By Alana Hutchins, Momivate Director of Energy
Have you ever wondered to yourself, What should I eat to be healthy? High-protein or low-protein? Low-fat dairy or whole milk or paleo? Whole grains or gluten free? Fruit or no fruit? High-fat or low fat? There are innumerable voices out there claiming different and even opposite messages, but the good news is, a lot of the basic diets have some common sense similarities. Michael Pollan claims, “the authority of tradition and common sense” to help us navigate this strange new eating world that has made a once simple activity into an entire field of scientific study and a multibillion dollar industry.
We live in a bleak landscape of SAD- the Standard American Diet. The SAD is generally characterized by high intakes of red meat, processed meat, pre-packaged foods, butter, candy and sweets, fried foods, refined grains, high-fructose corn syrup, high-sugar drinks, and low intakes of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, grass-fed animal products, fish, nuts, and seeds.
If you want to live your best and most healthful life, start to look at what God has already given you- whole plant foods. The more a food is broken down into different components and reconstructed for taste and shelf life, the less of a food it becomes and the more of a food approximation or an “edible food-like substance.” Forget the lotions and potions, powders and shakes- that’s not food, those are simply food products. If it has more than five ingredients or you don’t recognize the words in the ingredient list, then chances are, it was developed by a food scientist and not a farmer. Most of what we are consuming today is not food, and how we’re consuming it — in the car, in front of the TV, and increasingly alone — is not really eating. Many of these food facsimiles come packaged with health claims which should be our first clue they are anything but healthy.
In the so-called Western diet, food has been replaced by single nutrients, and common sense by confusion. The professionalism of nutrition, or “nutritionism”, for the past fifty years has made America anything but healthier, quite the opposite. Americans are sicker and fatter than ever. This belief system assumes that the key to understanding food is the single nutrient, disregarding the fact that natural foods are a symphony of complex compounds and chemicals that science has yet to all discover, never mind understand how they act in concert with one another. Layer on top of that the complexities of a traditional diet, and trying to sell health as a single macronutrient (think “High-Protein) is laughable.
The real food, the food your great grandmother would recognize as food, sits quietly on the perimeter of the grocery stores, with its naturally bright coloring and unassuming packaging. I can hear you saying now, but what about protein shakes and power bars- those are healthy right? “Good” for you food is a spectrum and a power bar might be better than a bag of chips, but your safest bet is nuts and a piece of whole fruit as a healthy go-to snack.
In other words, try to eat a Whole Foods, Plant based diet. Think beans, legumes, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Potatoes with the skins on, lentil curry, fresh salads with olive oil and vinegar, hummus with crudités. No more counting calories, or grams, or desperately trying to remember the difference between Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids. Vitamin supplements just turn into expensive urine and they are in NO WAY a substitute for fruits and vegetables. Consuming a diet rich in whole plant foods is the best way to avoid chronic diseases in the future including diabetes, obesity, heart disease, cancer and even autoimmune diseases. Eating does not have to be complicated, simple is usually best, but it will take more time to plan ahead and prepare than just grabbing a Cliff bar or downing an energy shake. A landmark study known as the China Project, combined with laboratory findings—conclusively demonstrated the dangers of a diet high in animal protein and the amazing health benefits of a whole food, plant-based diet. You say, yeah I’d like to be healthy but I’m not going vegan, that’s just too hard! Life can get crazy, so if you are hitting your whole-foods plant-based diet 80-90% of the time, you are doing awesome and keep up the good work! You will receive 80-90% of the benefits.
You might also say, yeah but I still have baby weight I want to lose and all the sources I read say to eat a diet low in “carbs” and high in protein. Isn’t losing weight healthy? This approach to weight loss, based on the ketogenic effect, or keto diets for short, involves cutting way back on carbohydrates, to 50 grams a day or less, to help the body achieve a state of ketosis, in which it has to burn fat (rather than sugar) for energy. This diet, like most diets, does work to help control weight gain and even induce weight loss in the short term, but it is hard to stick with long term. Most people will regain a lot of the weight they lost as soon as they go back on carbs. It is an issue with any fad diet, but it seems to be extra common with ketosis. Stop looking at short term effects rather than your long term goals of remaining healthy over a life span and look twenty years down the road to a life free of heart-disease and cancer. There are other dangerous side effects that can come from approaching the keto diet the wrong way including fatigue, decreased performance, head-aches, diarrhea, and even halitosis (bad breath.) Think of meat as a side dish or garnish, rather than the principal component of the meal.
When you are in the supermarket try to avoid food products containing ingredients that are unfamiliar, unpronounceable, more than five in number, or include high-fructose corn syrup. For that matter, all diets out there pretty much agree that sugars, including corn syrup and high-fructose corn syrup, are unnecessary foods and should be reduced as much as possible or eliminated completely.
Unfortunately there is one fairly obvious problem with all this advice: Americans don’t primarily eat food that comes in a box with a long list of “health claims” because we actually think it is healthier than a home-cooked meal. We do so because it is convenient, often cheaper, and we are addicted to high-fructose corn syrup, salt, and saturated fat laced in almost every food product. There is no silver bullet for changing our lifestyles and improving our health. It takes commitment, a dedication of monetary resources, hard work, and a certain amount of self-denial. On the upside though, measure that against reclaiming the pleasures of eating real foods, becoming your healthiest and most energetic self, and taking control of your own table.
In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan, 2008
The China Study by T. Colin Campbell and his son, Thomas M. Campbell II, 2004
PHOTO CREDITS: Alana Hutchins
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