By Craig T. Hunt RD
Nutrition can solve the riddle of “why did the chicken cross the road?” because chickens, like humans - eat with our eyes. Meaning, that the chicken crossed the road because it looked more bountiful on the other side, a greener horizon, with more grass, seeds and bugs to eat. As humans, we’re looking for the greener side of life too. As we learn more about eating healthfully, we look across the road and see an expanding horizon of healthful foods like grass-fed beef, local organic fruits and vegetables, and dietary supplements to boost our every bodily function. At the check-out aisle, there’s another green attached to these foods and products - which is higher costs. Many people simply cannot afford the “greener foods” while others that can afford it, wonder if the costs justify the health benefits. As a dietitian, I am for organic produce, and I’m also for technological progress that helps us improve our health, be it new medicines, high-tech medical equipment, or plant technology that allows growers to use fewer pesticides and/or boost phytonutrient elements in foods like carotene-enhanced oranges.
As we proceed into the future it seems that the “organic green” and “technological green” seem to butt heads. Can these very different approaches live symbiotically? Can we have a bi-partisan approach to health and nutrition that includes these seemingly diametrically opposed approaches? I believe we can bring of both approaches to the dinner table!
If you’re familiar with Dr. Oz, you might get the feeling that he’s on the side of the “only organic”, but a recent article in Time (December 2012) written by the Great Oz entitled ‘Give (Frozen) Peas A Chance’ shows that Dr. Oz is also working to bridge both sides of “the green road”. I appreciate him saying, “The rise of the foodie culture over the past decade has venerated all things small-batch, local-farm and organic – all with premium price tags. But let’s be clear: you don’t need to eat like the 1% to eat healthfully. After several years of research and experience, I have come to the conclusion: 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."
In the article Dr. Oz goes on to explain how the advents of canning and freezing vegetables has boosted the nutritional content of foods – especially with some of the lower sodium options available today. I very much agree with Dr. Oz on the benefits of using canned and frozen foods, both from a nutritional and a cost perspective. An example in my own life is when my family goes skiing on the weekend and how we prep and pack our lunch. At most ski areas, the lunch lines can be painfully long, especially when you’re hungry from skiing. To side step the line, we bring a Ramen instant noodle soup to provide carbohydrates. Many ski areas have a hot water tap available, and after the noodles have cooked, we add a home-prepped mixture of lean cooked chicken with steamed green beans or other fibrous vegetables. Most of the sodium is in the broth, so by not drinking the broth, we cut back on the salt, and have a delicious and well-balanced meal.
This quick and easy meal exemplifies an approach that many people can take adopt when trying to bridge both sides of the convenience and whole-foods road. Another quick and easy meal we like is to microwave a yakisoba bowl (purchased at Costco) which contains edamame (soybeans), asparagus, red peppers, cabbage, carrots, and other nutritious vegetables. And while the yakisoba is cooking, we quickly stir fry some lean meat (sirloin steak, chicken, lean pork, or shrimp) and bang – we have a well-balanced meal in less than 10 minutes. We might augment the meal with some apple or orange slices.
In this rapidly changing food environment, we can make it easier for people to put together healthy meals, not harder. Grass fed organic beef, and organic produce has its place, and it can be side by side on your dinner plate with microwaved vegetables, and a baked potato. By keeping the door open for all foods, we can improve our health – and the chicken can keep crossing from both sides of the road.