WooFood was founded to make the healthful choice the easy choice. But what does that mean? The WooFood criteria is always available for viewing on our website... but who wants to scroll through a bunch of text? In an effort to demystify the WooFood criteria, I decided to post some examples from a recent weekend trip to Montreal.
It's easy to misinterpret WooFood's mission to improve public health as an all-or-nothing campaign to get everyone to eat "health" food. In fact, WooFood wants to improve health as well wellness and enjoyment of life for all people - not only those with rock solid self discipline looking to follow a strict, bland, or difficult to adhere-to diet.
Indulging while eating well
In his book, In Defense of Food, Michael Pollan addresses the French Paradox, where the French seem to have a low rate of chronic diseases such as heart disease, despite indulging in a diet rich in saturated fat, by suggesting that perhaps what we have is really an American Paradox, where we can't fathom that people could actually enjoy their food while living practically disease free while we spend countless dollars and frustrating efforts on fad diets and weight loss programs. What exactly is the deal with the French Paradox? First, we must be careful not to exonerate all saturated fat, especially that which comes from meat and dairy. As the director for the Yale prevention research center points out, the Lyon Heart Study found a 70% lower rate of second heart attacks in a group eating a Mediterranean diet high in monounsaturated fats as compared to a typical "French" diet which is higher in saturated fats. (1) So saturated fat (at least the type in dairy and meats) is still bad.. so what might account for French people being healthier overall?
There are plenty of theories and WooFood isn't about to take on all of them in this post. However, small portion sizes and moderation is most definitely a theme in just about all of them. Food journalist Michael Pollan also suggests that it may be a little less about too much bad food, but too little good food like fresh fruits and vegetables that leads to our currently dismal health outcomes.
Finding WooFood Certified Concepts
So let's consider Montreal, where 50% of families speak French at home the poor man's trip to France (that's me) assuming many of the French culinary traditions have settled there as well. The examples to follow may not meet "WooFood Certified" criteria in every respect, but each one represents a WooFood Certified Concept that is part of the WooFood criteria - and would contribute to a restaurant's overall level of certification.
WooFood Certified Concept: >50% vegetables
Make it WooFood Certified: Going a little lighter on the meat (to under 3 ounces) would make this a WooFood certified dish; more than enough for flavor without putting too much of a strain on your health.
Duck Confit in and of itelf is not likely the most healthful substance on the planet, but it is quite tasty. Typically, it's cured in salt and rendered in its own fat; certainly not a recipe for WooFood certification. However, the fact that >50% of this dish is greens perfectly represents a WooFood Certified concept; the more dishes that come with >50% vegetables such as this, that a restaurant offers, the more points that can be earned for a higher level of certification. It's also a great example of a great meal centered on greens with a garnishing of meat, rather than a 32 oz main course when flavor is really the goal!
WooFood Certified Concept: 50% vegetables, default choice
Make it WooFood Certified: Portions are still pretty large here, but it's definitely a start.
Poutine - a French-Canadian dish of fries, gravy, and cheese curds. WooFood Certified? About as far from it as you can get. But can you expect people to stop eating it all together? Good luck!
So here is a simple and elegant solution; listed plainly on the menu is an option to get 1/2 salad, 1/2 poutine. WooFood emphasizes portion size and proportions. Though the total portion of poutine is still a bit hefty here, the proportions are right on. Why should you have to choose "healthy" or "unhealthy" all the time? The fact that this half salad/half poutine option is listed on the menu (rather than only by special request) makes it more likely that people will have a salad if they choose poutine, while moderating the amount of saturated fat, sodium, and simple starches but still satisfying that craving.
WooFood Certified Concept: reasonable portion size
Alcohol; also sometimes accredited with responsibility for the French Paradox (though usually in the form of red wine). In fact, it has been well established that modest amounts of alcohol in any form can positively impact cardiovascular health (but that's another blog post). (2)
The key here is the portion size. At about 12 ounces, this is actually the standard drink size referred to when following the recommended "1-2" drinks today for men and "1 or less" for women. What's more, the smaller portion makes you enjoy every sip a little bit more, and I actually enjoyed drinking out of it more than the traditional Pint glass that's so ubiquitous in the states. This goes along with the concept of mindful eating or drinking in this case (still another blog post).
WooFood Certified Concept: Default with 50% Fruit, creativity
When faced with a decision: Eggs Benedict? or Fruit Salad, which do you think wins out?
So why have to make that decision? Another WooFood criteria is to have more dishes come with 50% or more fruit (or vegetables). Though it's hard to certify "creativity", the artistic effort that went in to the carved apple and splayed strawberry are quite evident. It basically says; fruit is not an afterthought which is exactly what we would love to see at WooFood certified restaurants. Potatoes don't count as a vegetable under WooFood standards, but nothing (including the WooFood criteria) says that you can't have any potatoes. Another WooFood certified concept might include offering this as a half dish (1 egg) - enough to satisfy that craving without overeating while enjoying a substantial variety of fruit (included apple, banana, orange, strawberry, blueberries, grapefruit, cantelope, mango, kiwi and apricot, by the way. When is the last time you saw a fruit salad like that??
WooFood Certified Concept: Exceptionally healthful with exceptional taste.
Some may firmly believe that taste and healthfulness of a dish are inversely related. I guarantee that they have not tried this dish. This rendition of Pad Thai made with Zuchinni noodles and topped with perfectly crunchy sprouted and dehydrated buckwheat was simply amazing. While a meal does not have to be vegan or gluten free as this one is, it would most certainly qualify as a WooFood Certified dish while perfectly illustrating a point; this is quite possibly the most healthful and delicious meal I've ever had.
Have you spotted any WooFood Certified concepts while out at a restaurant or maybe you have your own recipe and picture to go along with it? Share it with us either by commenting or submitting to firstname.lastname@example.org and you may be featured as our WooFood Concept of the Week.
P.S. be on the lookout for a certain Worcester restaurant that embraces the French Paradox to soon be WooFood Certified...
(1) Katz, David M.D., Is all Saturated Fat the Same? The Huffington Post. Posted 6/14/2011. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-katz-md/saturated-fat_b_875401.html
(2) Di Castelnuovo A, Costanzo S, Bagnardi V, et al. Alcohol dosing and total mortality in men and women: an updated meta-analysis of 34 prospective studies. Arch Intern Med 2006; 166:2437