I was interested to see research reported today that claims the Paleo diet is bad for you. It made me think about how many times researchers have given me dietary advice that was later disproven.
At various times in my life, all of the following have been ‘healthy’ or ‘unhealthy’ based on scientific studies: eggs, milk, chocolate, cheese, wine, red meat, fish, butter, margarine, nuts, refined flour, whole grain foods, brown rice, white rice, fruit juice, protein bars, vitamin supplements, not drinking enough water, drinking too much water, chillies, garlic and other alums, tomatoes and other nightshade vegetables, saliva (okay, that last one is a joke). There seems to have been consistent advice on refined sugar but the jury is out of fruit. For goodness sake!
My friend Cat gives the best dietary advice; figure out what works for your body. Limit processed food. That’s it.
I think it’s great advice because it acknowledges what we all know; what works for us might not be what works for someone else.
I’m over scientists telling me what’s ‘healthy’. The trouble with categorising food as either healthy or unhealthy is that it’s misleading. No food all on its own is healthy. Apples will kill you if that’s all you ever eat! Humans need to eat a diverse diet containing a range of different foods. From now on I’m focusing on what’s nutritious and nourishing.
My other difficulty with food research is that it’s such a blunt instrument. Red meat was ‘proven’ to be bad for us but the research was done using grain fed, factory farmed meat. It turns out that grass fed meat has a completely different nutritional profile. In particular, the omega 3 and omega 6 balance is way out in grain fed meat and this would explain the research results. Often it’s not just what we eat, but the origin of what we eat that matters.
The most common group of human subjects for researchers are college and university students. They like to use young men because then they don’t get the variations caused by female hormonal cycles. I don’t know about you but my diet and lifestyle are about as different to that of an average college student as chalk is to biodynamic, ethically farmed cheese. Even when researchers use a community based control group I know that the kind of variation I can see in the crowd at the local shopping centre means that very few of the subjects are going to have very much in common with me.
So I’m taking Cat’s advice and focusing on what works for my body.
Because I garden I have the luxury of wandering around with a basket every afternoon and deciding what’s going into my dinner that night. It’s interesting that some days I really feel like tomatoes and others I want lots of leafy greens. Is this my body telling me what it needs or just a human desire for variety? I don’t know. I don’t subscribe to the notion that a craving equals a need because I sometimes crave sweet things and experience has taught me this is a sure sign that I’m tired rather than desperately in need of a kick in the blood sugar.
My best response to a sugar craving is something high in protein and an early night.
Because I now fast regularly I’ve become really aware of my reaction to the first thing I eat after fasting. Food with gluten in it makes my tummy bloat. When you’ve got no breasts this is really obvious! I’m eating much less gluten.
I’ve also found that fasting seems to have substantially reduced my cravings for sweet things. It’s likely that the gut flora that tricks my brain into wanting sugar has been killed off or significantly reduced by fasting. I really can make it all the way down the biscuit aisle at the supermarket without reaching for the tim tams. This is both surprising and joyful.
I know that the way my body looks and feels is a direct consequence of the choices I make. If I gain a few kilos I know why. If I want to drop a few kilos I know how. I recognise that keeping my body at a healthy weight will help me to live a longer, happier life. It seems that’s true for everyone, not just cancer survivors.
I also like to consider the broader impact of the choices I make. Organic food isn’t just better for my body, it’s better for the planet. Growing some of my own food means I don’t need to get in a car and drive anywhere to be able to put dinner on the table. Eating more vegetables and less meat makes environmental and dietary sense.
This is what works for me. It might not be what works for you. By all means try some of the different diets if they appeal to you but I’d also encourage you to be prepared to abandon them if you’re not feeling great. I love The Fast Diet. I’ve lost loads of excess weight, re-established a healthy relationship with food and beaten my cravings. There’s no question that I’m healthy because of it and the research would suggest that it’s helping me to avoid cancer.
But it might make you miserable. If it does, find something that works for you.