If you spend enough time researching nutritional advice on the internet, you will learn that processed grains are bad, dairy is bad, meat is bad, cooked vegetables are bad, corn is bad, soy is bad and vegetables that are acidic are bad (although no one actually agrees specifically which vegetables are acidic when consumed).
For every ailment, there is a diet-based “solution.” You have to eliminate meat, and dairy, and fruit, and grains and fats and pretty soon you are eating cabbage soup, wondering why you are doing this.
Then there are the counter-indications. Eat meat, but only grass-fed, free-range, hormone and anti-biotic free. Eat organic fruits and vegetables. Eat whole grains. Essentially: Eat this diet that I am telling you about and oh, also buy my book.
These diet advisors tend to make the same argument – we used to only eat X, so if you eat X now, you will be healthy and skinny like our ancestors were. We never ate grains 10,000 years ago, so you shouldn’t eat grains now, and you will be healthy and skinny. We almost never ate meat, and now we eat too much, so to be healthy and skinny, you must not eat meat.
I’m here to tell you that all of this is bull honkey. 10,000 years? That’s a long time to be eating something for it to be terrible for us. And if we’re going to measure the nutritional value of our food by how long we have been eating it, then we should immediately stop eating tomatoes, potatoes, corn, and peppers, among many others, because we have only been eating those for *gasp* 500 years! Well, by “we” I mean everyone who is not descendent from native American cultures, particularly those of South America. They ate that stuff for way longer.
I know, I know, tomatoes did not originate in Italy, it’s horrific, but we can move past it.
Basically, before 1492, the majority of the world was eating a pretty localized diet, and starving as a result. Grains, like rice and wheat, were staples, but they were not ideal in feeding large amounts of people. Then, thanks to our buddy Chris Columbus, the world started to share crops, and now no one really remembers what came from where. Clearly our bodies adapted pretty well to eating potatoes and tomatoes and peppers. Let’s not get me started on corn. Let’s just say, it’s easy to plant, easy to grow, and will feed lots of people, which is probably the only reason it’s around today. It’s not even remotely as nutritious as the potato, but I digress.
Furthermore, the other argument about ancestral eating really irritates me. “Our ancestors were thin, muscular, self-sustaining folks, which must mean their diet is superior to ours.” Of course our ancestors were thin, they were starving half the time. They also had to farm all of their own food, or scavenge for it. Poverty and thinness used to go hand in hand, now it is poverty and obesity. Why? Because we have plenty of cheap food with almost no nutritional value that is readily available to anyone. These processed foods are also stuffed with corn by-products. Yes, corn is nutritionally worthless, but it’s been filling the bellies of the poor for hundreds of years. Moving on.
But what about all of the terrible diseases – diabetes, heart disease, cancer – that are killing hundreds of thousdands of people each year, and are “clearly” related to processed grains and sugar and meat? Think about it this way – we used to die really young. If you were 50, you were ancient. Some people made it longer than that, but for a very long time, no one lived long enough to have to worry about some of those diseases. Also, it’s not that they didn’t exist, it’s mostly that no one knew what they were. It wasn’t clear why dad had died suddenly. Or why mom fell asleep and never woke up. We weren’t healthier – we were just more ignorant and died more immediately of diseases we can now cure altogether or manage for decades.
As for cancer, it has always been around. Before meat became the enemy. Before cars. Before processed grains and low-fat food and anti-oxidants become everyday words in our vernacular. Cancer is us, mutated, evil, and bent on destruction. It can happen to someone who eats only vegetables, or someone who eats only sugar and fat. There are a few guarantees – like smoking- that cause cancer for sure. But the majority of causes are a result of living.
It’s true, living leads to death. Will being a vegan or gluten-free make us live longer? Will it make our quality of life better? My guess is no, unless you are allergic to gluten or animal products.
People love to write into the nutritionist who “changed their life.” One man lost 30 pounds in a few months, and is now full of life and vigor after cutting out grains. Well, if you read carefully, his new diet also reduced his calorie count (grains pack a pretty big calorie punch). If you were 30 pounds over weight, and lost it, you would feel great. That would be 30 pounds you were no longer carrying around. Plus, these diets almost always include exercise, which increases energy, helps sleep, and improves mood.
I assure you, I am ranting with a purpose.
Everyone is different. We all process food differently, and different foods make us feel different ways. I know that sugar is not my friend. Dairy and I have a strained relationship. Fat, veggies, meat and I are super duper best friends. I know this because I pay attention to how I feel after I eat. I have kept a food journal. I have taken the time to see what my body needs. And now my food decisions are easy. But that doesn’t mean I won’t occasionally eat the things that may make me feel crappy or are not nutritionally ideal. I mean, corn is a useless grain, but I love me some chips and salsa now and again.
The point is that no one has the answer for everyone. We are such a mix of cultures and food histories that saying in general, eat this, not that, is useless. The Irish once survived on potatoes and milk – a surprisingly nutritious combination. More nutritious than a fast-food hamburger. They did it because humans are resilitent, and they will eat almost anything in the face of starvation, and our bodies will figure it out. Our bodies are figuring it out, in fact, no matter what you eat. They will figure out it even if you don’t eat anything at all.
So all I get from the books on diets claiming to have the answer to preventing cancer or solving whatever ails you is that they’re just taking what works for them, and describing it in unnecessary detail. No one will sell a book by telling you, well, you’re just going to have to take the time and energy to figure out what foods make you feel good, and even then, there isn’t any guarantee it will do any good.
Because in essence, everyone is a little bit right – all food causes some type of issue – tomatoes cause inflammation, grains are hard to digest, alcohol is a neurotoxin. So what’s an omnivore to do? My initial response was, well, they’re asking us not to eat. Which sounds ridiculous, until you read the research on fasting. Not eating, something humans have had to do for thousands of years, can actually be good for you.
I’m out of time here, but next week (on Wednesday this time, I promise), I will go into the arguments for not eating and it’s health benefits. You read that correctly. Till next time.