I occasionally buy fresh spinach at the farmer’s market. And fresh carrots. And pasture-raised meats. Apparently that makes me a food snob who’s wasting money without actually getting any meaningful nutritional benefits from these food choices. At least that’s my takeaway from this month’s Time Magazine cover story, authored by the surgeon turned TV personality known as “Dr. Oz.” In the article, Dr. Oz tells readers “What to eat now” based on his “Anti-food-snob diet.”
In the article entitled Give (Frozen) Peas A Chance, Dr. Oz starts off with the example of frozen spinach, which he says that food-snobs like me claim is less healthy than fresh spinach. Not only have I never said or felt this, but I’ve never heard my fellow “food snob” friends say this. I use organic frozen spinach all the time. What really matters, as I articulated in this article, is how the spinach was grown, which has a huge impact on the nutrient content of the spinach. Vegetables labeled as organic are generally more nutritious because instead of simply using chemical fertilizer, the growers use organic fertilizers, like compost, manure and mineral amendments which provide far more nutrients than simple N-P-K (Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium) fertilizer. I’m not even getting into the toxic pesticides that are used on most non-organic crops. Yet Dr. Oz fails to distinguish between organic and non-organic spinach, as if it doesn’t matter. Shame on you, Dr. Oz!
He goes on say that, after his years of research and experience, he’s come to the conclusion that “the American food supply is abundant, nutritionally sound, affordable and, with a few simple considerations, comparable to the most elite organic diets. Save the cash; the 99% diet can be good for you.”
You’ve got to be kidding me! Last time I checked, the majority of the “99%” are overweight, if not obese, and have ever-growing rates of degenerative diseases such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis. And most of the people I come across who consume the “99% diet” drive fancy cars, wear designer clothes and perfume, dye their hair and give their kids iPads and vacations to Disneyworld. That sounds pretty “elitist” to me. On the other hand, when I attended the 1000+ attendee open house event sponsored by the farm where I buy my milk, meat, eggs and other foods, I saw almost no overweight people in attendance. Nor did I see fancy cars, designer handbags or professionally highlighted hair (and I’m not even counting those attendees who were Amish). I can say exactly the same about the people I met a couple weeks ago at the Wise Traditions conference in Santa Clara, hosted by the Weston A. Price Foundation. This is a group that consumes raw milk from pasture grazing cows, organic vegetables and pasture-raised meats.These were about the most humble, down-to-earth, and friendly people I’ve ever seen gathered together in one place. Far from what I would consider “snobby.”
Later in the article, Dr. Oz states that, “there is not much difference between, say, grass-fed beef and the feedlot variety. The calories, sodium and protein content are all very close.” I’d really like to know what percentage of Dr. Oz’s income comes from food industry kickbacks because I can not comprehend how anyone with as much nutrition and biology training as Dr. Oz claims to have would ever actually believe that calories, sodium and protein content of a food tell you much about a foods actual healthfulness. What about omega 3 fatty acids, which are sorely lacking in the meat of animals raised on corn and soy-based feed? What about the conjugated linoleic acid or CLA, with its anticancer properties, which is found primarily in grass-fed animals? How about the difference in vitamin D content? And of course he only casually mentions it in his article, but apparently he doesn’t think much of the huge difference in safety between pastured vs. feedlot meats. Feedlot meat has to be cooked all of the way through and anything it comes in contact with must be disinfected because these animals often harbor pathogens, like e-Coli 0157:H7 and certain strains of Staphylococcus Aureus (or “Staph”), two antibiotic-resistant superbugs that we can thank the industrial meat industry for creating for us. From a nutrient perspective, that also means that people who eat feedlot meat, dairy and egg products are deprived of the special digestive enzymes and healthful bacteria that are present in these foods in their raw (unheated, unpasteurized) state. Funny enough, Dr. Oz even describes elsewhere in the article how cooking degrades the nutrient content of foods. Once again, shame on you, Dr. Oz!
Another comment that makes me call into question Dr. Oz’s knowledge of nutrition and/or his industry ties is his comment that, “Peanut butter does have saturated fat, but 80% of its total fats are unsaturated. That’s as good as olive oil.” I shouldn’t have to be the one to break it to Dr. Oz that the Diet Heart Hypothesis has been disproven so many times since Ancel Keys’ flawed Seven-Countries Study, published back in the 1970s. The processed food industry clings to this old myth because if people realized how much more healthy saturated fats were compared to the cheaper polyunsaturated oils derived from genetically modified corn, soy, rapeseed (Canola) and cottonseed oils that are present in almost all processed foods today, then industrial food producers’ profits would plummet.
On a related topic, he fails to mention the huge media scandal that recently erupted that calls into question the purity and therefore healthfulness of most extra virgin olive oil on the market. Apparently people like me, who question the source of their foods and want to meet the producers, are also elitist snobs.
Is it possible to eat healthy on a budget and not be an elitist snob?
Absolutely! Here are some of the ways that I eat healthy without breaking the bank:
- Eat what’s in season. Eat pomegranate, clementines, winter squash and kale in the winter. Not strawberries!
- Eat what thrives in your area. Don’t expect to be able to drink loads of cow milk in hawaii or coconut milk in New Jersey unless you’re prepared to pay relatively high prices.
- Preserve foods by canning, freezing, and/or fermenting. This is a great way to make local, in-season foods last. A large basement freezer is a worthwhile investment. As an example, I make gallons of chicken or beef stock at a time and then freeze it in quart-size bags. Homemade preserves or lacto-fermented veggies don’t require refrigeration. Nor do foods you can yourself (until you open them the first time). And don’t let Dr. Oz fool you into thinking that supermarket canned foods are anything like what you get when you can at home.
- Buy foods in bulk: Food buying clubs are a great way to get bulk pricing without having to store large quantities of a food. Meat cuts can be expensive. Buy whole chickens and learn to either prepare them whole or cut them up yourself. Buying a half or quarter of a pasture-raised cow, pig or lamb and then storing it in a basement freezer not only saves you money, but gives you a wider range of nutrients because you don’t just overeat one favorite cut, like the sirloin, but you do what traditional cultures did, which is to also consume nutrient-dense organ meats, make stock from bones and render fat into jars, which you can then use for sauteeing or frying.
- Pick your own: There are lots of pick-your-own farms that will let you pick your own strawberries, cherries, apples or other fruits or vegetables for very cheap. Once you pick them, you can preserve them for long periods using methods like the ones listed above.
- Keep it simple: Try to resist the current trend of trying to eat as many different foods/ingredients in one sitting as possible. (I call this the “tapas trend” or “mezze mania”). Instead, think about how you can maximize the use of a large crop of squash or all those turkey leftovers from Thanksgiving. I sometimes have the exact same lunch several days in a row, like right now when pears are in season, I’m using them nearly every day for my lunch salad. Or I’ll roast a couple large squashes and puree some for baby food, make some into a squash soup that I freeze, and then keep some slices in the refrigerator for salads. A French cook once told me that in France, a good cook never uses more than 5 ingredients in a dish. I think this makes a lot of sense because if you use high quality ingredients, then you don’t want to mask their flavor with too many other ingredients.
- Plan your meals in advance. If I haven’t figured out my meals for the day by 10am, then something is wrong. This rule goes hand-in-hand with not going out to eat, which people intuitively know they shouldn’t do if they want to save money. But the problem I see is that people are too busy with other things that they apparently deem as more important than feeding themselves (or planning to do so). By the time they’re hungry, it’s too late to shop for and prepare the meal themselves, so they call for takeout. Interestingly, nearly every person I’ve ever heard complain to me about the cost of food is someone who frequents places like Starbucks or restaurants that charge more than $8 per person for lunch or $12 for dinner – more than double what I usually spend on my meals, even those that include gourmet ingredients like imported Parmesan cheese or Prosciutto di Parma. Like anything, if you plan your meals along with everything else you’re going to do in the day, you can actually be quite efficient.
 updated 11/29: Thanks to several of my readers who point out, rightly so, that a person’s weight or body mass index (BMI) is not always a good indicator of a person’s health. I wholeheartedly agree and believe that other factors need to be considered, such as a person’s energy level, mood/happiness, medical conditions and other metrics that, when looked at together, provide a better indication of a person’s health. Imperfect as it may be, I still think weight/BMI is worth considering. Especially when evaluating large populations of people. The fact is, it’s a metric that generally does correlate with other health problems. Plus, the majority of people seem to want to understand more about what causes a person to gain or lose weight and statistical analysis of large populations is one of the best tools to aid us in improving our understanding of this.