you’re not sick – you’re starving

Bet that got your attention. It sure did get mine, when I saw it as the title of an online article.

How can that be? We live in one of the richest nations on the planet, we throw away (to our shame) great quantities of uneaten food. Most of us (and by no means all of us, witness the number of our children who live in poverty, but that’s another column) have plenty to eat, so how can we be malnourished?

Because we evaluate our food by the number of calories it has, and that let’s us soothe ourselves into thinking that processed food products, if they are lo-cal, are sufficient to our needs.

There’s a difference between calories and nutrition, and I can’t believe I never put that together before. You can assign calories to anything, real food or food flavored manufactured products. No matter what you assign them to, they have nothing to do with whether or not the food is useful to you. Nothing. Nada.

Calories have nothing to do with the value of the food to you. Empty calories? They’re all empty. So if you’ve been basing your food choices on calories, you are missing the point – and continuing to starve yourself of what you need to survive and thrive.

It’s not so serious to use calorie counting if you are are eating what my friend Craig Fear calls ‘traditional food’ (which is to say real food, food that’s pretty damn close to farm to table), the food you get when you shop the outside aisles of a grocery store, or better yet, your local farmers markets. You can get away with using calories as your markers because the food is whole enough that, even though you are wasting your time counting, you are going to get nutritional value.

But when you apply calorie counting as you guide to food choices to processed or manufactured foods – non-organic canned goods, frozen meals, pastas, commercial grains and cereals, anything that is found on the inner aisles of the store – you are comparing apples (calories) to oranges (nutrients), and you’re in trouble. They are not the same, and the ‘food’ is emptier-to-empty of nutrients.

Here’s where it gets scary. Our stomachs can think they’ve had enough to eat when we fill up on dried pasta and name-brand tomato sauce, but if those products are really nutritionally deficient, our stomachs are deceived. And the rest of our body begins to starve. How many years have you been eating like this?

We have ‘food’ on our shelves that has been so processed, so stripped of nutrients that the nutrients have to be added back in. Look at bread, look at milk.

Frankly, this scares the crap out of me. I’ve long suspected that many of my patients are malnourished, and various deficiencies account for the symptoms they’re having. And it concerns me when doctors find a deficiency to vitamin D3, say, and prescribe that alone. Vitamin D3 supplements (not as good as hanging out in the sun for as little as 30 minutes, but, ok, we may not be able to do that) need magnesium, calcium and K2 in order to be useful. So cherry-picking a vitamin to correct a deficiency is a mistake. They all need each other to work well, so a complete multi-vitamin mineral supplement is the only way to help correct any deficiency, and some of us are so deficient we need the supplements.

The very best thing we can do, the very best thing, when confronted with diabetes or arthritis or chronic pain or any of a host of inflammatory diseases including depression, is start to eat right. This is not fast, but really. Taking a pill doesn’t correct the problem anyway, so what seems like a fast solution isn’t a solution at all.

I’m not saying you should throw all your meds away (although you might want to talk to your doctor about getting off those that might be stressing your body more and therefore using up more nutrients). What I am saying is this:

Eat. Real. Food.

All the time.