In last month’s column, titled Food Wars, I described how there is no one correct diet that fits everyone. If this is the case, how can someone determine what is the most beneficial way to eat? The first question to ask is “How’s that working for you?” – meaning what is the current state of your health? This is the best clue as to whether the foods that you are currently eating are helping or hurting you.
Healthy Person at Normal Weight
For those people without chronic health concerns and a normal body weight, then Michael Pollan’s recommendations are a good place to start. In the book In Defense of Food, Pollan suggests that we should: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
To “eat food” means to eat mostly whole foods that your grandmother would recognize as food, instead of pre-packaged processed food. In this way you will get the most nutrients and the least number of chemicals possible from your food.
“Not too much” means eating the amount of food that is appropriate for your activity level. Overindulging in large volumes of food of any type, especially those high in refined sugars, starches, and fats contributes to weight gain. Only world-class athletes require large amounts of calories on a daily basis. Most Americans are relatively sedentary today and therefore should not consume many high-calorie foods on a regular basis. Our metabolism slows through the aging process as well and scientists have estimated that the basal rate declines by about 2% per decade after age 20, and at a particularly rapid rate after age 50. Almost all people should eat slightly smaller amounts of food to avoid weight gain.
“Mostly plants” means to eat a large volume of plant foods. Vegetables are particularly good because of their lower amount of calories and greater amount of nutrients. One of the best ways to do this is to adopt the strategy of eating a large salad as a meal for either lunch or dinner. A study published in 2014 in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health found that eating seven or more servings of fruits and vegetables a day was correlated with a 42% reduction in the risk for premature death.
Overweight or obese
Unfortunately, many Americans are not in good health or at a normal body weight. About 70% adult Americans are currently overweight or obese. There have been numerous studies comparing low-carbohydrate with low-fat diets for weight loss, with conflicting results. Lower carbohydrate plans have been found to work best for most of those who are obese. The Standard American Diet often has 300 grams or more of carbohydrates per day and a low-carb diet is usually 100 grams or less. For people who have good blood sugar control and are not insulin resistant, a low-fat diet seems to be most effective for weight loss, according to Dr. Christopher Gardner of Stanford University. This diet restricts fats to 20% or less, but includes larger amounts of higher carbohydrate whole foods such as fruits, whole grains, beans and starchy vegetables.
Blood Sugar Issues
Almost 10% of the American population is diabetic and another 40% is pre-diabetic or has metabolic syndrome (high waist circumference, high triglycerides, low HDL cholesterol, hypertension). For these individuals a low-carbohydrate diet is best because it moderates the need for insulin and reduces blood glucose. This diet is moderate in protein, higher in good quality fats and low in starchy and sugary carbohydrates.
Autoimmune Conditions or Food Sensitivities
Food allergies or sensitivities are another factor to consider. About five percent of the population has IgE mediated food allergies and substantially more have food sensitivities or intolerances. Many autoimmune diseases have a food sensitivity component. Gluten (wheat) or dairy sensitivities, in particular, have been associated with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis as well as other autoimmune diseases. If you have any autoimmune condition, you should explore whether you have food allergies or sensitivities. If so, then completely eliminate those foods from your diet. Food sensitivities cause inflammation in the body. Eating these foods on a continual basis will enhance inflammation and disease processes.
How’s That Working for You?
The ultimate guide to any way of eating is how you feel on a daily basis. One suggestion is to periodically keep a food diary to see “how it’s working for you.” There should be no negative feelings at all after a meal or snack. Digestive symptoms such as belching, bloating, gas, constipation or diarrhea are clues that something in your diet is not ideal for you. Symptoms such as sleepiness, brain fog, or negative mood after a meal are also clues that the meal was not appropriate. Good energy, digestion and mental function are the consequence of eating a healthy, whole foods diet with the mixture of macro- and micro-nutrients that is best for the individual.
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.