Tales of a Nutrition Nerd

eggs by Elaine WengerI was going to call this post “Confessions of a Nutrition Nag”, but I decided that was too self-deprecating. How I got started with reading all sorts of material on nutrition is related to my experiences with Cancer, which I wrote about last week.

Flashback to early 1990’s. I am newly married. I am supposed to be getting used to living in this environment of Highland Park, New Jersey. But a few weeks after my wedding I find out my mother has terminal colon cancer. So my thoughts are really in the Boston area, where my mother has been told she has less than two years to live. And sometimes I am driving five hours up to see her.

My father, after discussing much with medical doctors, contacts the Kushi Institute in Cambridge. My mother is in St. Elizabeth’s hospital in Brighton, and my father and are in our kitchen in Newton. A cook from the Kushi Institute arrives to teach us about macrobiotic cooking. It is all new to me. Before this, I don’t know if I knew what whole grain was. I don’t believe I had ever eaten brown rice (now I eat it almost every day). I remember the cook telling us that he had been to several kosher homes, and why could we not spread some of these macrobiotic cooking ideas to other Orthodox Jewish families? I now know how far apart macrobiotic cooking is from what is standardly cooked in an Orthodox Jewish kitchen. It’s like “chocolate chip cookies with sugar, white flour, Crisco and margarine, please meet steamed kale and seaweed.” They just are not going to click so well, you know what I mean?

Anyway, it turns out my mother has her own opinions. She comes home from the hospital, and her reaction to our attempts to try the macrobiotic diet: “if I don’t believe in it, it’s not going to work.” Which was painful for me to hear, but true. She wasn’t buying into this alternative stuff. She was going to spend her last years on this planet as she needed. And indeed she did.

Getting back to the macrobiotic diet, I had a cousin who went macrobiotic for about two years. Which could be how my father got started with calling the Kushi Institute. My cousin, however, eventually gave up being strictly macrobiotic, because, as she said, “one religion is enough.” She is pretty careful about how she eats (a mostly fish vegetarian diet with lots of pareve food).

I read many books about anti-cancer diets. One of the better ones was by Elaine Nussbaum, Recovery: From Cancer to Health Through Macrobiotics. Read the comments on Amazon. I believe she may live in New Jersey.

Eventually, I incorporated parts of the diet into my own daily routine. One of my favorites:
Eat something green for breakfast.
Today I had cold broccoli for breakfast, leftover from last night.

And I’ve expanded my knowledge way beyond the macrobiotic diet. For example, macrobiotics tend not to eat citrus fruits, which are powerhouses of vitamin C and other nutrients. I will have to go into the “meat is good for you” diets vs. the “vegan or vegan-leaning” diets in another post, if at all.

So I will conclude today’s post by saying I miss my mom, z”l, may her memory be a blessing, terribly. And I apologize to my kids for being Nutrition Nag.

14 thoughts on “Tales of a Nutrition Nerd

  • I’m a nutrition nerd too! I’m always telling people about the evils of hydrogenated oil and what not. It’s hard to know with all the conflicting studies what diet is the best, but I think a good general rule is the less ingredients on a label, the better the food. Like: oats. I strive to have less processed food. I like the green breakfast idea. I will be doing that.

    I used to be a strict vegetarian, but found my energy was lower and I had more stomach troubles with a totally non-meat diet. I also tend towards low iron when tested.

    Would love to hear more reflections from a fellow nutrition nerd!

  • My parents were/are ahead of their time. We were given wholewheat bread and salads everyday in the 50’s.
    I consider brown rice tastier than white.
    But I’m not a very good girl. I ate an entire white chocolate bar this morning.

  • I was kind of hippy-ish in the 70s, and lived in Northern California during the 80s. So it should come as no surprise that I’ve experimented with all sorts of dietary restrictions/emphases, and I’ve come to the conclusion that people have to experiment and find out what suits their body and their life rhythms (I almost wrote lifestyle, but I hate that word). For instance, I tried out the only-fresh-fruit-until-noon habit from the Diamonds’ “Fit For Life” books (which advocate veganism). I don’t follow the other slightly fanatical recommendations of those books, but the times I’ve gone back to eating anything other than fruit for breakfast, I feel bloated all day. I’ve been sticking to it for years now. People I know have tried it for themselves since it suits me so well, and some have gotten sick from it. There are other habits that some of my friends keep which I have tried that just don’t suit me.

    As far as curing cancer is concerned, I’m under the impression that raw food is the ticket. If I ever get cancer, I’ll go raw the very next day after I find out!

  • I think if you are going to be a nerd – a nutrition nerd is a good one! I think that you are on the right track with recognizing that there are parts from all diets that are worthwhile and parts that are “faddish”. It sounds like you are making thoughtful decisions with allowing citrus, but staying away from “white” foods. Moderation is the key – and one of the hardest principles to master when birthday cake is so darn good! Oh yeah…besides eating more of certain foods – I think that eating when you are truly hungry and stopping when you are moderately full is the best nutrition advice and so freaking hard.



  • Theo,
    I like that! I decided to try “blueberries until lunchtime” today. OK, I did have some coffee (home brewed) and then some tea, too.

    >worthwhile and parts that are “faddish”
    It’s not the faddish parts I avoid. It’s the difficult parts. The macrobiotic diet, for example, is well-thought through, but one is very limited in what one cooks and how one cooks.

    >Moderation is the key
    No. If you’re dying of cancer, and you want to try to heal yourself with food, you absolutely cannot eat doughnuts in moderation. Or many other foods. Even if you just have minor health problems, going on a no-sugar diet can often help. It’s the healthy people that can eat doughnuts in moderation.

  • The most important fruit is the apple. The “apple a day…” folk wisdom is the unvarnished truth. Look up apples in any natural medicine book and you’ll be amazed at all the curative properties they have.

    Coffee. Can we talk? Coffee has got to be one of the unhealthiest habits of Western Civilization next to cigarettes. My accupuncturist in California got me off coffee years ago. I’ve fallen off the wagon several times, but always realize sooner or later that my digestion sucks when I’m in the coffee habit. It’s not the caffeine, it’s the pH. Coffee is one of the strongest acids known to man. Your stomach goes so acidic your digestive tract doesn’t absorb any of the nutrients from your food, and your colon can’t do its job either. If your mother died of colon cancer, it might be a good idea for you to give up coffee. Sorry to say.

  • I got on the coffee because of the medication which I went on, which I struggled to be without for many years. I feel pretty healthy even with the coffee and all my healthy food (I can’t remember the last time I got sick).

    Some of the latest studies say coffee is actually healthy, for example, in preventing diabetes. I have mixed feelings about it. I get the caffeine result from green tea, but in milder amounts. But tea is acidic as well.

  • On a whim, I just Googled “coffee health” and I got this:

    Want a drug that could lower your risk of diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, and colon cancer? That could lift your mood and treat headaches? That could lower your risk of cavities?

    If it sounds too good to be true, think again.

    Coffee, the much maligned but undoubtedly beloved beverage, just made headlines for possibly cutting the risk of the latest disease epidemic, type 2 diabetes. And the real news seems to be that the more you drink, the better.


  • I’ve heard a lot of good things about coffee, too. What a relief!
    If anyone has issues with he acid, there are several brands that are processed in such a way that the acid is lower. My favorite is Caffe Appassionato, which is also organically grown. You can find it on Amazon.com.

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