For almost three years, I reviewed literature on nutrition. Is whole grain the staff of life or can it damage the brain or the gut? Is wheat a particularly scary bogeyman or not? Is eating an egg really as bad as smoking a cigarette? What about meat? Dairy? Fish? Soy?
My intention was to ferret out the information we needed to decide which of these foods were right for us.
In 1960, the United States was 16th in life expectancy compared to 191 other countries worldwide. Today, we rank 42nd. We're at a turning point where children being born in the United States are the first generation whose life span is on track to be shorter than that of their parents.
One single medical recommendation — to eat low-fat foods — spawned a high-carb feeding frenzy that may be the single most expensive mistake, in terms of both human suffering and economics, ever made in the name of evidence-based medicine.
So in a world with an overflow of dietary instruction, what's a body to do and who should we believe? Here are some tips that anyone can follow, no matter your food preferences, dietary restrictions or health issues:
1. Nix fake foods.
It's time to call off our national love affair with "crap carbs," as well as toxin-laden fast foods. Eat whole foods, organic when you can. For a list of the most important foods to buy organic, check out the Environmental Working Group's 2014 list of the Dirty Dozen Plus (pesticide ridden crops) and Clean Fifteen (conventionally grown produce with low pesticide residues). You can download an app to take with you while you shop.
2. Eat at least one pound a day of vegetables and fruits daily.
Produce is rich in fiber and is a prebiotic (food that your probiotics — the good gut bacteria — need to thrive). When your bacteria are happy, you are too since they manufacture the lion's share of your neurotransmitters.
A big salad for lunch and snacks like celery with nut butter or soft cheese, carrots and sliced apples can easily get you there. Try protein-infused stir fry for dinner (tempe or tofu for vegetarians, fish, poultry or meat for omnivores).
3. Say no to bad fat and yes to good fat.
Since many toxins are fat soluble, make sure the fats and oils you eat are organic. Fats like omega-3 fatty acids found in certain fish and flax seed oil, virgin organic coconut oil and grass-fed meat are good fats, as are olive and avocado oil. Omega-6 fatty acids from polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs) — while good in small amounts — are over-represented in the American diet.
On average we eat a whopping 75 pounds a year of this stuff, whereas our ancestors ate about one pound annually. Safflower, sunflower, soybean and grapeseed oils (along with other PUFAs) are inflammatory in excess. Unless they're cold-pressed and organic, the fats are frequently oxidized and dangerous to eat
4. Eat a carb-reasonable diet.
Some folks can metabolize boatloads of carbohydrates without becoming insulin resistant. Other people have to cut out almost every last carb from their diet to lose weight, correct type 2 diabetes and stave off other chronic diseases. Insulin sensitivity is the most important consideration in choosing the right diet for your metabolism. See your doc and ask for these tests to suss out your insulin sensitivity: fasting blood glucose, fasting insulin level, HbA1c, and an NMR (nuclear magnetic resonance lipid profile- Liposcience has a good one). The latter test provides a numeric score of your insulin sensitivity. The more insulin resistant you are the fewer carbs you can eat.
5. Personalize diet for your unique metabolism.
There is no one size fits all diet no matter what people claim, and they claim a lot of very crazy things.
A diet rich in vegetables and at least some fruit is good for almost everyone. But it doesn't have to be — and in many cases, shouldn't be — all we eat. Whether you're one of the 0.5 percent of Americans who prefer to be vegans, the 3.2 percent who are vegetarians or a member of the omnivorous majority, a diet based on whole, unprocessed foods with lots of nutrient-rich, calorie-sparse vegetables is a good starting point.
Personalizing your diet is an art based on keeping track of your food, mood, weight, medical symptoms and medical tests.
No matter what diet is right for you, eating it ought to be a pleasure. No one gives up what they love for something that tastes worse. So get thee to a farmer's market, choose what's fresh and use your imagination to create meals with pizzazz that can feed you and your family more than once.
The kitchen and sitting together at the table can do more than regularize your metabolism and stave off chronic illness. Cooking can reduce your stress, save you money and create sweet connection with the people you love.
Photo Credit: Stocksy