or grain to its original state, the better it is for you.

Meats and dairy products. Nowadays, unless you live on a farm, you probably have to buy these with labels. That's mainly due to suspect growing and harvesting practices, something else for politics class, though we'll brush over it a bit in a minute.

What are you rolling your eyes at? Yes, you. The guy in the white suit taking up two seats. What are you dressed like that for? Going to the Kentucky Derby after class? Well, pal. I believe that this subject concerns you more than anyone, so pay attention.

Even in their natural state, both meats and dairy products often have a lot of saturated fat. More than you need. I know we haven't gotten to what this is yet, but remember the term. Anyway, you can buy all of these products with much of this fat removed. For the most part, this is recommended, which we'll cover in the "fat free" portion of the lecture later on.

Lesson # 2: Organic, grass fed, free range, farm raised, low carb, fat free, and other marketing jargon

Before we even discuss what's in food, we need to address what you're most likely to hear about food. These terms are evidence that advertisers have used their "market research" tools, and have determined that they need to shove these words down your throat, even if you have no idea what they mean. You see, this way they can spin them however they like. Yes, "spin doctors" are not just politicians. But these terms do have meaning. And once you understand them, they will help you choose foods that are more healthy.

Organic. Organic means living, so organic foods are supposed to be alive or, at least, recently alive. Originally, "organic" meant produce that hadn't been sprayed with inorganic things, like pesticides. But now you'll see "organic ingredients" in boxed, jarred, and canned foods, which can be confusing. Organic was once a term used only by the folks who showed up at your weekly farmer's market. Then word started to get out about large-scale farmers spraying nasty pesticides on their crops that would still be on them when we bought them. Most people are pretty sure they don't want to eat something made to kill animals, so when the little "organic" guys started to impact their business, the big guys just started slapping an "organic" label on anything until the government had to step in.

Now we have an imperfect system. Organic rules can be fudged to some degree, but it seems to be getting better and not worse. It's made the large growers a bit more cognizant about what they add/spray their crops with. Organic has also trickled up. So now packaged foods using "organic ingredients" are labeled as such. But you've to be prudent because the fine print will tell you how much. Lobbyists haggle over how much organic stuff needs to be inside in order for it to appear on the label, and the amount has changed and will continue to. So you can see a big "organic" on a label with very little organic inside.

Bottom line: "Organic" on a label is probably better, but you should read the fine print. On fresh fruits and veggies, it's always better.

Grass fed. Cattle were once all grass fed. They lived on prairies and ate grass, 'cause that's all there was to eat. On the prairie, that grass is nutrient rich because of the soil. Cattle that ate it grew big and strong, and when we ate them we grew big and strong. Then some guy figured out that cattle, if they had to, would eat grain. This meant he could build houses and strip malls on the prairie, put the cattle into little fenced areas and feed them grain, and he would make a lot more money. The downside was that grain didn't have the same nutrient value (like your eating Krispy Kremes instead of broccoli), so the cows weren't so big and strong. To make them look like they once did, he started shooting them with things like steroids, so that the cattle started looking like Jose Conseco, and all was good in the world. Except that when we ate the cattle, they didn't have the same nutrient value. This meant we ate the same calories with less nutrient value. When this happens, we get fat.

For a while, we were none the wiser. Then people started getting sick and dying because, low on grain, some genius started feeding cows parts of other cows mixed with the grain to make more money. Cows aren't carnivorous, like animals with sharp teeth, so this didn't work well and bad stuff like e.coli started showing up in meat. Anyway, feeding cows other cows is now against the law, but lobbyists also were able to make a deal in which it's nearly impossible for meat companies to be sued, so who knows what they're actually up to.

Bottom line: Even though meat lobbyists have been hammering away at the "grass fed" requirements, it still means that the meat is likely to be much better in quality.

Free range. Cattle weren't the only animals out on the prairie. Birds were there, too. In fact, birds were all over the place because they have wings and can, you know, fly. This became problematic when folks decided they wanted to raise them on farms. You listening, Whitey?

Figuring that if birds couldn't fly, well, they would then need no space at all, "farmers" started loading them all in tiny little pens together. Irritatednaturallythe birds would peck at each other and cause general turmoil, so good ol' Foster the farmer put them in little cages where they couldn't get at each otherfor their entire lives!

Since this isn't Animal Cruelty class, let's just talk about how healthy these birds are when they grow up and we eat them. When you get out and exercise, how does that help you? Hmm, since some of you can't answer this, I'll tell you. You get more healthy. Your body systems work better, and you get more muscle. Muscle is meat, like the part of a chicken that we want to eat. If you sit in a small room for a long time, how do you tend to look or feel? Answer: You get fat. You get sick. You die young.

Take two chickens. Let one run around, maybe fly a little, and eat stuff it finds growing out of the ground. Put the other in a two-foot-square box and feed it junk food. Which one do you want to eat?

Bottom line: Only eat free-range fowl.

Farm raised. This term has to do with fish. For those of you confused, that is natural. Fish live in water. We live on land. How the heck do we farm them?

The obvious answer is to put them in big aquariums, but that would be too expensive. Instead, they raise fish in fenced-off areas and treat them a bit like the birds above. This tends to cause a lot of damage for the ecosystem in general but, again, this isn't Environment class. We don't offer environment classes because they don't help your standardized testing. Anyway, the effect on the fish depends a lot on the type of fish. Some, like catfish that naturally live in sluggish conditions, do okay, while others, like salmon, do terrible. In fact, salmon are migratory and swim for most of their lives. Keeping them in a "tank" wreaks havoc on their lifestyle. Farm-raised salmon don't even have red meat, like they do naturally, and are dyed red for market. Do you really want to eat fish that's been dyed red?

Bottom line: Avoid farm-raised fish when possible. Avoid farm-raised salmon always.

There's the bell. That's all the time we have today. I hope you'll feel slightly more comfortable next time you walk into your local Ralph's. For Emergency Nutrition Class Part Two, click here..

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