Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Can't Eat That!

A conversation on an email list today got me thinking about the whole question of what to eat--or not eat--to be healthy. Seems everywhere there are strong opinions about what food or food group is THE Cause of All Disease and should be avoided at all costs. 

We've been told for years by "Them" that FAT in any form is EVIL. Fat makes us fat. Fat causes high cholesterol which causes heart disease and cancer and all other terrifying diseases. Fat is to be avoided. The food manufacturers do make plenty of fat replacements that are said to save us from ourselves without us having to change a single thing about how we eat. Funny thing is, we aren't getting thinner or healthier. In fact, we are getting fatter and sicker.

Then, there is the book "The China Study" that villianizes protein--especially animal protein. This book is the manifesto for vegetarians, vegans, rawfoodists, animal rights, and health gurus. The book uses epidemiological studies and animal lab studies to support it's supposition that protein causes all the "diseases of affluence" including but not limited to cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. The answer, it claims, is to avoid all animal proteins completely and keep protein intake to less than 10%. The fact that this manifesto has a thousand holes of logic only serves to endear it's followers rather than concern them.

On the other end of the spectrum are the followers of one Weston A. Price. Weston is the godfather of the Paleo Diet. Eat like a caveman and you avoid the dreaded diseases of affluence. What did cavemen eat? According to the Foundation, they ate animal protein, seafood, vegetables, fruits, and nuts. The Evil Food Group to be Avoided in this case is grains. Grains, to their thinking, are the source of obesity and sickness. They do not differentiate between whole grains and processed grains. All grains are evil. Period. End of subject.

Other groups single out sugar or fruit or dairy and the list goes on. Do a google search or browse your nearest book store shelves and you will come away very confused. Is there anything left that is safe to eat? How can we know which one of these gurus are correct? Who has the 411 on healthy eating?

The answer: no one. Yep. No one.

Nutrition science is young. Very young. We've been studying the stars much longer than we've been studying nutrition. The elements on the periodic table were identified long before vitamins. In fact, we are still discovering new vitamins all the time. You may have heard the term "phytochemicals" bantered about. That is a fancy term for "vitamins we haven't named yet or know much about yet". Truth is, there is far more we don't know about human nutrition than what we do know.

So, where does that leave us? Asking a lot of questions that have no answers. And a few that we do. Here's what I know about nutrition and healthy eating:
  • God designed us. He also created and designed the world around us and told us to eat thereof. Thus, natural food is what is best for our bodies.
  • God first told us to eat of the plants of the field. Thus, plants are a good thing. Eat plenty of them. Preferably, minus the man-made chemicals used in modern agribusiness. Grains are healthy as long as they aren't stripped nude of their bran.
  • God later okayed the eating of meat while giving some instructions on how to do so properly. Thus, eating meat is okay as long as we are mindful of what was important enough for God to make rules about (humane treatment for example).
  • God made milk and butter and cream and a marvelous thing called cheese. I am certain that after tasting blue cheese, He declared it "very good"!
  • God made the process we call fermentation which produces a food product that provides beneficial microbes that we need for the proper functioning of our immune systems. Fermented foods are a wonderful thing.
  • God did not make margarine. He did not make canola oil. He did not make GMO corn that makes corn oil. Artificial oils and fats are not healthy for our bodies. Fat is not evil--artificial fats are.
  • God did not make twinkies, doritos, HFCS, or WonderBread. Such things should never enter our bodies.
Ah! Look, there I go! Now I am the one setting a food group aside as the Evil that Causes All Disease. Well, not completely. Close, but not completely. Processed "pseudo" foods do make us sick. They play a huge role in both the growing obesity epidemic and the growing rates of heart disease and cancer. But, not everyone who eats them gets obese or cancer or heart disease. And, some who never eat them, do. And, those diseases existed prior to the advent of pseudo-foods. It just is not possible to make any one food or food group into the AntiChrist. Nutrition and health is far more complex than such a simplistic answer.

This journey I'm chronicling here is about using a specific diet to help me achieve health. Is it the only diet that can get me to that goal? I doubt it. Nor is it the sole answer for everyone everywhere. And, to be perfectly honest, I 've been doing a terrible job of sticking to it. It has been a struggle. I have pondered just giving up on the diet and the blog and "winging it". Failure would be much less embarrassing without an audience. Failure is much less noticable when we avoid the boundaries that a specific diet regimen sets up.

But, here is something else I have learned along the rocky road that has been my life: Stumbling and falling and sometimes crawling along on our knees doesn't have to be viewed as failure. Sometimes, it's just a part of the journey and nothing more than that. With the exception of Jesus Christ himself, I highly doubt that any of the heroes through the centuries were without a few blunders and outright screw-ups. I heard a saying once: what matters isn't that you fall six times that matters; what matters is that you get up seven times.

Never give up.

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