We love food. LOVE it!
However, knowing what food is good for us, what is not-so-good for us, and all in between, can lead us to wade into the messy waters of dietary wars, leaving us confused, overwhelmed and deflated.
Fortunately, there are professionals who can investigate such conundrums for us, and it seems we may already understand what constitutes a ‘healthy’ diet.
Ascertaining the best diet for human health
Eating well is important, a critical lifestyle factor the determines short and long-term health outcomes, including quality of life. Yet globally, lifestyle-related chronic diseases become more prevalent and burdensome.
What then, is an optimal way of eating for the health of Homo Sapiens? To objectively answer the question, two researchers from Yale University undertook a review of popular healthy eating styles.1 This included low-carb, low-fat/vegetarian/vegan, low-GI, Mediterranean, mixed/balanced (e.g. DASH, DPP), and Palaeolithic.
When investigated and compared, the researchers narrowed in on the following dietary factors and reported the health benefits associated with each eating pattern:
Each type of diet claims health benefits, such as weight loss, lowering inflammation, and reducing the risk of chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and even cancer.
However, the authors note that rigorous, unbiased, long-term trials comparing any of the above dietary patterns do not exist. And to undertake such a trial would be really difficult!
Therefore, can we even say what type of diet is best for health?
The authors state: “If diet denotes a very specific set of rigid principles, then even this necessarily limited representation of a vast literature is more than sufficient to answer with a decisive no. If, however, by diet we mean a more general dietary pattern, a less rigid set of guiding principles, the answer reverts to an equally decisive yes.”1
So, what can be considered the ‘guiding principles’ to be born out of this review, to help us along our healthy eating journey?
Focus on the commonalities shared by all the diets. These are:
- To encourage consumption of minimally processed foods, as close to the original source as possible, and foods made up of these ingredients;
- To comprise mostly plant foods, and;
- If animal foods are consumed, then choose the best quality possible, as meat, poultry, eggs, dairy, and fish are all products of what they eat, live and breathe (just like humans).
Therefore, to promote health and prevent disease, quality counts – eating mostly plants and real and whole, or minimally processed, foods is the way to go.
By following these principles, in theory, we can cover the nutrient spectrum and feel more satisfied, leading us to eat less overall.
Choosing food that is local and seasonal has added benefit for the environment, too. Winning!
Wanting the best for us all
Food choice has a huge influence on health outcomes. Broadly, it seems we have the knowledge for how to eat well, but as a population we are finding it difficult to implement.
Efforts continue to find effective ways to educate and advise the general public on how to improve and support health through diet, yet placing the responsibility on the individual’s lap is difficult when education and so-called ‘willpower’ aside, we are all contending with a multitude of factors in our everyday lives that influence our food choice. This includes (but is not limited to) cost, time, access, cultural and societal norms, biological drives, and living in a world saturated with aggressive, persuasive marketing (and lobbying) from “Big Food”.
Perhaps first and foremost, we need to ensure we each listen to our bodies when we choose what we eat. The more finely tuned to our body’s signs and symptoms, the better equipped we are to make dietary choices that are right for us as an individual, at each stage of life.
When you start listening to your body, you will no doubt agree you will feel better after a few months eating real foods than after a few months of eating only Maccas (cue Morgan Spurlock) or a diet high in added sugars (cue Damon Gameau). You will also become sensitised not only to what you eat, but how and when you eat, feeling the effect from over-eating or eating too late at night, for example.
Cut the crap and just eat real foods!
Bottom line: eating mostly real foods means eating food that’s not been messed with, which messes with you and your body less.
Choosing to eat mostly food that is as close to its natural, original form, until the point when you are mostly full, may also mean you can quit over-analysing and counting the nutrient and kilojoule content. Instead, you can simply enjoy the goodness of nourishing, healthful food!
So, in conclusion: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.2
By Angela Johnson (BHSc Nut. Med)
- Katz, DL, & Meller, S 2014, ‘Can we say what diet is best for health?’, Annual Review of Public Health, vol. 35, pp. 83-103 21p.
- Pollan, M 2007, ‘Unhappy meals’, NY Times, viewed 28 July 2016, <http://www.nytimes.com/2007/01/28/magazine/28nutritionism.t.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0>