What Should I Eat?
Christmas is over and the New Year is upon us, bringing with it the annual profusion of “healthy” recipes. Clever marketeers prey on your lingering sense of guilt from any holiday over-indulgences with recipes or food products boasting to be gluten-free, dairy-free, sugar-free, low carb, low GI, vegetarian, vegan or paleo-friendly. I have nothing against any of these food types or diets, but it is when people slap the word “healthy” in front of them that I start to get irritated.
Referring to a dish as “healthy, gluten and diary free” implies (or can certainly be construed to imply) that gluten and dairy are unhealthy. If you have coeliac disease or a gluten intolerance then yes, gluten is not good for you. However, for the vast majority who are not afflicted with these conditions, implying that gluten is not good for you is, in itself, unhealthy as it compounds confusion around what we should and should not eat. Thanks to conflicting research, sponsor-biased research, lobbying by food producers and celebrity endorsements of niche diets, the general masses are genuinely confused about what to eat.
Worldwide, governments are struggling with their “healthy eating” guidelines. It is easy to see why. No matter what food product or diet you pick you will find research that proves it’s good for you and conflicting research that proves it’s bad for you. Alcohol is bad for you. A glass of wine a day helps lower your cholesterol. Coffee is bad for you. Drinking coffee helps prevent diabetes. Meat is bad Meat is good. Every day a new research paper disproves one that went before. Trying to keep up is nauseating.
Then there is the problem of industry funded research. Marion Nestle, Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health at New York University and a prominent food writer and activist, has been tracking the results of industry funded research since March of this year. She has now clearly demonstrated that the results of these studies almost invariably favour the sponsor. The most infamous study was that, sponsored by Coca-Cola, which found that the key to reducing obesity was to take more exercise, not to reduce calorie intake. Due to an enormous media backlash Coca-Cola withdrew their funding and the research group shut down.
So what should you eat? I have always made a point on this blog of not offering any nutritional or diet advice. I have shared my food principles and write about my various efforts to live those principles. They are principles I have believed for many years but that were shaped and reinforced by Michael Pollan’s brilliant book, In Defense of Food. In the book, Pollan distils all the conflicting advice into one simple rule – Eat food, not too much, mostly plants. He distinguishes “food” from what he terms “edible food-like substances” – those highly processed food products that flood the supermarket shelves – and advocates making your food from scratch as much as possible. He prescribes everything in moderation – including moderation. Pollan recognises that most of us can’t afford the time to avoid processed foods completely, but suggests we become more conscious of our food decisions.
I was delighted to read recently that Pollan’s book has now been made into a documentary, helping his message reach a wider audience. The show airs on PBS tomorrow Dec. 30th at 9:00 pm (Eastern – check local listings). I am not affiliated with Michael Pollan or PBS in any way, but I do recommend watching the show. If it’s anything like the book, it will be two hours well spent and may help answer the question “What should I eat?”
Disclaimer: As mentioned above, I am not affiliated with Michael Pollan or PBS and this is not a sponsored post. However, should you purchase the book In Defense of Food via the links on this site I will receive a very small commission.
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