Try it, and you may learn to like it

My column from the Aug. 1, 2012, Mille Lacs Messenger:

Nobody believes me when I tell them I love lentils, but it’s true. The most important thing I’ve learned from watching my diet and weight over the last several years is that the more you eat healthy food, the more you like healthy food.

Our taste buds developed to send our brain a burst of excitement over all kinds of foods, from meat to nuts to roots to leaves, but with our processed-food diets we’ve trained them to only appreciate sweets, salt and fat.

A confession: My favorite food has always been and always will be Old Dutch potato chips (original, not rippled) with Top the Tater dip.

However, having always gravitated toward hippie-ish pursuits like wilderness camping, acoustic guitar playing and shopping at co-ops, I’ve always believed that whole foods — those with a single ingredient — are better than processed foods full of unpronounceable chemicals.

I’m also a cheapskate, and contrary to the popular myth that it costs more to eat healthy, I learned early in life that a healthy diet can actually be cheaper than an unhealthy one, if you’re not afraid of a little effort in the store and the kitchen.

Case in point: In 1990, when my buddy Jigs and I spent three months hiking and camping between St. Paul and Lutsen, I spent a total of $300, which included food, lodging and the occasional beer, junk food and cigarette binge.

That’s when I developed my love of lentils.

Our diet was composed primarily of oatmeal for breakfast, peanut butter sandwiches for lunch, and lentils and rice for supper, supplemented by wild edible plants and the occasional catfish, bass or walleye.

Lentils are one of nature’s super foods. Like all legumes, they contain many of the amino acids our bodies need. Together with grains like rice, they provide a “complete protein,” with the right proportion of all nine amino acids, just like meat.

Most Americans are under the impression that you have to eat meat to live a healthy, active life, but I present as a witness to the contrary a guy named Scott Jurek. Jurek grew up in Proctor, near Duluth, and is one of the world’s top ultramarathoners. He’s won many 50- and 100-mile races, and he’s a vegan.

Vegetable-based diets and grass-fed meats are also far easier on the environment and the atmosphere than overprocessed junk food and grain-fed meat.

I’m not a vegan, nor a vegetarian. I enjoy meat but don’t eat it every day, and I try to eat only locally and humanely raised meat — like the chickens and eggs I’ve been raising myself, and the beef and pork I buy from Barb Eller of Onamia or Nelson Shine Produce, where I also get my chickens butchered.

Most of my healthy food list is made up of grains, beans and veggies, and the more I eat the foods on that list, the more I like them. Wild rice packs more of a flavor wallop than a fine Cabernet. Sweet potatoes are called sweet potatoes for a good reason. Lamb’s quarter, a weed that grows abundantly in my piles of horse manure, tastes as good as any green vegetable in your grocery store.

Avocados, black beans, pistachios, brown rice and every kind of fruit under the sun — when you give them a chance, they’re better than anything Kraft or Pillsbury can concoct with their techno-genes, corn syrup and monosodium glutamate.

You’ll also have more energy, less guilt and increased disease-fighting power.

And when you eat healthy most days, the occasional chips-and-dip taste even better.

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