How to Eat Sanely

When food writer Mark Bittman was 30 pounds overweight, with many health woes, his doctor advised radical diet changes. "I said, 'Do you know what I do for a living?" recounts Bittman. "He said, 'You're smart; you'll figure it out.'" Bittman's shift in habits (less meat, more plants) and resulting health rebound helped inspire his new book, "Food Matters." Here, he connects the dots between diet, health, climate change -- and basic sanity.

What do you mean by "sane eating"?
Sane eating is about getting a lot of fruits, veggies, whole grains, and legumes; smaller amounts of processed carbs; and much smaller amounts of dairy and meat. Don't eat food your grandmother wouldn't recognize. It starts by taking control over what you put in your body. If you're eating a lot of takeout and processed or supermarket-prepped meals, you really don't know what you're consuming. You might be eating something called "chicken a la king," but you have no clue how it was made or what went into it. No matter how simple or innocuous something seems, the food industry can (and often does) turn it into something nasty.

Should we ease up on carbs?
Some people think a potato is a dangerous thing. But there are distinctions. A cookie has carbs. And if there are no differences between a cookie and a potato, or brown rice, I'll eat my hat. When you eat whole grains, with fiber and micronutrients, you do yourself a big favor over white bread and cookies.

What's one thing we can all do to start eating smarter?
The real danger to our bodies and our planet, in terms of poisoning the earth and global warming, is the industrial raising of meat and fish. Do I think eating a bowl of pasta is a crime against humanity? No. Do I think eating half a pound of meat a day is? Yes. I don't think I'll ever be a vegetarian. But even if you cut back 25 percent, you'll be helping everyone else, the planet, and yourself.

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