In the New York Times last week, Gina Kolata stated that “Nearly everything you have been told about the food you eat and the exercise you do and their effects on your health should be met with a raised eyebrow.”
Her article, We’re So Confused: The Problems With Food and Exercise Studies, stated that there’s no real agreed upon standard of measurement or procedure for studies, they’re often contradictory, and what foods are associated with diseases like obesity and cancer can be nebulous. I’d add that studies often focus on a very specific nutrient, that, even if the study makes sense, may or may not translate to being meaningful for people in terms of what they should actually eat. (Not to mention the questionable nature of how some studies are funded.)
And to add fuel to the fire, food studies and the media have historically flip flopped all over the place. In one of the most famous examples, in the 60’s butter and saturated fat were likened to the devil and deemed to be a cause of heart disease. A war on fat was waged for decades with a plethora of fat free and low fat products that replaced fat with sugar, preservatives and ingredients made in the lab. Meanwhile, obesity, diabetes and heart disease skyrocketed at unprecedented rates. The media then came out in 2014 to say that oopsies, they were wrong, saturated fat’s ok now. It’s like the boy who cried wolf.
The conflicting messaging has resulted in a public who’s fatigued by the health talk or are just confused in general. Some food experts would disagree with me. Take Marion Nestle, NYU food studies professor, who said this week “Nutrition advice could not be easier to understand. Eat plenty of vegetables and fruits; balance calories; don’t eat too much junk food.” Well, ok the vegetable and fruit part people kind of get. But what does balancing calories actually mean, and what does a junk food constitute? Oreos are easy enough to put in that category, but what about pretzels, breakfast cereal or protein bars? (I would use those sparingly and with a critical look at the ingredient list.) That’s where the lines start to blur for people.
So what should you do when you’re bombarded with conflicted messaging? Here are three big picture tips I think you can hold on to to navigate your way through the modern culinary maze we’ve created:
1. Eat as close to nature as possible. Whole (meaning the entire unadulterated plant or animal), local and organic is always best.
2. Aim for the majority of your diet to be plants. This includes fruits, vegetables, gluten free whole grains, nuts, seeds, avocado, olive and coconut oils. Include a smaller amount of meat, fish and eggs if desired, although it’s better to keep this group wild/organic if you’d like to enjoy it.
3. Limit sugar and refined foods. You’ll achieve portion control much more organically; eating sugar makes you crave more sugar and promotes the storage of fat. I really don’t reccomend calorie counting, since it can make you obsess over food and it’s more efficient to focus on quality over quantity.
What do you think? Is today’s messaging about food confusing, or do you have a good hold on what to eat?