Nature’s Secrets

We are what we eat, so try these healthy tips

April 2, 2012 

Meg Lowman is an N.C. State University professor and forest canopy expert who directs the Nature Research Center, N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences.

“Indeed, no people on earth worry more about the consequences of their food choices than we Americans do – and no people suffer as many diet-related health problems. We are fast becoming a nation of orthorexics: people with an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating.”

Michael Pollan,

“In Defense of Food”

Thanks to first lady Michelle Obama’s healthy-eating campaign, and to a number of recent medical reports, Americans are looking more closely at their diets. Most countries have evolved a cuisine over many centuries based on their environment and culture. The French stay healthy with a long-standing affection for red wine, cheese, fresh bread and olive oil; Asians remain slim and relatively free of heart attacks with fish and rice. But in the past few decades, Americans have witnessed radical dietary shifts, ranging from obsessions for fast foods, low cholesterol, fiber, omega-3 and flax. What next?

Ironically, many families pay more for what goes into their cars than what goes into their stomachs. And, despite all the information about nutrition, our population increasingly suffers from obesity, diabetes, heart problems and high cholesterol. Even worse, the joy of eating is declining amid all the confusion about how to eat healthy.

This may be the only Nature’s Secrets column worth clipping and affixing to your refrigerator (with thanks to advice from food writers Michael Pollan and Alice Waters, and our local farmers markets). Here are 10 rules of healthy eating:

1. Pay more for your foods (for higher-quality food) and eat smaller portions.

2. Make meals a daily ritual. Eat slowly, and always at the table.

3. Do not buy fuel for your body at the same place you buy it for your car.

4. Cook with love and eat with appreciation.

5. Avoid food products with ingredients that are unpronounceable, contain more than five unfamiliar ingredients or include high-fructose corn syrup.

6. Avoid eating foods that make grandiose health claims.

7. Eat plants, mostly leaves, and try to consume wild, local varieties of food whenever you can.

8. You are what you eat eats. (If you eat fish that ate mercury and plastic, then you ingest those things, too.)

9. Don’t eat anything your grandmother would not recognize in her kitchen as food.

10. Eat more like the French or the Greeks or the Italians or the Japanese (almost any other culture except our Western diet).

Bon appétit!

Meg Lowman is an N.C. State University professor and forest canopy expert who directs the Nature Research Center, N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences. Online:

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