The connection between diet and health is now irrefutable and can clearly be seen across cultures. People who eat lots or processed foods, meat, fat and sugar, and refined grains while at the same time reducing their intake of fruits and vegetables -- the so-called Western diet -- consistently suffer from a high incidence of the so-called Western diseases: obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
Shockingly, statistics show that more than a third of all cancers can be linked to the Western diet, as can 80 percent of all cardiovascular disease and virtually all of type 2 diabetes.
In light of these stark facts, the distinguished food journalist Michael Pollan has recently published an eater's manual, entitled "Food Rules," to help people answer what in our age has become a perplexing question, "What should I eat?"
We do, after all, live in rather strange times, when, as one wag points out, lemonade is made with artificial flavors while furniture polish contains real lemons.
The injunction to "eat food" might seem to be obvious, but, as Pollan observes, many Americans subsist on the exceedingly processed products of modern food science. These don't deserve to be called food, he says, but are, in fact, merely edible foodlike substances. He offers some rules for ridding your diet of them:
* Don't eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn't recognize as food.
* Avoid food products containing ingredients that a third-grader cannot pronounce.
* Avoid foods that are pretending to be something they are not. (Margarine is the classic example.)
* Avoid food products that contain high-fructose corn syrup. (Not because it is any worse for you than sugar, but because it's a sign the product has been highly processed.)
The charge to eat mostly plants derives from overwhelming evidence that vegetarians tend to be healthier than carnivores. The more meat in your diet, the greater your risk of cancer and heart disease. But you don't have to swear off meat entirely, Pollan advises, just treat it as a flavoring or special occasion food. This perspective, when combined with the above recommendations, produces yet another rule:
* If it came from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, don't.
Finally, Pollan advises that probably most of us would be better off if we ate less than we do. Low-calorie diets appear to be linked to better health, longer life and slower aging.
Michael Pollan was born 129 years after Brillat-Savarin, but thanks to him we now have an easily digestible compendium of recommendations for operationalizing what the famous gastronome understood over a century ago. Indeed, we are what we eat. That, perhaps, is still the most important rule of all.
Adapted from the recipezaar.com website, this recipe, which omits the usual chicken, sausage and fish, is a surprisingly satisfying way to put more vegetables in your diet.
2 garlic cloves
1 pinch saffron
1 medium eggplant
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves
1 yellow pepper
1 red bell pepper
2 teaspoons paprika
8 ounces Arborio rice
2 1/2 cups vegetable broth
1 (19-ounce) can diced tomatoes
Salt and pepper
1 cup mushrooms
1 cup green beans
1 (19-ounce) can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
Pour 3 tablespoons water over saffron and set aside. Cut eggplant into large chunks, sprinkle with salt, and let stand in a colander for 30 minutes. Rinse and drain. Chop onion, crush garlic and chop peppers and saute in oil along with eggplant for 5 minutes. Sprinkle with paprika and toss. Stir in rice, then stock, tomatoes, saffron and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil and simmer 15 minutes, uncovered, stirring frequently. Slice mushrooms, cut green beans into segments, and fold into paella along with chickpeas. Cook 15 minutes longer and serve.
Tom Harte's book, "Stirring Words," is available at local bookstores. A Harte Appetite airs at 8:49 a.m. Fridays on KRCU, 90.9 FM. Contact Tom at email@example.com or at the Southeast Missourian, P.O. Box 699, Cape Girardeau, MO 63702-0699.