Diet Fads Miss the Point

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A google search on the topic of diet will reveal a lengthy list of mostly fad diets: Cabbage soup diet anyone? Over the past ten years of practicing medicine as a PA I have reviewed quite an array of “healing” (as opposed to weight loss)  diets from blood type to vegan to mediterranean and on. What strikes me is the volume of permutations there are on the subject of eating. When did it all get so complex? Perhaps the more appropriate question is, why is it so complex?

For as long as there has been recorded history there has been debate about the optimal human diet. That’s really amazing when you consider the vast array of other important topics that don’t surface nearly as much. You don’t see a lot of dialogue about the preeminence of housing styles or optimal clothing, for example. No, there is clearly an historical obsession with how to feed a human.

I think there are two reasons for this. First, food can be hard to come by. Okay, maybe not for much of the fast food nation that is the US, but in general, and increasingly throughout the emerging markets world, food as a commodity, is scarce. Secondly, the link between food choice and health is well established despite the willful ignorance of western medicine to the contrary. You don’t need to be a scholar of physiology to come to the rapid conclusion that some edibles are better for your constitution than others. Think of the information dense experience of a lactose -intolerant person eating an ice cream sundae. Or the few unlucky times you’ve had the displeasure of consuming spoiled food. It’s quite obvious. Not all edibles are created equally when it comes to digestion, assimilation and utilization.

So if you have a choice of what to eat,  what substance will provide you with the most nutrient dense calories for the least amount of resources?

Assuming you have a competent digestive system, the answer is simple. Eat an abundance of organically-, or bio-dynamically-grown vegetables and fruits and, in comparatively smaller amounts, complex, un-processed grains, healthy oils and nuts/seeds (don’t want to invite those nasty free-radicals to supper!) and rare animal products if, and only if, you can answer “yes” to the following questions about their procurement:

1. Were these animals fed their optimal diet throughout their entire lifecycle? (grass and hay for cows, for example, and zero corn)

2. Were these animals treated with dignity their whole lives? Did they get to roam freely on open pasture, not slab or barn? Did they have sufficient space? Or were they crammed beak-to-tail in their own filth? Were they given free access to their breastfeeding mom through the weaning period?

3. Were they humanely slaughtered at the peak of their health? Or were they shipped to a facility hours away and aware of the horrific fate awaiting them? Were they killed immediately and accurately? Is there any possibility they were ill and on antibiotics in the preceding months before their slaughter?

If you can’t answer all of these questions with confidence about your animal products, then you are running a great risk in consuming them. To say nothing of the untold damage these nefarious practices do to the animals and our environment.

You’ll notice that there is no mention of added sugar, or breads in the optimal diet. There’s very little upside to the consumption of these food categories. If you must have them, combine them with another vice, like alcohol and get it over with by having a glass of bio-dynamic wine!

For my part, the ideal diet is a conscious diet. “Eating is a necessity, eating intelligently is an art” (Anonymous). There is a world of healing to be had in a carefully considered diet. Just being grateful for your food can have profound healing implications. So, the zen practices of contemplating the compatibility between your food and your physiology can be very life affirming in and of itself.

If you’re looking to set course for a path to healing through food (and I think you should!) then I would look at Dr.Hay’s diet of food combining as a lens to view a macrobiotic/ mediterranean diet (ok I made that diet up, but if you look at each of them and layer their elements in a Venn diagram you are left with a healing, happy diet).

Lastly, how do you know if you have a competent digestive system and, therefore, free reign with food choices and practices? Here’s a hint: It’s increasingly unlikely that you do. Digestion is adversely impacted by every modern day convenience you can think of from microwaves to pesticides, to cell phones to eating on the go…

Here’s a quick quiz. If you can say “that never applies to me” to the following statements you have a rock solid digestive capacity:

I get diarrhea sometimes (loose, poorly formed or soft stool)

I get constipated sometimes (a bowel movement less frequently than once per day or stool that is difficult to pass)

I experience bloating more than once a month

I belch after eating

I have smelly gas frequently

My breath is sour or foul

I get frequent colds or infections

 

If you find that you agree with more than one of those statements than perhaps it’s time we met in person and discussed a plan to improve your digestion through diet and toxin avoidance. Nothing could be more fundamental to our health than the foods we choose to eat given our digestive capacity.

Find out if you’re eating an optimal diet for you!

 

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