Saturday, November 26, 2011

Reaction to Real Food for Mother and Baby by Nina Planck

I've had a little extra time to read over the Thanksgiving holiday and the first book I devoured,no pun intended, was Real Food for Mother and Baby by Nina Planck.  A friend had shown me her first book, Real Food, and I was interested enough to buy both it and her newer one for fertility, pregnancy, and babies.  I was really most interested in the diet for babies part, Calvin being allergic to most everything!

It's an enjoyable book and I found myself laughing in places and getting choked up in others.  I've already started preparing our meals differently, so I think the book will make a lasting impact on our lives.  Below are some of my mixed reactions.

1.  Nina confirmed suspicions I've had for years, but have never read elsewhere (although I haven't exactly been reading lots of nutrition books).  I am no nutrition expert, for sure, but I would guess I know more about nutrition than the average person.  My mom was always interested in nutrition and exercise and passed on lots of information to me when I lived at home.  In college, I majored in Sports Medicine and took lots of classes that aid in understanding nutrition such as anatomy and physiology, chemistry, organic chemistry, and nutrition itself.  In graduate school I studied biochemistry, more physiology, pharmacoloy, and as a professor even taught a Sports Nutrition class. 

Many things have bothered me through the years about food labeling and advertising.  For instance, you may have noticed orange juice fortified with vitamins.  I even bought this orange juice a few times before I got to thinking that the fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K) would never be absorbed in the absence of fat.  Unless I was serving up bacon or sausage with my kids expensive fortified oj, it was just vitamins down the toilet.  (And for the record, I wasn't serving up bacon and sausage, though that may change now.)  That goes for vitamin D fortified 2% and skim milk, too.  No fat, no absorption of fat soluble vitamins.  Same goes for my son's infant vitamin drops.  Added to cereal, it's pretty much useless.  I've never had a physician tell me this.  Maybe they assume I know.  Maybe I assume they know.

Another big confirmation was in the inefficiency of vitamin pills.  I had a professor in college who said taking vitamin pills was just buying expensive urine.  I filed that away and have thought about it from time to time.  Researchers are just beginning to understand the amazing complexity and interconnections between micronutrients.  We've known for a long time that vitamin D is needed for Calcium absorption.  We also need vitamin C to absorb iron, saturated fats to fully utilize omega-3 fats (an essential kind of unsaturated fat), and vitamin E probably prevents the oxidation of and thereby prolongs the usefulness of vitamin A.  I remember being in cancer biology and pondering which ingredient(s) in green tea could have anti-cancer effects.  The point is, it's very difficult to isolate one micronutrient from all the others and expect it to do its job.  There are many complicated interactions between vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and more.  Nina Planck's solution:  eat real food, or more precisely a combination of real foods with real fat.

2.  Nina Planck operates under an assumption of Darwinian evolution, although interestingly she has trouble resolving this assumption with some of the evidence she presents in her book.  My biggest problem with her diet is that she has a bias against grains due to her belief that man hunted and gathered for thousands of years before they settled down and began cultivating the earth.  So she sees meat, fish, dairy, vegetables, and fruits as more "traditional" foods than grains.  According to the Bible, which I believe to be true, farming is just as traditional as fishing (actually more so since killing animals for food didn't begin until after the Fall recorded in Genesis 3).  Cain was a farmer, as was Adam I suspect.  I think cultivating the earth goes along with taking dominion and people started doing it as soon as there were people. 

All this by way of saying, I think Nina Planck gives short shrift to grains, calling cereals the poor man's baby food, but far from ideal.  She may have a point in there somewhere and Calvin much enjoyed his salmon today, but I find it hard to believe that grains should really be so secondary as they are with her diet.  I mean bread is huge in the Bible.  Passover, manna, Jesus, communion.  "Man cannot live by bread alone," is a statement of spiritual truth that assumes bread to be necessary for our physical bodies.  It would have sounded pretty silly to say something like man cannot live by yogurt alone.  We all know that while yogurt is wonderful, we don't need it to live.  Man does need carbohydrates to live, though, and grains just don't figure very large in Nina Planck's diets, either for women or their babies.

3.  Good fats versus bad fats.  I agree with Nina Planck's assessment of good versus bad fats and also of her convictions that cholesterol doesn't cause coronary heart disease.  Very little of our physiological cholesterol is consumed in our diet, we make most of it.  Cholesterol is an essential component of plasma membranes and has many other vital functions in the body.  We've known for some time now that atherosclerosis is an inflammatory disease process and I think physicians are more concerned now about markers such as C reactive protein, as well as HDL to LDL ratio, than total cholesterol.  She explains trans fats from an industrial point of view (not a biochemical one) and warns readers to steer clear because of their damaging effects.  Bottom line:  she encourages those who have been brainwashed by the low fat mantra of the last 30 years to cook with butter and olive oil, and other good fats.  This is probably where she will have the biggest influence on me.  I admit that I've been brainwashed against fat.  I avoid it as much as possible.  My poor children.  I grew up without butter on the table, or salt and pepper for that matter, and now I've done the same to my kids.  When my mother-in-law eats with us she's forever hunting for the butter, salt, and pepper!   I'm convinced, though.  (And I have experienced first hand terribly itchy dry skin when depriving my body of fat.)  We need healthy fats to live and Americans have really screwed up omega 6 to omega 3 fat ratios.  I'm making a concerted effort from now on to give my family more omega 3 fats, even if I do have to cash in my Starbuck's fund to start buying salmon and fish oil!  Let's call it an investment in the future!

In summary, I highly recommend Nina Planck's book Real Food for Mother and Baby.  I dog-eared lots of pages and underlined key points that I'll go back to time and again.  But, more than a book about nutrition, it's a story of one woman's journey from fat deprivation and overweight to healthy whole food eating and thin.  And it's one woman's journey of pregnancy and delivery, nursing and feeding her baby for the first year.  Whether you agree with her or not, you're sure to enjoy the book.


  1. Good for you and your family!! We try to get raw milk when possible and have been cooking with butter and olive oil for over a decade. In the past few years we've added in coconut oil and, as we have just had a hog slaughtered, I think we will soon be using some lard as well. Our hog was corn and milk fed and according to the of the best he's seen! We dropped sugar laden juices long ago and now have eggs from our own chickens, We'll soon have some roosters slaughtered and we've long been making our own meat broths. Always and forever learning new things.....and some of them aren't so new after all!

  2. Well, I learned some things just from this post! I really have a lot to learn and I admit, I didn't understand everything you said! But, I have heard "use real butter" and that before. Of course with common sense. And I appreciate you pointing out the darwin/Bible slant.



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I'm an on-the-run mom to 6 kids who studied and taught exercise science in a previous life. I love all things running, nutrition, and health-related. I usually run at zero dark thirty in the morning and am often quite hungry before, during, and after my run, but I live a rich, full, blessed life with my children, family, and friends. My faith in God is my anchor, and looking to Him and His promises allows me to live fully even when life circumstances are difficult. While running gives me an appetite, my desire is to hunger and thirst for righteousness more than for physical food.