LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:
Maybe it's a money problem or perhaps a health problem, but if you have to rethink the way you eat, food writer Mark Bittman says your best bet is to go back to basics.
Mr. MARK BITTMAN (Food Writer): A couple of years ago, I had the typical experience of every normal middle-aged American guy: my doctor told me I had to lose weight and lower my cholesterol and blood sugar levels. In other words, take drugs or stop eating. But since I eat and cook for a living, and I wanted to avoid the drug thing, I needed a different route.
As it happens, the fix is pretty straightforward, and not only does it work, when the recession arrived, I was already eating on the cheap. It's just about making the right food choices. But before you call me a nutritionist, think about this: the nuts and berries thing of our ancient ancestors, the eating turnips and cabbage all winter stories of our great grandparents, these aren't myths.
Until recently most people struggled to get enough calories to thrive. Meat was a feast food, sugar a luxury, fat a treasure. As we got smarter, we converted plant energy into high-calorie food that kept well. Things like cooking oil, meat, cheese and alcohol. And by the 20th century we were doing that so efficiently that we started to eat in a way that makes us fat and unhealthy.
We now produce 10 billion animals like they were widgets - animals that create 18 percent of all greenhouse gases. And we've ended up paying more for food that's bad for us than we do for what actually sustains us. I'm not exactly a back-to-the-earth type, but it's clear that the key to avoiding the lifestyle diseases that plague many of us, even me, is the same key for saving money on food: go to the source. Eat more plants, fewer animals, less processed food.
Easy to say, but tempted by delicious burgers, fries and hazelnut gelato at every turn, how to do? For me the answer turned out to be simple. I began to eat plants and only plants - vegetables and fruits mostly, but beans and whole grains, too, all day. At night I reverted to the indulgent omnivore and let myself eat the food I love most, but with a little restraint.
I lost 30 pounds, my cholesterol and blood sugar went back to normal and my doctors loved me. I go to the supermarket and spend half as much money for twice as much food. I have a smug smile on my face because by an infinitesimal amount, I'm reducing the pace of global warming, and all by doing what my mother told me, I eat my vegetables.
WERTHEIMER: Mark Bittman is a food columnist for The New York Times, the author of "Food Matters." You can see some of Mark's recipes this Wednesday on NPR's Kitchen Window at NPR.org.