Am I the only one or does it seem like everywhere you turn these days there is conflicting information about what’s best to eat? One minute cholesterol and saturated fat are believed to be leading causes of heart disease, and the next Time has a cover article titled, “Butter is Back.”
We grow up believing that animal meat is a healthy source of protein, and then hear about a new study from the World Health Organization saying that processed meats cause cancer. It's no wonder people are confused about food and nutrition.
So how do we clear all this up? What are the healthiest foods to eat so we can live life feeling better, having more energy to do what we love, and avoiding debilitating chronic diseases?
1. Study populations that are healthy and take a look at what they're eating.
If you look at different cultures or regions, you will see some obvious health patterns, as reported by Dan Buettner’s discoveries in his book Blue Zone Solutions.
In five different parts of the world, coined Blue Zones, people are not only living longer, they are thriving in their 90s and there are a disproportionate number of centenarians.
Buettner looked into what these Blue Zone regions are doing differently when it comes to diet. What is their secret sauce? What can we learn from them to incorporate into our lives and eating habits?
In Blue Zone regions:
- They eat more fruits and vegetables and very low amounts of meat (on average five times per month).
- When they eat animal protein, it's not processed lunch meat.
- They don’t eat processed foods or foods high in refined sugar.
In short, their diet is typically much more plant-based. They get lots of fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytochemicals in their diet from fruits and vegetables.
I think it's an amazing testament to how well the body can perform if you feed it nutrient-dense foods. Not only can you live longer and prevent chronic disease, you can thrive well into your later years.
2. Look at what's not working.
One common-sense way to cut through the noise is to look at what is clearly not working. For example, countries like the U.S. and others consuming a Western diet are seeing alarming increases in chronic disease rates, diseases like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.
The Standard American Diet (SAD), primarily comprised of processed foods, meat, dairy products, and refined sugar, is wreaking havoc on our health.
Never before in America have we seen so many children under the age of 12 who are obese and at risk of getting type-2 diabetes. Now that is SAD.
Chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes and heart disease are lifestyle diseases that are absolutely preventable. People have almost been programmed to accept that as we age we will get heart disease or cancer.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Many chronic diseases are absolutely preventable. For example, consuming foods high in cholesterol and saturated fat are leading contributors to heart disease. Where are cholesterol and saturated fat found?
Primarily in animal products like meat and dairy.
I love what renowned cardiologist Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn says: “If the truth be known, coronary artery disease is a toothless paper tiger that need never ever exist and if it does exist it need never ever progress.”
In other words, due to misinformation or our own lack of awareness, we are causing many chronic diseases ourselves. We can prevent and even reverse deadly chronic diseases with food.
3. Take a look at credible scientific studies.
What is the scientific evidence behind a particular health claim? Everyone has an opinion about what's healthy, but where's the science to back it up?
It is important to learn how to discern between honest studies and studies that are funded by companies or industries with a strong bias or agenda.
This isn't an area where you want to be naïve, and it often takes some digging to uncover how the study was designed and who funded it.
The tobacco industry actually funded some studies that revealed that smoking was good for you. Imagine that.
Learning how to ignore bogus studies and pay attention to credible studies is absolutely critical. Some great studies that look at very large patient populations over extended periods of time and explore the link between diet and disease are the EPIC study and the China Study.
Both of these studies showed strong evidence of the benefits of a whole-foods, plant-based diet.
Ultimately, we have to lean on the scientific evidence to get the answers about food choices that will lead to optimal health. The really good news in all this? Our health is very strongly tied to the food we eat.
We have so much more power than we ever realized to control our health destinies through diet and food choices.