This is a long one, so you might want to get a cup of coffee. If you want to read a realistic and practical approach to nutrition read on. If you’re happy with your current health and nutrition plan, and with your knowledge of nutrition, skip this and get on with your life.
In this study published in the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) (JAMA Obesity in the U.S. 2011-12) 34.9% of U.S. adults and 16.9% of children 2-19 years old are obese, and more frightening, 8.1% of toddlers are also obese. According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) the medical cost of obesity in this country is 148 billion in 2008 dollars.(CDC Stats) The metabolic diseases stemming from obesity are literally killing this country. Currently, over half the annual deaths in the U.S. are caused by “Lifestyle” diseases, (i.e. eating too much and being too sedentary). With this alarming data you would think our government would be pulling out all the stops to research and combat this problem. Where is the war on obesity? How about an “Obesity” Czar at the the White House.
Considering the current state of our health in the U.S. you would think finding the answer to the question “How do I eat healthy?” would be at the forefront of medical research. You would be wrong. In this great article about the integrity problem in the nutrition science world (Vox.com), the author sites a real dollar decrease in the government funding for nutrition studies. So who will fund the studies, why food or supplement companies of course. Coincidentally, a large portion of those studies (over 90% according to the article) have findings that are beneficial to the funding company. So how can you trust these studies? They are obviously not unbiased. Fortunately not all nutrition studies are funded by the food industry, so there is some unbiased academic work going on out there. Unfortunately those studies tend not to have large sample sizes, and the findings of these studies usually are not as conclusive as the media headlines would have you believe.
So what does it mean to “Eat Healthy”. If you go to Google U you will get lots of opinions on what is the best way to eat. There’s a lot of good info out there, and there’s a lot of downright quackery. The problem is that even the reputable medical sources really don’t have an answer to this question. The reality is that the currently nutrition science is such a relatively young area of study that there are very few definitive answers to the question, “How do I eat Healthy”. What also exacerbates the problem is that as much as we humans are the same, we are all chemically different enough that we breakdown and process nutrients so differently that what is a healthy diet for one person could be downright dangerous for another. Also, the way the human body processes nutrients and turns them into usable energy, or stores the byproducts into fats, or excretes the unusable as waste, varies so widely among people that the very idea of one diet regimen being ideal for everyone is somewhat ludicrous. So all these studies that compare the various diet regimens and ranks them from best to worst are misguided at best, and deceitful at worst.
There is no single “best” diet for everyone. Let me repeat that in caps for the hard of hearing, THERE IS NO SINGLE “BEST” DIET FOR EVERYONE. So if there is no single best diet for everyone, and we really don’t know all that much conclusively about nutrition, then what the hell. It’s time to eat, drink and be happy and just ignore my diet since we don’t know what’s healthy and what’s not. That sounds awesome.
Not so fast Kemosabe. There are a few things we do know. Before we get to that though, you need to understand that your body needs a Macro nutrient balance between proteins, carbohydrates and fats. Your diet should consist of roughly 50% carbohydrates, 30% fat, and 20% protein. These percentages can vary depending on your age, gender, exercise and fitness goals, and personal metabolism, but they will only vary by about 5-10 percent plus or minus. The idea of eliminating or drastically reducing one or more of these macro nutrients will only lead to a metabolic imbalance and can cause physical harm. The types of foods you use to get the balance can vary, but the macro nutrient balance will still be the same.
The first thing we know about nutrition is that processed food is generally not good for you, and the more processed food you eat, the more not good it is. We know sugar, in large amounts ain’t so good either. The average U.S. citizen consumes over 160 pounds of sugar a year. Some of you may think that you don’t consume much sugar, but if your diet consists of large amounts of processed foods, you probably consume a decent amount of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), a sugar substitute which according to some studies is worse for you than sugar. If you drink a lot of fruit juice or sports drinks, you are consuming a lot of sugar. We know too much sodium in your diet can be bad, but most folks get the bulk of there sodium from processed foods, so if you cut back on processed foods, your sodium consumption will go down. We also know that too much saturated fat is bad for you (more than 7-10% of your total fat intake), and any amount of trans fat is bad for you. I know trans fat is what makes Oreos taste so good, but they don’t call them “fat pills” for nothing. Not all fat is bad, there are essential fats that your body needs in proper proportion to survive and thrive, but that’s for another time. A good general rule of thumb is that you should severely limit foods that come prepackaged in a box, bag, or can.
There are a few other things we know about what not too eat, but what about the other side of the coin, what is healthy for me to eat? This part is a little more complicated. One thing about eating healthy is that in general, the less it is touched or transformed by man, the better. What that means is that foods eaten closest to it’s natural state, such as raw fruits and vegetables or raw nuts and seeds, are better for you than processed or cooked versions of these foods. That’s not to say the cook or processed versions are bad, just that the raw version is better. What about GMO’s? I’ll get into more detail about this topic another time, but to for now, if your diet is currently a healthy one full of raw fruits and vegetables and healthy proteins, and you exercise regularly and have and active lifestyle, and you are still having health issues, then maybe cutting GMO’s from your diet would be a good thing. If your diet currently consists of lots of processed foods, then any addition of raw fruits and vegetables that will replace those processed foods is a positive step, GMO or not. I hope the anti-GMO police won’t hunt me down for saying this, but the reality is, you have to take small steps to create enduring change, and if that means replacing processed foods with GMO fruits and vegetables, then so be it.
As far as meats go, the wilder the better. Wild game doesn’t have the chemical additives that farmed animals get through the types of foods or the antibiotics they receive to keep them healthy until harvesting. The problem is that if your neighborhood is like mine, the squirrels and a few crazy neighbors are the only wild game we have, and as much as I would like to harvest some of my neighbors, polite society frowns upon that. So the next best thing is farmed game meats, but these can be hard to come by and expensive. If you have a local butcher selling Elk or Ostrich you might want to try it sometime. Alligator is also a nice treat. But what if you don’t have a butcher selling these meats, or you can’t afford these rather expensive cuts of meat, what are your options? Fortunately, the meat and poultry industries are catching up with cultural trends toward healthier foods and there are more choices of antibiotic free, grass fed, free range poultry and meats in local grocery stores. If your grocery store is like mine, these types of meats and poultry are getting more readily available, and don’t require a second mortgage to purchase. You need to read the labels to see what the processing is on the meats and poultry. If you can afford organic, that’s great, but don’t feel you have to go organic to get a healthy piece of animal protein. Eggs are a great source of complete protein, and they are similar to Meats and poultry in that there are now more affordable choices for antibiotic free, grass fed, free range, cage free eggs. Again, if you can afford organic when it comes to eggs, that’s great, if not, don’t sweat it. For those still worried about eggs and cholesterol, the medical community finally admitted last year that there really isn’t any correlation between eating eggs and higher cholesterol in humans. It took them a few decades to admit it, but they finally fessed up.
Dairy and grains are the last two food groups to talk about. I personally don’t eat either of these food groups because we don’t get along. We’ve had a relationship in the past, it just didn’t work out. Despite the pain and heartache, and many attempts at reconciliation, I finally gave up on both of these food groups. I have been lactose intolerant for over 30 years, I just didn’t want to actually believe it until three years ago when I cut all dairy from my diet. I put up with the gastrointestinal discomfort after eating cheese or yogurt because I happened to have enjoyed eating both of them. I knew I was lactose intolerant, I knew that a glass of milk would have me doubled over in pain, but I really, really liked my cheeses and frozen yogurts. I convinced myself I could eat dairy and it was okay, until one day I decided to stop and see what happened. After about two weeks, I felt like a new person. Who knew. Well, I did, but I just didn’t want to accept it. I’m not saying everyone should stop eating dairy, it’s a good source of a complete protein, but it’s also very inflammatory to the adult human body. Most adults lack ,or are deficient in, the enzyme to properly process milk sugar, lactose. They get GI distress from dairy to some extent, they just accept the GI distress as a regular part of life and ignore it, or worse yet, pop a pill to overcome the negative effects of ingesting dairy. If you suffer from GI distress from time to time, especially after eating dairy products, you might want to cut out all dairy for a couple weeks and see if you feel better, you’d be surprised. If you can tolerate dairy without issues, then low fat milk, cheese, and plain yogurt are great. Watch out for the flavored yogurt as they as they tend to be full of sugar.
Grains are a little more complicated. Whole grains are a recommended food group in the U.S. government nutrition guidelines. But most grain products are highly processed, so there’s a dilemma. Whole grains can be a good source of protein and fibers, they can also be very inflammatory to some. So should you eat grains, the answer is simple, yes, and no. See not so confusing. The reality is that you need to experiment to see what is right for you. Try going without grains for awhile and see if you feel better. If you do, you need to cut grains out of your diet. You notice I didn’t say the “G” word here. Unless you suffer from Celiacs disease gluten isn’t the real issue, it’s the processing of foods with grain that is the issue. What I find interesting is that a lot of folks replace one form of processed food with gluten, for another form of processed food without gluten. With or without gluten, if it’s a highly processed food with a lot of ingredients that you can’t pronounce, it’s probably not too good for you. I know a lot of folks have gone to a gluten free diet, adding lots of gluten free foods to their diet and purporting to feel better, which may be so, but I think their missing the point. I feel the point of a grain free, or gluten free diet, is to reduce a category of highly processed foods from your diet.
A lot of people have told me they couldn’t live without their bread and pasta. I know the feeling, I’m first generation Italian. Bread and pasta was a staple of my diet for the first 50 years of my life. When I first started my journey on this path to health I never thought I would cut those things out of my diet. It wasn’t even a conscious decision to do that, it just happened over time as I became more conscientious about what I was eating. I ate those things less and less until one day I no longer had a craving for bread or pasta. At one point over four years ago, I realized I hadn’t opened my bread drawer in several months. I was scared to see what was in it. After a thorough cleaning, my bread drawer became my nuts and seeds drawer. I now keep a variety of raw nuts and seeds on hand for the occasional snack, or to add to my daily salad.
I no longer keep bread or pasta in the house (except when my daughter is visiting), but I have to confess here that on occasion I have a piece of bread when I’m out at a restaurant. Sometimes people will try to chastise me for that, reminding me that I don’t eat bread. It’s not a religion, it’s my diet, and I get to choose what I eat, and if I want to eat a piece of bread on occasion, by god I’ll eat a piece of bread. I haven’t been struck down by lightning yet.
The bottom line about nutrition is that we are all different, and what works for one person will not work for another. There are no co0kie cutter solutions that will work for everyone, or short cuts, or magic pills. There are some guidelines, but it’s up to you to experiment and find out what works best for you. The thing is, if you need to take pills, prescribed or over the counter, to offset the negative effects of the foods you eat, then you don’t have a healthy diet.
Everyday we put a myriad of chemicals in our body, most of it is through the foods we eat, but some are chemicals that are either prescribed by a doctor, or self prescribed. A lot of times, those prescribed chemicals are being taken to offset the negative effects of the foods we ingest. Actually, it’s unfortunately more often than not, the prescribed chemicals, whether prescribed by a doctor or self prescribed, are taken to alleviate the symptoms of chronic diseases that are caused by poor nutrition and a sedentary lifestyle. Whether this applies to you or not, it is a simple fact that western society as a whole has come to rely on prescribed chemicals to alleviate symptoms brought on by a not so healthy lifestyle, because it is easier to pop a pill than it is to change your diet or lifestyle.
I say there’s a better way. I am a data set of one that shows you can get healthy and fit, and feel and look younger, without the assistance of modern pharmacology. I found my path to the fountain of youth. It is wellness, fitness and healthy. My passion in life is to help others find their path to the fountain.