Diet, one’s way of eating, is a major factor of everyday enjoyment, everyday fitness, the everyday ecology of our living at home in this world – and oh-so-many of the problems we increasingly face, in terms of the world’s ecological functioning for us as well as our own health and well-being.
The more important clear paths would be, the more we’ve been making the topic into a veritable jungle.
And so, even when it’s not the thicket of fad diets, all based on guilt trips about overeating and obesity, but the trails of nutritional systems that we look at, it seems impossible to decide what the best way of eating would be.
So much “food” all around, but not a morsel to eat without wondering…
Paleo seems to have a point when it comes to valuing (grass-fed beef, free-range chicken, etc.) animal fats and protein and, especially, avoiding refined sugars and industrially-processed foods, but often seems to turn into nothing much more than a defense of overly meat-based ways of eating.
Many traditional foodways are, whenever they can, quite focused on meat; the farther one goes towards the North, the more meat (and especially its fat) seems to play a role.
Vegetarianism and especially veganism haven’t hurt various of the top (endurance) athletes and are considerably more consistent in what is preferred and what is avoided than many other diets, but also too difficult and moralistic for many.
Then again, most traditional ways of eating have been based on grains, greens, and perhaps pulses; some are basically vegetarian – and the populations are still around.
As diets, both, like most such diets, are rather restrictive and inflexible.
On and on it goes.
Carbs or fat? Meat or no meat? Grains or no grains?
… and a Clearing
Meanwhile, there are a few patterns that seem quite constant – but they aren’t about these single substances and macronutrients we typically worry about:
For one, we human beings can get by on just about any diet, and be healthy with just about as many – except if a) there is too little diversity (typically, especially of greens) or b) there are (too many) industrially processed foods in that diet.
SAD/MAD, the “standard/modern American diet” (and one could speak of a ‘modern Western diet’, MWD… associations with WMDs very much on purpose), is clearly a sad affair, indeed. Far too many calories, but malnutrition nonetheless, as there is a lack of anything but calories (deftly covered by reference to nutrients with which the foods have been fortified, often enough turning what is actually a lack of nutrition into a selling point: “rich in Vitamin C [devoid of anything else but sugar]”).
Secondly, there is also a diversity of people. It is not only different places where we see different usual ways of eating, different people will also eat in (at least somewhat) different ways and have a (at least somewhat) different genetic makeup.
The value – or rather, lack thereof – of milk, for example, is hardly debatable when you have a population lacking lactase. Then, it will not be good. (And even as I know some of the reasons behind the push for milk consumption in China, why milk should be pushed on a population that is predominantly lactose intolerant is beyond me.)
At the same time, the “paleo” argument against milk is utterly unconvincing – European populations (and others, with different genetic changes responsible) clearly did evolve since their paleolithic times, and in such a way as to be able to digest milk even as adults. So, if you want to use evolution as argument… “got milk?”
Different groups, and different individuals, also show further diversity. Only because you’re of European descent, you aren’t necessarily able to digest milk. And even if you are, it might not be the best for you. I know that I don’t much care for it anymore.
So, there is no single perfect way of eating, because environments are different, people are different, and there simply is no perfect in nature (there are different and competing needs and concerns, after all, sufficient health for reproduction among them, but not perfect health and everlasting life).
So, What’s Good? For You?
What this means for the individual – for you – is that it’s you personally who has to find out what foods do you good and which ones don’t.
It’s not just about tastiness of foods, however, it is about their effect on well-being and functioning. Processed foods, junk food, and all that, provide quite the lesson on the difference between what feels good and what does good.
The body has a certain intelligence; the odd tastes/predilections that appear in certain phases of children’s development seem to be adaptive, for example. (A hankering for very sour tastes may come about because – at least when you don’t have candy lying about – that taste would be associated with vitamin-rich fruits and berries.)
It’s also an intelligence that was made for different (food) environments from those we now live in. Even if hunter-gatherers burn just as many calories as “modern” people leading sedentary lives, indicating that exercise will not make us thin (which is the wrong aim, anyways), there’s still a modern disconnect between lifestyles and bodily ‘food intelligence.’
Our bodies developed to give us a liking for salt, sugar, and fat, and processed and junk foods hook us by giving us a glut of these things. If we don’t (learn to) eat properly but rely on their goods, our tastes are shaped in ways that will see this glut as just normal, and even good, even as it will not do us good.
Real foods don’t come with the same labels suggesting their great properties, nor the convenience of just opening a package, having hardly anything to do but eat, but they help us develop our tastes, our bodily food intelligence, in the proper ways. (Bitter, I’ve found to be an excellent example.)
There’s not only this re-direction of body intelligence into the wrong paths.
Also, we live in stress and surrounded by (over)abundance, and our bodies react as they always have: by interpreting the signals they receive as indicators of trouble up ahead, meaning that fat reserves better be produced.
What a joke, then, that those most concerned about their diets and bodies typically answer such concern not by relaxing and finding pleasure in better – more diverse, better-experimented-with, and enjoyed, communal, slow – eating, but in stressing out about what they should eat, reducing and restricting their diets.
Not Diets. Life.
The perfect diet for you, aside from what you can find out, by experimenting, to be good or bad for you, because it makes you feel or get unwell, isn’t about what exactly you eat.
Maybe paleo is right and animal fats are great, but if you don’t like them, you shouldn’t force yourself to it. I can’t change to the supposedly more “naturally” human, paleo, way of eating a protein-rich breakfast. Bacon and/or eggs? I’d just be feeling sick.
For every day, anyways, one recommendation that should be made is for more vegetables:
They provide thousands of phytochemicals, which are natural plant compounds. Many are antioxidants, which seem to protect and repair our DNA. Some antioxidants appear to affect cancer cells, controlling how they grow or spread. The vitamins and minerals in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and beans also help produce and repair DNA and control cell growth.
Some foods can have a more direct effect on specific types of cancer. For instance, plant foods contain fiber, which seems to lower the risk of colon cancer.
There’s also an indirect benefit to eating whole foods that are low in fat. They tend to be less calorically dense, so we can fill up on them without getting so many calories.
And, if you don’t like any of them greens, I bet you just don’t know them prepared in good ways or don’t know more than 1% of all the different kinds that there’d be. That doesn’t mean you need to force yourself to become a vegetarian, though.
If you only subsist on processed and pre-prepared food products (including soda pop) rather than actual foods, though, then you shouldn’t wonder if there are problems with your health and fitness. If you feel that those are the only things that it’s a joy eating, you’ve let your taste buds and habits get co-opted by the industry, at the cost of your health and even the real pleasures that await.
Pleasure being the operant term. Forget about foods, at least of the real variety, that you’d be “guilty” to eat. There is bad eating, but there’s no “sin.”
What your perfect diet is about is eating, with the attention and enjoyment it deserves, in the diversity especially of plant foods and their micronutrients that will be good, in ways as traditional or international as you like and find to be good for you. With friends and family, perhaps at set times, as part of a way of living that is good, well-balanced, comfortable, diverse and expansive – but not expanding only stress and waistlines, toil and trouble.
Sorry I can’t give you the “this is it” that relieves you of all personal responsibility, takes away all the negative influences that impact on us, and gives you the outcome you desire without your having to do anything but buy what I offer. That’s how it is, though. Life, at home in this world, as the bodily beings we are.
It needs to be lived, fittingly for ourselves and our particular surroundings.