Man oh man, nutrition is confusing. Sorry pals, but it is. I know I am your nutrition expert and you come to me with all your burning questions, but the truth is there is so much that is unknown and even more that has been miscommunicated over the years. And I work in research and still do not know the answer!
The conversation is getting quite interesting these days and more and more people are starting to have an honest conversation about food and nutrition. Thought I would share some video links to provide you with more of the story.
Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food -- Pollan's documentary was featured on PBS last week and does a fantastic job explaining much of the confusing aspects of our food system. (It's two hours so give yourself some time.)
The documentary is based on explaining Pollan's well regarded nutrition advice: Eat Food, Not Too Much, Mostly Plants.
New York Times Retro Report, A Decades Long Search for a Perfect Diet -- An eye opening review of how the low fat diet hit the media, public health and social norms and the truths and flaws in the research and presentation of the information. (12 minutes for this one.)
Fun side note -- my boss and principal investigator from Stanford, Dr. Christopher Gardner, is featured in both videos! Very proud to be on his team.
So what to do? Go vegan? Eat a high-fat diet? What the heck is the right plan?
As Gardner suggests in the NY Times video (at the 9-minute mark), and the essence of our research at Stanford, maybe there is not one perfect diet, but rather an ideal plan specific for each of us.
If that is the case, it is still fair to ask, what the heck is the right plan for me??
First and foremost -- and this is an extremely important distinction, when discussing plants and fats and grains, remember that highly-processed foods vs. organic/pasture raised/whole and intact foods are extremely different. So to discuss fat is really unfair and confusing because are we discussing fat from a grass fed cow or trans fat in a baked goods? When we are discussing carbohydrates are we talking intact grains or a vegetable? Or a cookie made of refined flour and sugar? While they are fat and carbohydrate molecules, they are not all the same. Continually remind yourself of that. When you are deciding if you should eat more fat or less fat, more carbohydrates or less, you also have to know where that food comes from. This is the world we live in. It is what it is, and you have to be a smart consumer.
Second -- Eating more plants does not mean becoming vegan. Many of us think we need to adjust our protein and fat intake, while if we just ate more vegetables, the ratios of our food would likely balance out. It requires more effort than you realize to consume 5-10 servings (3-5 cups) of vegetables a day. If you focused your effort there, you would be amazed at the impact you could have to your health. And then if you throw in 1-3 servings of fruit and 1-5 servings of whole grain starches along with only eating high quality sources of fat and protein. You would likely find your ideal plan without ever counting a calorie or thinking about a "diet."
Third -- If the thought of focusing on vegetables will not work for you, maybe focusing on fiber will. In Pollan's documentary he features the Hadza tribe in Africa. Researchers from all over the world are observing this group because their microbiota, the microorganisms living in our bodies, is one of the most diverse, healthy and extensive. One conclusion is this is due to the tremendous amount of fiber in the Hadza diet, 5-10 times the amount of the typical American. So, if you were to just focus on fiber, could you find the plan that was right for you? And if you focused on fiber, you will notice that vegetables and high quality grains would increase and processed foods would decrease. Hadza are not vegan and you do not have to be either, but eating high quality meats and fats and eating balanced plates with fibrous vegetables, grains and fruits create a balanced plate.
I hope I did not make you more confused... I hope this leaves you thinking about food and diet to make you your best and healthiest self!
So yes to Gardner and Pollan -- eat real food, find your fiber, and the right mix for YOU.