If you’ve been here any length of time, you know how I get at this time of year. The warm breeze starts blowing, the trees begin to green, and I start looking forward to the opening of the farmers markets. My favorite markets don’t actually open until late June, but it doesn’t stop me thinking about food and about being better at supper-making.
April and May are big “drag myself out of the cooking rut I landed in over the winter” kind of months for me, and I like to take the opportunity to be smart about any dietary changes I am making. If I’m going to find some new recipes to try, it would make sense to hone in on recipes that use good, fresh, whole food ingredients. That’s the theory, anyway.
Inevitably, I kind of slide on these things during the winter. Every year. And every spring, I start thinking about ways to reduce our intake of processed foods. It’s tricky because we are all kind of picky in our own ways. For my part, I most definitely love the idea of a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, more than the actual practice of it. But I try, nonetheless.
So, I’ve been flipping through cookbooks, marking down some promising ideas, making a shopping list, etc. and it’s brought back to mind something that kind of bugged me last summer, although I never wrote about it at the time: the butter dilemma.
When Neil had his heart attack, we were sent home with a pile of literature on what constitutes a “heart-healthy” diet. The most important commandment? Avoid Saturated Fats, aka replace butter with margarine, aka replace a natural food with a highly-processed one.
Wait, what? I just spent the last five years learning how icky margarine is and how much better butter is for you, and now I have to go back to margarine? No way. Not going to happen.
And butter is not the only thing that must go. Forget the current thinking that un-tinkered-with full-fat versions of foods such as milk and cheese are better for you than their processed low-fat or fat-free counterparts. If it’s got saturated fat, it’s bad.
You wouldn’t think reconciling a heart-healthy diet with a whole-foods diet, both of which are supposed to nurture your body and keep you well, would be at odds with each other, but as far as fats are concerned, they are.
We’ve been on heart-healthy food journey for nine months, and in that time I have dutifully avoided butter, but I refuse to replace it with margarine. I’ve switched to various oils. And while I have tried to use the best possible oils for our health (and less of them in general), I am still pretty fuzzy on what constitutes best practices for cooking with oils. It’s not surprising, really, that I would be confused, since the Internet can’t seem to come to a consensus either.
I am starting to think that it is impossible to live a whole foods lifestyle and follow an American Heart Association-approved diet at the same time.
I don’t love cooking in the first place, but it sucks even more joy out of it when my gut is at odds with the dietary guidelines I’m supposed to be following.
I tend to think, when one of you has a medical condition and has been told by his doctor what he should and should not eat, those instructions need to trump whatever current conventional wisdom may be telling you. It’s not up to me (a self-educated lay-person when to comes to all of this) to decide that I prefer the explanation that inflammation is more to blame for heart disease than saturated fats are. Although, I kind of wish it were up to me, because that would make my time in the kitchen a lot easier.
We really need to learn to like vegetables more.