Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Good Eatin'

Now that we're all back from our tasty, fatty, sugary, deliciously indulgent weeks of holiday cookies, pies, and candies, I think it would be appropriate to write about one of my favorite topics: nutrition.

When I started out my higher education at my little community college in NY, I was actually on the track to get a Nutrition degree. I took Chemistry, Anatomy and Physiology, etc, and transferred into a Nutrition program my junior year. However, I didn't like the classes I had to take there (mostly food prep-I didn't want to be a chef and it was costing too much to wash dishes every day!) so I switched to Economics.

Besides a greater appreciation for the human body and a general increase in my knowledge of various topics, I didn't gain a whole lot from those preparatory classes in nutrition. However, my interest in nutrition continues to this day and I can spend hours reading about organic produce, meats, and dairy, vitamins, minerals, modern food processing, and whole foods.

I know, it's a little weird and you might think I'm going hippie on you, but I can't help it. The body's intricate functioning and balance is so fascinating to me! And food keeps it all going. Why not study up on what foods do what jobs and which are best for you? After all, we have to eat to live, and it surely makes sense that eating the wrong things would make our bodies function poorly.

Further, I now have the responsibility of feeding a small person who came into the world needing nothing but mama's milk, which was her perfect food for many months. That part was pretty easy. As long as she was nursing well (which I was blessed that she always did!), I never had to worry that she was not getting what she needed. As she transitioned to more 'regular' foods, and has recently become entirely dependent on them, I find that it can be rather daunting to think that I must choose the correct things to put in front of her to meet all the nutritional needs that breast milk once filled (getting her to eat them and not give them to the dog, throw them, or put them in her hair is a whole other story!).

As a result of all this, I've been doing more and more reading on nutrition and health. Of course, sorting through all the information is tough. There are any number of opinions out there, and I sometimes wish I could conduct my own experiments! Here is an example of one debate about raw milk (straight from the cow) vs. pasteurized and homogenized milk.

Raw milk proponents cite the many benefits of milk that hasn't been heated to such a high temperature that not only possible bacteria is killed, but also beneficial bacteria, enzymes, and some vitamins. They claim that raw milk is not only much healthier for you, but that pasteurized milk is downright bad for you. On the other hand, many people claim that raw milk can be the source of various illness-causing bacteria. Studies showing sickness from raw milk are refuted by the advocates who say that not only are other foods far more dangerous (listeria is much more prevalent in lunch meat than it is in raw milk), but that many of the studies are inaccurate and the illnesses were never proven to be from the milk. Throw in the fact that there is certainly pressure exerted from the biased commercial dairy industry, and it's hard to know who to believe. Of course, many a child and adult on dairy farms and throughout history survived just fine on raw milk (and I've drunk it several times myself with no problems) so, for the most part, I would say it's certainly not something to be terrified of, as some people would have you believe.

The milk debate is just one example. There are many others. Meat-eating vs. vegetarian, organic vs. conventional, commercial vs. local and organic are some other areas of controversy.

So far, I have come to a few conclusions. For one, going organic with some things is worth it. It seems to me, that the only ones out there pushing commercial dairy and meat are people who are benefiting from the commercial meat and dairy industry. Pretty much anyone I've heard of who really does their research comes to the conclusion that it can't be healthy to be regularly consuming dairy and meat from animals that have been shot full of hormones their whole lives, are fed food they were never meant to eat (did you know that they feed cows candy sometimes?), and are kept on antibiotics because their living conditions are so unhealthy. That's what commercial production does to animals, and while I'm neither a hippie nor a PETA member and I believe God has given us dominion over the earth, I like animals, and would probably be horrified if I could see the the way those animals are kept. Besides, drinking bovine growth hormone and estrogen with my milk just seems like a bad idea. Further, milk and meat from cows that eat grass like they're supposed to has more healthy fats in it and less unhealthy ones. The same goes for eggs and meat from 'happy' chickens that peck around and eat what chickens are supposed to eat.

What does all this mean and why does it matter? Well, it matters because our bodies are the temples of the Living God. We have work to do for Him. Whether it means caring for our families, earning a paycheck, or being a missionary to Africa, we should have the energy and health to do what we are called to.

Cancer, heart disease, and other major diseases can often be relegated to the arenas of "that will never happen to me" and "I'll worry about it when I'm older", but that is a major mistake. One, it could happen to you, and it might not be when you're older, but even if it is, what's so great about that? Who wants a bad heart when they're seventy any more than when they're thirty? God has work for seventy year olds too! Of course, a good diet and active lifestyle can not guarantee that you will never get sick, but no one will argue that a healthy lifestyle will not considerably lower your risks of a myriad of diseases!

Further, the benefits of eating well are not just for the distant future. Energy and mood are very closely linked to health (and hormones). Women, most of you have probably experienced the unpleasant effects of PMS in the form of irritability, tiredness, bad moods, etc. Well, did you know that hormone balance (or imbalance) can affect your moods and energy levels at all times of the month? And did you know that hormones and diet are VERY connected? Energy levels and mood effect you and your family every day, why not do what you can to make sure the physical side of it is being well taken care of?

So, my point is that we should all do our research. Don't assume that your diet is fine, organics are too expensive, or you like milk and cheese too much to change your consumption of it (I LOVE milk, myself!). The quality and ease of the work you do for the Kingdom today, tomorrow, and in forty years from now may very well be influenced by what you are eating!

For us, this recently has meant a few changes. We've been:
1. Eating more fruits and vegetables and going organic with many of them.
2. Eating less meat and trying to buy grass-fed when we do.
3. Cutting back on our dairy consumption, but getting organic milk.
4. Getting organic eggs.

Besides, visiting the farm with the baby is fun! Walking through the barn and seeing the cows that gave your milk is reassuring. Watching the chickens that laid your eggs peck around outside is great. Knowing you are supporting a hard-working local farmer has it's perks too.

Good eatin' to you all!

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