If you’ve ever attended a Passover Seder, you’ve heard of The Four Questions. They are questions put to adults at the table, inviting them to tell their children the story of the Jewish exodus from Egypt. Today I’d like to suggest that in order to improve your health or weight, you need to ask yourself the following four questions, challenging yourself to articulate your food story so that you can devise your own exodus from unhealthy eating habits and yo-yo dieting. Here goes.
- Am I eating fruits and vegetables at most every meal and snack?
- Am I consuming healthy fat daily, such as that found in nuts and avocado?
- Do I eat whole grains and generally avoid sweetened and processed foods?
- Do I limit animal foods, and do the animal foods I eat come from nontoxic sources?
Notice that none of these questions ask about individual nutrients like “omega 3s” or vitamin D, or about particular ingredients like gluten. Fixating on nutrients and ingredients is what the media would have you do, but far more important is the way you eat, or what I call your food pattern.
As an analogy, consider a student who, rather than building good study habits, meeting with his teachers to review tests and papers, and making sure to get enough sleep, focuses on such things as having the fanciest calculator, the best pencil sharpener, and the cleanest laptop. These may all be parts of being a fine student, but they will never earn him the learning or grades he desires.
Now think about how you yourself eat. Perhaps you are like many harried adults who eat a packaged bar or muffin at Starbucks for breakfast on the run, grab whatever you can at lunch, and then arrive home after work starved, digging into whichever chips you can get to fastest. Dinner may be healthier, but often you will be busy with the kids or work late, and just order pizza or Subway. Then you’re hungry and grumpy before bed, so the leftover Halloween candy comes out. Is it clear how adding some omega-3 pills or Vitamin D to this routine, while of some value, is almost beside the point?
Now consider the person who has more successfully tackled the conundrum of modern eating. His quickie breakfast is a banana or orange and a pack of almonds or hard-boiled egg. For lunch, he perhaps finds a salad bar and avoids heavy toppings and too much dressing. Afternoon snack might be a low-sugar yogurt or some veggies and hummus or guacamole. Dinner, again, will hopefully be something healthy and home-cooked, like roasted fish and vegetables, but even if it’s carry-in, it’s not fast food. Again, later at night, he may snack on fruit or popcorn.
Do you see the difference between these two patterns? Back to the four questions then. If you can slowly adopt improvements that will allow you to answer “yes” to each of them, your food pattern, almost unnoticeably, will start to improve. And since whole foods are the unsurpassed delivery system for vitamins and minerals, you will also be addressing your need for most of the fad nutrients you are reading about in the media.
Since even the healthiest of eaters may still be deficient in some micronutrients, if you are concerned about this, by all means, go in for labs with a doctor who has some interest in and knowledge of nutrition. I go to the Beaumont Hospital Division of Nutrition and Preventive Medicine in Troy, Michigan where I was found to be low in B-12, iron, and a couple of other things that I take supplements for.
But I stress that these are supplements. What is a supplement? According to Merriam-Webster it is “something that is added to something else to make it complete.” Supplements are not foundational—rather, they are add-ons that are meant to complete or enhance something else. Don’t try to substitute them for a solid foundation of healthy eating, any more than you’d advise your kid to substitute fancy tech items for good study skills. The principal, and outcome, will be exactly the same.
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