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Author and food activist Nina Planck was raised on a family farm in Virginia, where she learned to appreciate "real," traditional foods. She worked as a reporter for TIME Magazine[…]

Our ancestors had a much lower incidence of diabetes, obesity and heart disease. Could it be because they ate traditional, “real” foods?

Question: Can eating more lardrn and butterrnreally make you healthier?


Nina Planck: It’s about the rntraditional foodsrnversus the industrial foods and therein lies the tale I put in real foodrnbecause when I started to eat all these foods I wondered will I feel rngreat andrnI’m thriving, but perhaps the nutritionists and the cardiologists are rnright andrnsoon my arteries will be clogged like a drain and I’ll be dead at 32. Sorn Irnwanted to do some homework on real food.  So I set out to find out rnwhether itrnwas true.  Is it true that theserntraditional foods, these meats and these fats are responsible for what rntheyrncall the "diseases of civilization" – and those are generally the three rndiet-related diseases that are crippling Americans right now – and they rnare obesity,rndiabetes and heart disease. rnThey’re known as the "diseases of civilization," but I came to rnfind thatrnthat was a misnomer.  They arerntruly the diseases on industrialization because the ancient Greeks and rnothersrnwere certainly civilized and they did not suffer from these diseases.  We began to suffer from these threerndiseases around the time we started to convert traditional foods intornindustrial foods, so one-by-one I looked at each food and once again I rnfoundrnthat wherever you come from, whatever part of the world, whether it’s rntherntropics where coconut oil is the norm, or its northern climes where rnyou’rerneating a lot of reindeer meat or seal blubber, or it’s the Scottish rnIslandsrnwhere you have hardly any access to fruits and vegetables – wherever you look at traditional dietsrnyou find a little list of traditional and what I came to call real foodsrn andrnyou do not find the diseases of industrialization.  Allrn the foods are good, but I did look at each food and werncan talk about them.  I looked atrnsaturated fat in particular.  Irnlooked at cholesterol in particular. rnI looked at red meat, which is accused of causing cancer. And rnthen Irnlooked at the substitutes for these traditional foods that we’ve now rnadded tornour diet: the industrial foods, soybean oil, corn oil, refined flour, rnrefinedrnsugar, trans-fats, which are artificial man-made saturated fats and in rneachrninstance I found that these industrial foods were responsible for rnobesity,rndiabetes and heart disease. And other conditions too, but these are the rnthreernthat people are most concerned with. And just add these three conditionsrn arerndefinitely diet related.  Itrndoesn’t mean the diet is their only cause.  They rnare famously multi-factorial conditions.


Question: Why do most of us rneat foods thatrnaren't good for us?


Nina Planck: rnWellrnwe start with what traditional foods are and here is some principles:One is that they’re whole. Theyrn haven’t been broken down intorntheir component parts or reassembled. And they haven’t had things added rnto themrnor removed, so they’re not engineered to be high in one thing or low inrnanother, so real food is…  Low-carbrnbread is not real food.Orangernjuice with added vitamin A and vitamin D is not real food.  So that’s rnthe firstrnprinciple.  


The second is thatrntraditional foods spoil and a good rule of thumb is to eat foods that dorn spoil,rnbut eat them before they do.  Therernare a few wonderful traditional foods that don’t spoil.  Honeyrn is one that lasts forever.  Sorndoes wine.  These are some of therngreatest foods on earth, but they are unusual.  Traditionalrn foods spoil. And traditional foods work as whole foods,rnso their component parts are all created by God or nature, as you rnprefer, tornwork together.  So in egg for example the complete nutritional package rnis thernyolk and the white, not one or the other. rnThe same is true of milk, which is a highly complex food.  You require, for example, the saturatedrnfats in particular in milk to absorb the calcium, so it’s no good for rnyourrnbones to drink skim milk. 


Sorn if wernlook at those basic principles of traditional foods we begin to rnunderstandrnindustrial foods, because what they’ve done with industrial foods is rnthey’verncreated foods that never spoil – and who does that serve but rndistributors andrnretailers? – and they’ve created foods which have had parts removed, rnwhich arernoften the valuable parts, so for example, when they remove the bran and rnthernfiber from a whole grain and make white flour, thern vitamin E, which is very valuable goes to industrialrndairy cattle because without vitamin E in their diets, which they would rngetrnfrom grass, they would suffer poor health.  And the fiber goes off to rnplaces thatrnneed… places, people and animals that need fiber. So they remove things rnofrnvalue.  Industrial salt, veryrnsimilar, comes with dozens and dozens of trace elements. rn They remove those and they’re quiternuseful for the chemical industry, leaving you with stripped-down salt, rnwhichrnthey have to re-iodize. So that is one important principle, shelf life rnand alsornremoving valuable items. But then by reengineering them and enhancing rnthem – andrnI put that in quotation marks – they then add value to them again, but rnreallyrnonly to the food manufacturer. So by putting vitamins A and D in orange rnjuicernthey try to persuade the consumer that it’s a more nutritious product rnwhen inrnfact God or nature, again as you prefer, never put vitamin A and D in rnorangernjuice because it doesn’t belong there and the product isn’t enhanced by rnitrnbecause vitamin A and D are fat-soluble, so a little bit of synthetic rnvitamin Arnand D in a glass of orange juice doesn’t do anything for your body.  You have to consume some fat to absorbrnthose vitamins. If we look rnat animalrnproduction we also see that it’s just cheaper to feed animals on rnindustrialrnanimal food and produce an industrial animal than it is to feed them on arntraditional diet.  We’re nowrnlearning just how frugal and sensible in ecological and financial terms rnit isrnto raise animals on a traditional diet, but the industrial model of rnanimalrnproduction at the moment is very much to make the food… fatten them rnquickly andrnmake the food as cheap as possible and use as many drugs as possible to rnget thernanimal to market as quickly as possible. rnThis is short-termism in the worst way for the animal, for the rnecologyrnand for human health, but that is their thinking.