The question is: what foods would you eat if you were eating solely for optimal health?
Once upon a time, I thought the answer to that question was something that all medical and scientific experts agreed upon. I didn’t know the answer, but I would have guessed that it had something to do with the Food Pyramid and that it included words like “whole grain,” “low fat,” and “high fiber.” But then something funny happened. I lost a large amount of weight and found that, in order to keep it off, I couldn’t consume very much in the carbohydrate category. By this I mean bread, pasta and potatoes, often referred to as starchy foods. Yet when I looked at the Food Pyramid, I saw a recommendation that a significant portion of my daily intake should come from these types of foods.
This just didn’t make sense to me when I compared it to my first-hand experience, so I started to look elsewhere, hoping to find the answer to my nutritional dilemma. After four years, I’m still looking. It’s not that I can’t find any data on the optimal way to eat – there is almost too much data out there – but rather that I can’t find any agreement on the subject.
Among the voices shouting out are the traditionalists, advocating a “sensible” low fat approach with plentiful servings of whole grain carbs, the very diet by the way that seems to make me gain weight. Conversely, there is the low-carb crowd, some of whom are quite adamant that starchy foods, especially refined sugar and flour, are the foodstuffs of the devil. Another group of folks are proponents of ancestral eating, sometimes called Paleo or Primal, which is based on the idea that our digestive systems have not evolved as quickly as our technology and so we should continue to eat the way ancient humans ate. And I can’t leave out the supporters of a whole foods, organic, locavore way of eating that rejects all industrially processed edibles. Many of these ideas resonate with me, the low-carb thing for sure, but also the idea of eating real foods that have not had all of their nutrients manufactured out of them. Yet they can’t all be right.
As if all this isn’t confusing enough, we develop individual food religions as well. For example, my “no-sweet experiment.” It’s only been about a month since I started my little research project, but already I can feel the orthodoxy of it hardening around me. Just last weekend, I was at a birthday party and I agonized beforehand about whether I should eat a piece of birthday cake. Would it ruin my experiment? Would I bloat up overnight? And would eating it shatter my “no-sweet” integrity? All this over a piece of cake, for a concept that I MADE UP about a month ago.
I’ve come to the conclusion that no one really knows the right way for human beings to eat. What works for me, what keeps my weight low but also makes me feel good, is a low-fat, low-carb approach without too many sweets. If I can keep some perspective on that and not get too dogmatic, I think I’ll be okay.