Jan 27, 2019
by Vesta Copestakes
We have been hearing it since we were kids, but does this dietary advice still hold up? With so much conflicting information about what is good for us to eat, it might be helpful to look at some of the basics.
If you read anything about current diet recommendations, there is directly contradictory advice about the proper mix of the primary different food components. Compare Pritiken (high protein/fat, low carb), paleo (high protein, low carb), vegan (no animal products, so lower protein and fat, higher carbs), and Mediterranean-- they all say different things.
Recommendations from conventional medical sources give advice like this: “A low-fat diet, vegetarian diet, DASH diet, and the Mediterranean diet are among the most commonly used diets to maintain good health, where weight loss is not necessarily the primary goal. All of these diets are associated with health benefits.” (from “Up to Date-- Healthy Diet in Adults”). Not very specific!
Probably, the reality is that the human body actually seems to be able to process an amazing variety of substances to make energy. People from very diverse settings are able to live long and active lives. From
hunter-gathers in the African savannahs eating mainly seeds and foraged foods, Native peoples in the Awho eat mainly fish and mammals with very rare plant material, and modern city-dwellers eating rich, processed foods —the human body seems capable of metabolizing these diverse substances to keep people reasonably healthy.
Yet research consistently shows that modern peoples that move away from foods high in saturated fat and heavy processing probably have
fewer problems with the common chronic diseases of our contemporary culture.
● Conventional medical recommendations are to consume 2.5 servings of vegetables and 2 servings of fruits daily for a 2000-calorie diet.
● Fruits and vegetables are a rich source of fiber and essential vitamins and minerals, as well as carbohydrates with a low glycemic index.
● Increased fruit and vegetable intake is associated with decreased risk for mortality, cardiovascular disease, and some cancers.
● Beneficial anti-oxidants, vitamins, and minerals can be found in high concentrations in fruits and vegetables.
● Increased fiber intake is associated with decreased risk in cardiovascular events, incidence of diabetes, and all-cause mortality.
● High vegetable and fruit intake seems to bring benefits to the “microbiome,” the bacteria that live in our guts.
Michael Pollan’s 2006 book, “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” examines diet from the perspective of food production and how we can eat well in modern society. Prior to modern technology, we ate mostly what was available in our region, in season, and with local preservation techniques. Now that the options are so vast, and with processing impacting what we put into our bodies, we have to make choices throughout the day based on taste, availability, and health.
His findings: “Eat food, not too much, and mostly plants.”
“Eat food” means to eat things as close to their natural state as possible. The other two recommendations are self-evident, although from his perspective, some meat (mainly as a side dish, not as the center of a meal) can be very good. Leafy vegetables are probably the best for you.
Some readers may be surprised to find that animal agriculture has a huge impact on greenhouse gas production, thus is a major contributor to climate change.
Today, a whopping 30% of Earth’s landmass goes to meat, dairy, and egg production, according to the United Nations. As the UN also reports, livestock production causes “an even larger contribution” to climate change “than the transportation sector worldwide.” That’s right: Factory farmed animals contribute more to climate change than all the world’s cars, trucks, trains, planes, and ships combined.
Since many of the solutions to the climate change problem require big infrastructure projects, the simple personal choice of shifting to a more plant-based diet could be an important place for us all to start.
So, it appears that our mothers and grandmothers were astonishingly correct when they pushed us to consume fruit and vegetables. Our personal health and the health of the planet appear to do better when we eat more veggies.
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