You should eat Paleo.
No, you should eat Vegan.
No, you should eat low carbohydrate Ketogenic.
No, you should eat vegetarian.
No, you should eat low fat, high carbohydrate.
Help! How do we know what to believe? These “food wars” have been going on for 2000 years. One of the earliest is recorded in the Bible. Jews of the first century had extremely strict dietary laws about what to eat and not eat. Some foods were declared “clean” and “unclean,” much as we hear today. In Acts 10: 13-15 God caused Peter to fall into a sleep and dream about a sheet descending with all kinds of birds, reptiles and mammals in it. “And there came a voice to him: ‘Rise Peter, kill and eat.’ … And the voice came to him again a second time, ‘What God has made clean do not call common.’ ” From this revelation the Christians of that time learned that all food was clean and given by God for nourishment.
In my nutrition courses at Hawthorn University I learned the same thing. All “real food” that is natural and not highly processed is good. Meat, fish, and eggs are not “unclean” as some vegans would claim. Nor are grains, dairy and legumes “unclean” as some Paleo followers would claim. On the other hand, highly processed food, which is full of man-made chemicals, GMOs, refined vegetable oils such as soy, corn or canola, and highly refined white sugar or flour, is not healthy for anyone in any significant amounts.
Native Diets Before Refined Foods
Weston Price, an American dentist, discovered this in the 1930s as he investigated the negative changes that took place in the health status of isolated native populations around the world when they began to eat a diet high in refined foods. The traditional diets of the healthy native populations varied greatly in types of food as well as macronutrient composition because people ate what was available in their local region. One extreme is the diet of traditional Inuit Eskimos, whose diet was 80% fat and contained very few carbohydrates due to the lack of vegetation in the Arctic. On the other end, the diet of the South Pacific Polynesians was up to 70% carbohydrate from taro, coconut and fruit. The common element among all of these ways of eating is that they were very low in added sugar and processed foods.
The amount and types of real food that any individual should eat will depend on his health history and current health status, as well as his or her genetic predispositions. A study published last September in the Journal of American Medical Association estimates that over 52% of the population over age 20 had either diabetes or pre-diabetes. Furthermore, 71% of the adult population is either overweight or obese based on BMI (Body Mass Index). If you are overweight, have diabetes, pre-diabetes, cancer history, or heart problems, you definitely should keep the added sugars, refined vegetable oils and processed foods in your diet as low as possible.
I recently read the book Fat Chance by Robert Lustig, M.D., a pediatric endocrinologist whose YouTube video, Sugar, the Bitter Truth, has more than 6.6 million views and explains what sugar does in our body. The book explains that low-carb and low-fat diets can both be appropriate for different people. The Ornish diet, the China Syndrome/Colin Campbell diet, and the traditional Japanese diet severely restrict added sugars. They are all low fat diets but are higher in carbohydrates. The Atkins diet, the Ketogenic diet, and many versions of the Paleo diet restrict added sugars as well, but also restrict other complex carbohydrates such as grains and sometimes starchy vegetables. These diets are relatively high in fat and lower in carbohydrates.
Both low-fat and low-carb diets have been effective for weight loss, blood glucose control, and heart health. How is this possible since they are diametrically opposed?
Fat Chance explains it well. Naturally occurring foods contain primarily fats or carbohydrates, but not both. Nuts and avocados are exceptions, but these are relatively lower in carbohydrates and also higher in fiber which slows down the absorption of the carbohydrates. The other exception is milk, but historically most cultures, unlike modern-day America, do not drink much fluid milk after childhood.
In the 17th century, Western cultures became “gourmet” and started eating fats and carbohydrates in the same meal, eventually eating fats and carbohydrates in the same food. This is the curse of processed foods. Think about cake, cookies, doughnuts, ice cream, potato chips. Each of these is both high in fat and high in carbohydrates.
All of the successful and nutritious whole foods diets, whether low-carb, low-fat or somewhere in between, are low in sugar, high in fiber and serve any fats and carbohydrates eaten in the same meal with off-setting fiber. Some nutritious examples would be a large salad (carb with fiber) with olive oil dressing, or an apple with almond butter. As the fruits and starchy carbohydrates in the diet are increased, the fats need to decrease and vice versa. At one extreme, the Ornish Diet is about 70% carbs and 10% fat. At the other extreme, a Ketogenic diet is often 70-80% fat and 10-15% carbs. Many other eating plans fall somewhere in the middle.
How to choose? Remember that none of these diets works equally well for each person. So first consider your personal food preferences and current health status. Then, if needed, work with a nutritional professional to determine the best eating plan for you given your current health status.
Next month’s column will offer some general guidelines to figure this out for yourself.
Source: Lustig, Robert H., M.D., (2013). Fat Chance. New York: Hudson Street Press.
Ginger Hudock is a holistic nutrition consultant in Aiken, SC. Her business, Nutrition with Ginger, helps clients discover the power of personalized, whole foods nutrition to prevent and heal from many chronic health concerns, especially food allergies and sensitivities. She is a graduate of the Nutrition Consultant Program at Hawthorn University and is also a Certi ed Gluten Practitioner. Prior to beginning her career in nutrition, Ginger was an educator and college administrator for thirty years, most recently as the Vice Chancellor for Business and Finance at USC Aiken. To sign up for nutrition consultation sessions or her newsletter and blog where she gives more nutrition news and recipes, visit Ginger’s website at www.NutritionwithGinger.net, or call 803-640-4381.