Last year, an article entitled “Can We Say What Diet is Best for Health?” was published in the scientific literature, and James Hamblin wrote a story about it for the Atlantic. He called it “Science Compared Every Diet, and the Winner is Real Food.” You know, I would have edited out the word “Real” and then called it, simply, “Food.” The original article was written by David Katz and Stephanie Meller, of Yale School of Public Health.
Like a presentation I have given multiple times in recent years, the article compared several popular diets, including low-carb, low-fat, low-glycemic, Mediterranean, DASH, Paleolithic, vegan, and others. It concluded that “A diet of minimally processed foods close to nature, predominantly plants, is decisively associated with health promotion and disease prevention.” It reminded me of Michael Pollan’s conclusion: “Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much.”
While most everyone else continues to sink more deeply into their own particular corner of the ring, arguing ever more fiercely about what constitutes a healthy diet, an increasing minority are coming to a different and single common conclusion: Restrict your carbohydrate intake to INTACT carbs, and your fat intake to NUTRITIOUS fats, and your protein intake to HIGH-QUALITY protein, and you can expect your skin to begin to shine within just a few days. Your pants will fit better in two weeks. Your energy level will improve dramatically. Your double chin will begin to shrink away almost immediately, so quickly that your friends and co-workers will cock their heads sideways and ask, “what are you doing differently?” Finally, and quite significantly from this doctor’s point of view, your risk of chronic disease will fall by up to 80%. It hardly matters what you call this diet. Here are the basics:
1) An intact carb is one whose fiber matrix is intact. There are four kinds: vegetables, beans, fruits and whole grains. If a carb’s fiber matrix is stripped away, it is a stripped carb. The most important examples of stripped carbs are white flour, corn starch and syrup, white rice, sugar, and fruit juice. Don’t eat those if you don’t have to. Be “carbohydrate selective.” Don’t worry about the glycemic index; it pretty much becomes a non-issue when you avoid stripped carbs.
2) Nutritious fat sources include avocados, olives and olive oil, nuts, dark chocolate, fish, tofu, and the like. There may be more, but for the meanwhile we can all agree on these. Stay away from any fat that was invented in the 20th century, and don’t buy any so-called “food” with the word “hydrogenated” in the ingredient list. If we stop buying it, they will probably stop making it.
3) Beans, including peanuts, are the most inexpensive and underutilized source of high-quality protein. They happen to be the rare foodstuff that is a rich source of both protein and fiber. In addition, if you are not vegetarian or vegan, you can also obtain high-quality protein from fish, poultry and their eggs, or certain kinds of meats, as long as they themselves were raised on a nutritious diet of whole intact carbs such as grass or phytoplankton or whole grains, as well as bugs and worms (in the case of poultry) where those, too, have been a significant part of their diet for thousands of years. If, on the other hand, you eat processed or industrial protein sources, you are just concentrating the substandard diet of those animals straight up the food chain. Into you.
David Katz says that “…We’re paying for ignorance with human lives…” If you remember nothing else, remember this: “If you focus on real [sic] food, nutrients tend to take care of themselves.”