published Thursday, September 17th, 2009

Upton: Whole foods are the key to dieting

I'm eating a FiberOne bar as I write this column. The information on the package promises to provide 35 percent of the fiber I need each day. Is it healthy? I have no idea.

The same goes for the chicken brand I've trusted for years, and the beef I sometimes crave. I'm also leery of our country's excessive usage of corn after watching "The Future of Food" and "Food, Inc.," two powerfully informative documentaries on the food industry.

In addition, I've discovered new facts about the excess of sugars, chemicals and dyes in our processed foods. As I experience my own rapidly changing body mass index, I'm feeling highly concerned about what's going into my belly these days.

They say food has changed, primarily in the West, more in the last 50 years than in the last few thousand. We've learned to modify it, speed up its growth, make it pesticide resident. We even patent some varieties of seeds.

When I was a Peace Corps volunteer, I lived in a village in a remote area of Senegal, West Africa. Sixty pounds lighter than now, I remember accompanying my host sister to the market every single morning to buy fresh vegetables from local farmers. We chose fish that was pulled from the river that day. I saw her sift millet grain that grew in our back yard, then clean it, steam it, and have it on the table the very next day. When there was a celebration and a goat or chicken was to be killed, it was consumed within hours.

My normally smooth skin erupted in acne after a few months of eating this way, causing my host family and neighbors to look upon me with sad concern. I believe I was simply detoxifying from American fare. True to my suspicions, the acne disappeared on its own some time later. We were eating what would be considered organic food in the United States -- all natural, completely unaltered from nature.

Meanwhile, last week, undone by the laziness that had caused me to frequent fast food restaurants much more than normal, I banned myself from them all weekend. Since I had nothing cooked, this meant I had no lunch before an early afternoon meeting with a friend on Friday.

As my stomach growled loudly, Maggie offered me a spinach, cheese, and tomato wrap to quell its protest. I gratefully wolfed it down, making a mental note of putting something like it in my own refrigerator. The next day, hungry again, I searched my shelves for food. I made salmon cakes, red potatoes, and salad. Not bad. After that, I added yellow and red tomatoes from my pot garden, basil leaves I plucked from the plant in my kitchen, and drizzled them with olive oil and balsamic vinaigrette. I was on a roll.

I found I could make quick nutritious food that wasn't processed if I simply put some thought into it.

Fortunately, the South is full of local produce markets, and our own city continues to promote clean food with a variety of health food stores, restaurants that buy local produce, community gardens, organic brands in grocery stores and informative seminars.

As we struggle with obesity, disease, hormonal fluctuations that make weight loss difficult, and more, we must also, as the new chorus of voices encourage us, vote for change with how we shop for and eat our food.

Tabi Upton, MA-lpc, is a therapist at CBI/Richmont Counseling Center. E-mail her at tabiupton@bellsouth.net

about Tabi Upton...

Tabi Upton, MA-LPC is a therapist at New Beginnings Counseling Center.

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