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The Lowdown on Low-Fat

There they sit on the supermarket shelves, in the dairy cases, in the freezers: cookies, crackers, ice cream, cheese, lunch meat, frozen dinners and diet soda. And they’re all labeled “low-fat”! Hallelujah! Fill up the shopping cart. Take it all home, eat it all up — in moderation, of course — and the result will be a healthier you: less “bad” cholesterol, lower blood pressure, etc. Don’t be so sure. A study published in early May in Annals of Internal Medicine indicates that it’s not how low the fat is that counts: It’s where the fat comes from, and what comes with it. According to stories by The Associated Press and other news services, scientists at the Stanford University Prevention Research Center took two groups of people and put them on two separate diets: One included such packaged foods as those mentioned above; the other was heavy on large quantities of plant-based foods — vegetables, fruits, legumes, soy and whole grains — and limited amounts of meat and dairy. The two diets were identical in total fat, saturated fat, protein, carbohydrate and cholesterol content. The participants were given enough food so that their weight stayed the same, and they were not allowed to increase or decrease the amount they exercised. After a month, the plant-based diet group’s bad cholesterol had dropped 9.4 percent, compared to the prepared-foods diet group’s reductions of about 4.6 percent. Christopher Gardner, lead author of the study, said it was no surprise that a plant-based diet resulted in lower cholesterol; earlier studies had strongly indicated such a cause-and-effect link. But the scientists knew that consumers who concentrate on plant-based diets usually consume less fat anyway; they wanted to see what happens when two diets identical in fat content, but sharply different in the content of processed vs. natural foods, faced off. Now we know. Where does that lead you, gentle reader, in your quest for a healthier lifestyle? Oh, it leads you to Chelsea Green Publications, of course — to Dianne Onstad’s Whole Foods Companion; to Michael Phillips’ The Apple Grower: A Guide for the Organic Orchardist (now being revised and updated, and widely considered a classic); and to the upcoming publication of Edible Forest Gardens Volumes I and II, by Dave Jack and Eric Toensmeir; Browse through the Vermont-based publisher’s catalog: Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture; The New Organic Grower; Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties; The Contrary Farmer; Four-Season Harvest; and dozens of other books that make going natural seem — well, natural. We can’t testify that your cholesterol level will drop, or how dramatically, but you’ll be following the same path as the Stanford University folks, and that’s where they ended up. Not the least of the implications of all this was alluded to, in an accompanying editorial, by Dr. David J.A. Jenkins of the University of Toronto’s Clinical Nutrition and Risk Factor Modification Center. The study’s results, he said, may lower the profile of drugs as the silver bullets of cholesterol control and “make diet relevant.” Fewer drugs? A diet that’s relevant to your health? What an age we live in!


10 Books to Curl Up With This Winter

William Wordsworth was right when he said, “Nature never did betray the heart that loved her.” Nevertheless, the cold, dark days of winter can still get the best of even Nature’s most tenderhearted admirer. What’s one to do? We here at Chelsea Green have concocted the perfect cabin fever remedy with our suggested winter reading […] Read More..

Draft Power: The Life-Affirming Alternative to “Big Ag”

Farmers young and old are seeking new ways to shrink their carbon footprint and promote more ecologically friendly ways of getting chores done. So, what’s a modern farmer to do? For some, the centuries old approach of using draft animals—especially horses—is offering a very 21st century solution. Read More..

Top 8 Chelsea Green Books the Self-Styled Oregon Militia Should Read

The ongoing armed militia occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon is showing no signs of ending — so, rather than send them snacks, or sex toys, we had an idea: Send them a book! Better yet, send them several Chelsea Green books. Don’t worry, we’ve picked five key titles that we think […] Read More..

A Book for the Fruit Nerd on Your Holiday Gift List

Have a fruit enthusiast on your holiday shopping list this year? Then give the gift that Booklist calls, “a thorough investigation of one wonderful fruit”—The Book of Pears by Joan Morgan.Sure cherries, plums, peaches, and other fruits have their unique qualities, but nothing quite compares to the pear’s luscious texture, richness of taste, and fragrance reminiscent […] Read More..

Unlock the Secret to the Perfect Salad with Soil Sprouts

As the weather gets colder and seasonal produce only means root vegetables, we begin to dream about fresh greens and colorful salads. Without a greenhouse or expensive equipment, it’s hard to imagine a reality in which you can have fresh and local greens every day. Luckily, Peter Burke has a method: in his book Year-Round Indoor […] Read More..
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