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Rich Food, Poor Food Authors on Choosing a Nutrient-Rich Diet and Avoiding Pitfalls at the Grocery Store

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I'm not much for diet books. I'm not much for diets, period. They're too often nonsensically restrictive and disappointingly uneducational.

So you lost ten pounds on the Atkins diet -- what did you learn from that other than how to avoid potatoes and Cinnabons? So you dropped a pant size on Weight Watchers -- do you actually know the ingredients in the shakes you're drinking or just how many points they cost? Do you really have a better or more thorough understanding of nutrition when you're on a diet? Or are you simply avoiding food?

You can't go the rest of your life on an avoidance-based diet. We all need to be smarter about the fuel we're putting into our bodies [at least] three times a day, and recognize that there's more to food than pure calories. That's why I perk up when books like Rich Food, Poor Food come across my desk.

As with another recent favorite, Chubster, the underlying theme of Rich Food, Poor Food is to eat smart and use common sense. But what a doctor or nutritionist may deem "common sense" may not be common knowledge to most people -- so authors Jayson Calton, PhD and Mira Calton, CN, have stripped the book down to the most basic of activities: going grocery shopping.

By starting at the source of where most Americans get their food -- a regular old supermarket -- the Caltons are able to educate and encourage you to get the smartest choices into your home and keep the worst products from landing in your pantry in the first place.

"Americans need to connect with nutrition," says Jayson, who holds a master's degree and Ph.D. in nutrition, over the phone from their home base in Florida. "And we as Americans are face to face with nutrition every day in the grocery store."

"Food is the most powerful thing you do every day for yourself," chimes in wife Mira, "and if you don't get the right food, you're going to need medicine. Pay now or pay later." The Caltons spent their [very extended] honeymoon traveling to 100 different countries over six years to observe food cultures and nutritional effects across the world, and now adhere to the Hippocratic notion that food is medicine. It's a tenet that -- these days -- often plays second fiddle to expensive pharmaceuticals and surgical procedures.

But what I like about the Caltons and their books is that neither are pitching a diet. The Caltons call themselves "nutrivores" instead, and encourage simply eating nutritious foods above all else. "We've been so focused on our weight and diet styles, that now everything everyone comes in contact with is focused on losing weight or eating less and ratios or carbs to fats to protein," says Jayson.

Adds Mira: "Choosing a dietary philosophy is a journey that's going to take your entire lifetime -- it doesn't have to be a doctrine that you adopt and stay steadfast to. The most important message is that no matter what you choose to follow, make sure whatever foods you're eating have the highest micronutrient values."

The Caltons distinguish micronutrients from "macronutrients," or carbohydrates, fats and proteins. "Micronutrients are the vitamins and minerals and essential fatty acids and amino acids your body needs," says Jayson. "No one gets a disease because they don't eat enough carbs, fats or protein."

But people do suffer from micronutrient deficiencies in large groups, as with the rampant Vitamin D deficiency experienced by so many Americans, which can lead to elevated incidences of cancer, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, low bone density and more health issues.

Worse, the excess amounts of sugar that we now consume as Americans can be contributing to those vitamin and mineral deficiencies in ways that are complex and alarmingly recidivist.

"Sugar lowers your immune system, blocks Vitamin C from being absorbed into your body and worst of all," says Mira, "locks you into a crave cycle. When you eat something that contains sugar, it blocks the absorption of calcium and magnesium. And when you are low in calcium and magnesium, you crave sugar." Magnesium deficiencies can also make you feel sluggish, anxious and depressed. It's a vicious cycle so strong that researchers have called sugar more addictive than cocaine.

"The amount of sugar that is found in today's products is crazy," says Mira. "It's insane how many names they're putting it under." And the Caltons's intention with Rich Food, Poor Food is to arm shoppers with that information up front. Starting with the basics of how to read a nutrition label, the book then walks you chapter-by-chapter -- separated into the same sections as your local grocery store -- through what ingredients to watch out for and how not to fall for marketing buzzwords like "low-fat" or "organic ingredients."

Those buzzwords are among the worst sort of traps, leading consumers to believe the low-calorie potato chips they're buying are a healthier choice. "When products get rid of the fat," warns Mira, "they add in sugars and gums and all sorts of other ingredients." Often the "healthier" choice ends up being equally poor.

"We want to give consumers ammunition," says Jayson. "There's a war going on, whether consumers realize it or not. These large corporations and food manufacturers hire armies of food scientists. They want to make you keep eating their food, to turn a profit for their stockholders." No matter what you may think, they definitely don't have your health in mind.

Whole, fresh, "rich" foods -- fruits, vegetables, dairy, meat and all -- are emphasized in Rich Food, Poor Food, but the Caltons also recognize that processed foods are a way of life for better or worse. To that end, the book has helpful pages in each chapter devoted to making the healthiest processed and/or pre-made food choices possible, as well as pages listing which specific brands and products to buy and which to avoid entirely.

And although Rich Food, Poor Food also emphasizes eating organic foods and non-genetically modified foods whenever possible, it's still -- at its heart -- a practical and down-to-earth guide to finding the most nutritionally dense foodstuffs to bring home to your family. The Caltons hope that eventually, with enough guidance, Americans will eventually come to make these choices naturally and leave behind over-processed, nutritionally-void junk food once and for all.

"We're not looking to our government to ban or outlaw our foods," says Jayson. "Education empowers people, and one day people will start to leave those products on the shelves."

Jayson and Mira Calton will be signing copies of their books Rich Food, Poor Food and Naked Calories at Costco (Highway 249 and Gessner location) on Friday, May 3 from 10 a.m. to noon. The Caltons will also be hosting a "Primal Supper" that evening at Corner Table, where a completely Paleo menu will be served starting at 7 p.m. Tickets are $95 a person and include wine pairings as well as a goodie bag of Paleo-friendly foods to take home.

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