Cleveland Clinic Preventative Medicine Physician Roxanne Sukol (photos by Donna).
I injured my knee this spring during my travels and, home for just two days in April, was able to make an appointment; my usual doctor was out, but another internist had an opening. She entered and I introduced myself. She said, "I know who you are." Why? She is medical director of the Wellness Enterprise at The Cleveland Clinic and has her own well-trafficked food blog, Your Health Is on Your Plate, which addresses how to eat well. I, a Fat-Is-Good-For-You-Eat-More-Pork-Well-Salted proselytizer, well aware that the august Cleveland Clinic hews to the old-school fat-and-salt-are-evil party line, went on guard.
Yet within moments Dr. Sukol was rattling away excitedly about stripped and intact carbs and fiber matrixes, riveting me. With what seemed near despair, she said, "We are drowning in stripped carbohydrates."
I asked, provided she cure my swollen leg, could we then discuss these pertinent matters more completely outside the office?
She was game, and passionate (as her site shows, as the chickens she raises surely would profess if they could profess anything).
Again: We are a nation drowning in stripped carbs and it is a dangerous situation we can make right, in large measure with words and education. "I'm all about the words," she said, seated on our porch Monday with a glass of iced tea. "Words are the key to giving people the tools they need to figure out what to eat. Everyone's just so confused."
"'Healthy' is a bankrupt word," she continued. "We talk about healthy bread and healthy this and healthy that. It's wrong. We are healthy. Our food is nutritious."
We need to begin talking about nutritious food or we will cease to be nutritious when the bonobos come to feast on our fat, diseased selves strewn across the scorched earth we leave behind. Dr. Sukol recommends that if you see anything actually labeled "healthy," throw it into the next aisle of the grocery store, which I hope is near the cleaning fluids. Actually she just said to put it back, but I would urge you, as an act of protest, to throw it into the cleaning fluids lane.
So, what exactly are "stripped" carbs?
The major stripped carbs are these, she said: in the twentieth century, we created corn starch and corn syrup from the more complex carbs of corn you could actually eat; in the 1800s we stripped rice of its nutritious covering; in the 1700s we stripped flour of its nutritious bran and the germ (with its nutritious oils). These are all stripped carbs, and during the past two hundred years that we've increasingly relied on them they didn't do us any good; during the last fifty years, once they began to compose the majority of our diet, they began to make our country sick on a gigantic scale. The kind of scale that, were a foreign country to wreak such havoc on our children, we would bomb them. Instead, we subsidize them. (As was noted in the very good documentary Fed Up.)
This is unacceptable. You personally should not accept this.
"People need to understand there are nutritious carbohydrates," she says, noting that there are three categories of food molecules: proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. Fruit is good, vegetables are good, even sweet corn and peas and grapes, high-sugar fruits and vegetables, carbohydrates all, because they have, she explained, a fiber matrix that make their conversion to blood sugar slow, and this has all kinds of metabolic benefits I'm not going to go into here. Stripped carbs, though, are no different really than a spoonful of sugar, triggering a flood of insulin to carry this sugar to our cells.
How did this explosion of bad carbs happen? Sukol says it began when "some very savvy marketers in Battle Creek, Michigan, began to teach us to behave in some certain ways." Battle Creek is, of course, the birthplace of Kellogg's and Post cereals. The first thing Sukol advises her patients is to stay away from the bad carbs before noon. It's just a hunch, but she thinks from experience there's something particularly harmful about eating things like Special K or Corn Flakes before noon. Not to mention our other breakfast staples that are mainly carbs: toast, bagels, muffins, pancakes, waffles, and on and on. But really it's that Transformer-sized aisle smack in the middle of your grocery store filled with boxes and boxes and boxes of cereals, that hulking behemoth so vast and diverse it astonishes people from other countries. That is a ground zero of a kind of unrecognized terrorism wrought on parents by our own farmers in every, city, town, and suburb of America.
Sukol, for a public address, did a study of numerous popular diets (South Beach, Atkins, the Cabbage Diet (huh?), Weight Watchers, Paleo). She found they had one attribute in common: all cut out stripped carbs.
Special K? Good for you? Ingredients, 98% of them, are these: Rice, wheat gluten, sugar, and defatted wheat germ (i.e., the nutritious oils are removed to avoid rancidity). Stupid is bad.
"If you read a food label and you can't buy one of the ingredients in that same store, put it back," Dr. Sukol says. "It's not real food."
What is good? Beans, legumes. There's a reason, she says, that most cultures have a bean story or myth (Jack and the Beanstalk here). They're the only food that is abundant in both fiber and protein and so are especially nutritious. "Cultures intuited how good they were before science could prove it," she says.
Herewith one of the reasons I cherish my new friend and comrade. She offers the simplest of recipes, absolutely delicious and nourishing: a beautiful ratio: 1 cup dried white beans; 1 quart water, 1 can tomato sauce, 1 onion, 1 slow cooker: combine, cook for 6 to 8 hours. You don't need to worry about eating healthy if you're eating nutritious food.
WE are HEALTHY if our FOOD is NUTRITIOUS.
Roxanne's Magic Bean Stew
(adapted for my kitchen)
- 1 cup white beans (Get them from Rancho Gordo if it's in the budget— he sources the most nutritious beans, and they'll cook in less time.)
- 1 quart/liter water
- 1 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes
- 1 onion, chopped
- Kosher salt and pepper
- Combine all but the salt and pepper in a pot and put in a 200˚F oven for 6 to 8 hours, or cook on low in a slow cooker for the same time. (Add a bay leaf if you have one, and you might want to hand-crush the tomatoes when you add them.) Taste and season with an appropriate amount of salt and pepper.
- Serve to those you care about.
Feeds 4 to 6 lucky people.
If you liked this post, check out these other links:
- My past post on America Has a Serious Eating Disorder and Gluten-Free Malarkey (more on this soon from Dr. Sukol, who herself has a gluten issue)
- Seeking a Grain of Truth in "Whole Grain" Labels, a great piece from NPR.
- Learn about whole grains and how have they been modified.
© 2014 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2014 Donna Turner Ruhlman. All rights reserved.