What’s the Best Way to Eat?

An article entitled Can We Say What Diet is Best for Health? by David Katz and Stephanie Meller, from Yale’s School of Public Health, was published in the Annual Review of Public Health a few years ago. A story about the article was published in the Atlantic by James Hamblin, who called it Science Compared Every Diet, and the Winner is Real Food. I would have edited out the word “Real” and simply called it “Food.” Then I might have presented a review of the differences between Food (With a Capital F) and manufactured calories.

Like a presentation I give from time to time, Katz and Meller compared a number of popular diets, including low-carb, low-fat, low-glycemic, Mediterranean, DASH, Paleolithic, and vegan, among others. They concluded that “A diet of minimally processed foods close to nature, predominantly plants, is decisively associated with health promotion and disease prevention.”  Michael Pollan said it in just seven words: “Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much.”

While the fight continues about the precise components of the healthiest diet, Katz, Meller, Pollan, and Sukol have reached the same conclusion: If you restrict your carbohydrate intake to intact carbs, and your fat intake to nourishing fats, and your protein to high-quality protein, your double chin will begin to shrink away almost immediately, you skin will begin to shine in just a few days, your pants will fit better in two weeks, and your energy level will improve dramatically. Your risk of chronic disease, including heart disease, diabetes, strokes, and many types of cancer, will fall by up to eighty percent. It doesn’t matter what you call the diet as long as you eat real food.

Here are a few definitions to help you:

1) An intact carb refers to any and all vegetables, beans, fruits and whole grains with an intact fiber matrix. If a carb has had its fiber matrix stripped away, it becomes a stripped carb. The most important examples of stripped carbs in the American diet are white flour, corn starch and corn syrup, white rice, and sugar. These carbs have had their fiber matrix and phytonutrients stripped away. It’s not a coincidence that white flour looks exactly like corn starch and powdered sugar. The original identity of the food has been stripped away, and all that’s left is a pile of white powder. Be “carb selective,” and don’t eat stripped carbs if you don’t have to. Don’t worry about the glycemic index; it becomes a non-issue when you avoid stripped carbs.

2) Nourishing fat sources include avocados, olives and olive oil, nuts, seeds, dark chocolate, and deep-sea fatty fish. There may be more, but for the meanwhile these are the ones that most of us agree on. Stay away from ultra-processed fats that were invented in the 20th century, and don’t buy any so-called “food” with the word “hydrogenated” in the ingredient list. Vote with your wallet: if you stop buying it, there’s a good chance that they will stop making it.

3) No matter what other kinds of protein you eat, high-quality protein includes beans (peanuts are a bean, too). Chickpeas, lentils, tofu, pulses, legumes. Many cultures consider beans to be magic, probably because they happen to have the rare quality of being rich in both protein and fiber at the same time. If you desire, you can also obtain high-quality protein from fish, poultry, eggs, dairy, and certain meats, as long as they themselves were raised on a nourishing diet, such as grass (cows and steer), phytoplankton (fish), or bugs and worms (poultry), where those food sources have been a significant part of their diet for thousands of years. On the other hand, when you eat highly processed or industrially-based protein of lesser quality, you are just concentrating low-quality food up the food chain. Straight into you.

David Katz says that “…We’re paying for ignorance with human lives…” and “…With [the] knowledge already at our disposal, we could eliminate eighty percent of chronic disease…”

If you remember just one thing from this post, remember this: “If you focus on real food, nutrients tend to take care of themselves.”


YOUR HEALTHY PLATE: Lovely, Lovely Legumes

Many years ago, my then-vegetarian sister had a boyfriend whose mother served her “bean loaf” on her first visit to their home. Its dreadful and unappetizing name was nothing like its fabulous flavor. So we renamed it “chickpea pie,” and it ended up sticking around for much longer than the vegetarianism. And the boyfriend. Continue reading