What’s healthy green grub? What’s a sham?
Now and then, some odd packages arrive at SN&R. Last week, for example, FedEx delivered a box of pancakes.
But these weren’t your normal flapjacks. The round, pucklike griddlecakes more closely resembled muffin tops. Wrapped in plastic and labeled “Power Pancake!”—baked at Zen Bakery in Los Angeles and made with all-natural, trans-fat-free ingredients—they were a healthy whole- foods snack. SN&R employees devoured them.
Newport Beach-based Phil Perota had sent the pancakes. He spoke with SN&R via telephone just before his daily high-intensity spin class—no seats on the bikes!—to discuss the sorry state of sustainable snacking in America.
“It’s funny, because my grandmother used to make me German pancakes,” he began. Grandma’s pancakes were thin, crepe-like and filled with sugary jelly, and they were Perota’s favorite food—and inspired him to develop the Power Pancake, a healthier incarnation, in 1990.
So why invent a new pancake? “The majority of people’s diets are snack foods,” Perota explained. “And the snack foods today simply aren’t there healthwise.” He’s right: Snackage in the States, well, simply sucks.
Consider Starbucks. “You go to Starbucks and ask, ‘What do you have that’s healthy?’ and they’ll give you a low-fat muffin,” Perota observed. “Meanwhile, the grains are refined, the oils are trans fats, it’s high in sugar—oh, but it’s low in fat.” But Perota, author of an upcoming health book, The Eco Diet, said that low-fat is a smoke screen. “We’re eating more refined foods and getting away from natural foods with these kinds of catch terms,” he explained, citing cholesterol, fat, protein and carbohydrates as misleading criteria for determining what’s healthy and what’s not.
“You’re not looking for the ingredients; you’re thinking about these factors,” he said, which is an unhealthy way to define healthy.
Perota’s background is in the ingredients, the details. He went to school to be an architect, which carried over to his approach as a nutritionist. “Whatever I cook, I’m going to look at food like the structure of a bridge—make sure the pieces are strong and go together right,” he said. Perota moved to Southern California in the ’80s, when “the shit was hitting the fan,” insofar as revolutions in nutrition—John Robbins’ famous book Diet for a New America, health gyms, vegetarianism. In the ’90s, he inked Power Pancakes’ account, Gold’s Gym in Venice, and soon The Sports Club in L.A. and other locales jumped on the bandwagon.
But nowadays, in spite of a purported health-food fad, getting people to eat whole-food and natural snacks is harder than ever.
“If you go into a basic nutrition center today and see what people are walking out with, you’ll see them walking out with boxes and boxes of these bars and sports drinks,” noted Perota of the Clif and Luna bars and Vitamin Water craze. He said these products rely heavily on sugars and refined flour—ingredients with no nutritional value.
Why are so many staple ingredients bad for us? According to Perota, refined foods throw off a body’s digestive system, clog the colon and slow metabolism. Whole foods do the exact opposite: ease digestion, regulate metabolism and make bowel movements regular. The same goes for bad fats, often trans fats, which lead to glandular problems, the cause of most chronic health problems in America today. Good fats, like 100-percent-natural olive and coconut oils, actually regulate glands.
And then there’s soy, a trendy ingredient that vegetarian and health-conscious eaters use as a dairy substitute. But “soy is a thyroid depressor,” Perota explained. “And everyone’s been eating soy because they’ve been told that it’s so good for them.
“And soy’s an antagonist food,” he continued. “It can moderate estrogen levels and kick around your thyroid, so you don’t want it to be a major focus of your diet. But it’s a major focus of the American diet right now. Way way way way more than it ever was in Asia.”
Soy, “vitamin” water and health bars are all part of the movement toward a supposed healthier lifestyle. Eating local, sustainable food purportedly is the new rage. Organic is a buzzword. We’re eating right, right?
Perota begged to differ. “Meat consumption is up. Sugar consumption is up. Energy bars are selling off the Richter scale. And sports drinks! ‘Oh, you’re selling an energy drink?’ No, you’re selling sugar. It’s sugar water. So basically the stores are selling more sugar, and sugar is the worst possible substance you can put in your body.
“Sugar was never intended to be released out of its cane or tree or root and put into our bodies in such a concentrated form.”
Perishable foods, like the Power Pancake, aren’t on supermarkets’ agendas. They’re too difficult to stock, ship and sell. “Industry really isn’t catering to people like me, people who offer natural whole foods.” So if you want a snack that doesn’t bite back, call Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods or a local co-op and ask for living, breathing, natural and healthy alternatives, like those pleasantly surprising Power Pancakes that showed up at the office. Your body will thank you for it.