I recently had a friend ask me to write a blog post about my perspective on diet. My perspective on diet is found throughout various posts in this blog, but I haven’t really put it all together yet, so here we are.
Firstly, for those who don’t know, I received my BS in public health, majoring in Nutrition from UNC-CH in 2009 and I’m currently at NCNM studying Naturopathic medicine and Chinese medicine, all programs including significant amounts of nutritional education. In addition to the courses I’ve taken in nutrition at both schools, I’ve done my own reading on nutrition in my free time, as well as personal experimentation with diet.
Also, before we get started, I’d like to establish that what follows is what I’ve decided is best to eat. This decision is based not only on readings, and experiments, but also on my own personal intuition, observation, and reflection. Thus, while there may or may not be supporting evidence elsewhere, I’m not attempting to find it all and present it here, that would be a much bigger project. Much of the time, a class will present many studies, and a perspective based on those studies, and I will either agree with the findings and forget the studies or be skeptical of the studies and maintain my previous perspective, either way I often forget the details, so, you’re getting the parts I wanted to remember, which comes down to, “What should I do? How should I eat?”
Let’s jump in.
My current perspective deviates from conventional nutritional theory because I believe that nutrients, while useful in general, are not the very best basis on which to choose foods. That is, looking at how much carbohydrate, fat, protein, vitamin C, etc. can be helpful, but I believe the more important aspect for day-to-day eating is to focus on eating food, as defined by Michael Pollan, which most people might recognize better as whole foods, natural foods, traditional foods, or organic foods.
My opinion is that there are many aspects of foods which are not yet known, namely constituents that are not vitamins, minerals or macronutrients. This view of nutrition is based on diseases that are found when one lacks a particular thing, but for optimization of health, there are tons of constituents in foods that can decrease or increase health of the complex system that is the body while not directly related to a specific disease. That is, I think eating a vitamin/mineral filled gummy bear is not going to be as good for you as eating some spinach, even if the spinach doesn’t contain the same variety of essential nutrients. An important exception is severely nutritionally deprived peoples, people on the streets or in a 3rd world country or with a super weird diet might very well need specific vitamins, but this is more of an oh-shit nutritional medicine, it’s not the basis of a diet that will foster optimal health and possibly decrease the severity of symptoms in a chronic disease.
One small piece of repeated anecdotal evidence for this point of view (little constituents in whole foods are important) is the repeated finding that peoples’ wheat and dairy allergies go away when they eat wheat and dairy in Europe, a place where there are more organic foods, GMOs are outlawed, and I believe pesticide/fertilizer use, when present, is more strictly regulated to less toxic materials. I believe that the lack of allergic response is likely related to the lack of chemical and GMO in the food. Possibly it’s related to them not feeding every cow the same nutrient-deprived corn clone. Maybe its less antibiotics in the feed and more grass in the cows diets. I’m not sure. This relates to a problem with a lot of research, to my knowledge, there is a lot of money going against studies that would investigate the above possibilities, and little money going towards those studies.
So, from all of that we get my scientifically unproven point of view that whole foods: free range animal products, truly organic plant products (often organic plants are contaminated with “conventionally grown” plants) — these are the best to eat. They help us avoid unwanted chemical/GMO exposure, both of which have been connected in research to health problems, and they help us consume the unknown nutrients, the multitude of constituents in food which are unstudied. Again, I believe that a diet which is completely artificial would ultimately be detrimental to health, even if it was technically complete from a bare nutrient perspective, because of the aspects of whole foods which are as of yet unknown and unstudied. Just remember all of the body parts we used to think weren’t important because we didn’t understand them–spleen, cornerstone of the lymph and immune system, directly related to RBC health, let’s take it out, it’s not important… I just don’t agree with this limited perspective.
We humble ourselves, and say, maybe the whole food is important. Okay, so let’s go at this a different way for a moment. Here are things that I think are okay/good to eat: spinach, kale, celery, broccoli, even iceberg lettuce won’t hurt, beets, most every non-starchy vegetable and bland fruit (i.e. cucumber), free range animals and animal products from free range animals (i.e. eating their natural diet and living a relatively normal life), organic fruits, whole grains like quinoa and brown rice, hummus made with extra virgin olive oils or expeller pressed oils, careful to avoid hummus which simply says “canola oil, or soybean oil”, as these oils come from conventional plants, and are processed in many chemicals and at high heat, destroying much of the nutrition and adding to our body’s toxic load. Additionally, it’s important to balance fat/oil intake. Most Americans have much more omega-6 fatty acids than 3 and these should be balanced for optimal body function, so try to get more fish and flax in your diet.
Things not to eat/drink: soda, any high sugar drink, including juices, a small amount of fresh-squeezed juices are okay. Candy, hamburger helper (has both MSG AND hydrogenated oil), fries also are high in trans fats as they are often cooked in high heat polyunsaturated oils which form trans fats at high heat and that’s not good for your heart/blood vessels. Anything you’re allergic to: it seems that many chronic conditions, especially those specifically related to the digestive system, but often others, will respond to a trial of cutting out wheat, and/or dairy, corn, soy. In that order, actually, I’d say it seems people often have an allergy that isn’t extreme, but over time seems to contribute to illness, switching away from wheat and/or gluten, for some people, is the key to health. Unfortunately most food allergy tests seem to have one thing or another wrong with them, the best way to is to eliminate the food from your diet completely for about 3 weeks, then, if you aren’t already convinced you should never eat that food again, then eat it a ton, like at every meal for the 3 days after your 3 weeks off, if your symptoms get worse, come back, then you probably have a problem with that food and should probably learn to live without it and use substitutes until your digestive system health can get to a point where it might be able to handle the substance again. Jumping back to the list, avoid in general artificial foods, excess amounts of starchy vegetables, sugary foods, white breads, conventional/factory farmed animals and animal products, non-organic, GMO-ful foods, basically avoid those things.
Most people seem to struggle with weight, for them the key is nutrient efficiency, or maximizing the calorie to nutrient ratio. The body seems to get full from two things: 1st is mechanical fullness, 2nd seems to be nutritional fullness. For example, we get both from some spinach, it’s low in calories in comparison to how much room it takes up in the stomach, and also is high in fiber, iron, phytonutrients. So, things like soups, and stews, cooked or raw vegetabes, whole foods in general all are really good ways to fill up your stomach, fill up your nutrient requirements, both without leaving you bogged down with tons of calories.
Another side-note is I seem to notice different types of people that seem to do well with / crave a certain diet. I don’t particularly ascribe to the blood-typing diet, but it seems the general idea that some people tend to do better with more of one macronutrient or another as primary in their diets seems to be true to me. I find that most people, usually men and larger-set women are healthy on a mixture of vegetables (often cooked greens) and meat. I have seen smaller women that seem to be perfectly healthy on a diet which has more simple carbohydrates. More important than this random observation is listening to your body, do you feel bad after you drink milk? then drink less of it.
Other general tips: Don’t eat icecream (at all) or drink cold water with meals, it messes up your body’s ability to properly digest food. Try not to eat when stressed/on the run. Allow yourself to relax, salivate, self-prepare for food. Try to eat regularly and somewhat often. Try to get some form of protein, best with fat and fiber towards the evening so as to reduce night-time hypoglycemia.
As far as relationship to food, I find that I personally don’t like to make things too regimented, if you haven’t figured it out by now, my approach isn’t about being fastitious and weighing your food before you eat it or using great amounts of discipline. I like to eat conveniently, take pleasure in it, break the rules intelligently, eat some pasture raised whipped cream with some honey, a tasty treat that might not be sooo terrible for me. So, yea, I don’t like to be really specific about the food thing, I eat more vegetarian foods if I don’t know the source of meat (cause if they don’t say its good, its probably bad), just generally avoiding strictness in relationship to food, trying to get my inner child to like what I think I should be eating.
An entirely separate topic is eating for specific medical conditions, by now it’s obvious that I’m trying to talk about most people, it relates to people with specific diseases, but some specific diseases require specific diets that may be completely different from what I’ve written here, if you’re interested in clinical nutrition, check on Alan Gaby’s Nutritional Medicine: http://www.doctorgaby.com/, it’s an evidence-based nutrient-approach that seems helpful for specific clinical application of diet.
That’s mostly it, I could probably go on but the article is long enough as it is, but I’d definitely clarify anything that you might be interested in hearing more about, just leave a comment or message me.
Recommended books: Food rules and/or In Defense Of Food by Michael Pollan, Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon (to be taken with a grain of salt, whatever that means)
Again, please feel free to leave comments, questions, whatever, and I’ll respond directly or edit the article to answer the question.
Thanks for reading!! 🙂