Not only are we more politically divided than ever, we are in regards to our diets as well. There’s the Keto Diet (high fat, low carbs), the Dubrow Diet (intermittent fasting), the Carnivore/Paleo Diet (meat only, or mostly meat), the Mediterranean Diet (healthy fats and whole grains), the Flexitarian (mostly veg, with meat when you crave it), and Vegan (no meat or animal by-products). And that’s just the tip of the iceberg lettuce.
For the most part, I’ve ignored diet fads, striving for moderation instead. This isn’t to say that I haven’t looked at my eating habits, I have, or that I haven’t tried a few (raw foodist and vegetarian in my late 20s). I dabbled briefly with a low-carb diet until a family friend said, “Whatever you’re doing, stop it, you don’t look good.” I think I got too skinny, and honestly, that diet wasn’t going to work for a carb-lover like me.
For six years I didn’t eat pork because after my partner-at-the-time read The Okinawan Diet (or something like that), he was convinced that many of the longest living people around the world do not eat pork. And as an American Southerner (the South is famous for deep fried and pork products), this was a fairly big deal for him, but we did it.
A little about my health
Just to give you a brief background, I’ve been very lucky. I’ve always been slim and never had any serious health problems. However, I’m 47, and my partner will be 55 this year. Our friend, who was only 49, died unexpectedly in his apt a few months ago, of a stroke brought about by runaway high blood pressure. We’re surrounded by a myriad of friends and family who had or who are fighting cancer, weight issues, or heart problems, and we know how you look on the outside is not necessarily an indication of what’s going on inside.
A couple months ago I had a particularly bad case of food poisoning (very common in Thailand) from questionable meat, and this coincided with the BF watching the documentary, Game Changers, which is about the benefits of a plant-based diet for athletes. [He then went on to binge watch Forks Over Knives and other similar films.] He decided he wanted to experiment with a vegan diet, and after I said, ‘okay’, he laughed because he expected me to put up a fight.
It works for us because I’ve been cooking mainly vegetarian for over 15 years. I like to eat (you really can stuff yourself when you’re eating low-cal foods), and I like to try new things. But don’t worry, I’m not here to convert you.
What I’ve learned so far
As I dived into food research (you know, how to make vegan chocolate chip cookies), I noticed how EVERY DIET claims to help you lose weight, lower your blood pressure, and get rid of Type 2 Diabetes. And not only that, some folks were vehement about their dietary beliefs, hence, my comparison with politics.
I mean, hello, there’s the Carnivore Diet. So not only do we have extremes on the food spectrum, we have all sorts of “doctors” and “sources” and “research” to tell you why their diet is the best. But this should come as no surprise as the diet and weight loss industry in the U.S. “grew at an estimated 4.1% in 2018, from $69.8 billion to $72.7 billion. The total market is forecast to grow 2.6% annually through 2023.” And “prescription obesity drugs is a $655 million market”.
But let me return to the research I’ve been doing, because it’s quite simple. I look up the nutritional content of fruits and vegetables, food we eat. That’s it. What this has taught me is that whole foods, simple foods are chock full of amazing antioxidants, and crazy amounts of vitamins and minerals.
You can look up what you eat for yourself, and see how well you are doing. You can learn which foods are fortified or injected with vitamins, and which ones naturally have C or protein. It’s like falling in love with fruits and veggies again (or for the first time).
Our diets give us an area of our lives that we can control in a world that is very much outside of it.
Perhaps that is why there are battles on what you should and shouldn’t eat. Not only are industries fighting for your money, they want to take some control out of your hands, too. After all, don’t we all enjoy getting out of the driver’s seat from time to time? Tell me what I can eat. Give me the research that tells me that I can eat all the bacon and eggs I want. Or butter.
But I also learned that in medical school would-be doctors NEVER take a class in nutrition. I suppose it makes sense given how much modern medicine is focused on managing diseases (hello big pharm) or killing cancer rather than preventing cancer or Type 2 Diabetes in the first place. This reminded me of when I was a sprout in college, and one of my professors told us that they never took a class on how to teach. At the time, I was gobsmacked, now I’m cynical.
War on Information
Right now, there’s a battle regarding what the dietary guidelines from the USDA in 2020 will say. Apparently this fight for control started back in 2015 when Congress decided not to ‘muddy the waters’ by including a UN report about the impact the cattle industry is having on the environment. This UN report is something they will also be neglecting to look at this year because of a specially tailored law that Congress passed back then.
It makes my head spin, researching the whys, but from what I gather they decided to focus on the health aspects of food, not the environmental issues related to it.
The business of sugar, however, was upset in 2015 when the USDA recommended a restricted intake of sugar. Interestingly, five years ago, two out of the 12 members of the committee who created the dietary guidelines had ties to the food industry. This is in stark contrast to this year’s whopping thirteen out of 20. Instead of scientists and health experts recommending what we eat for our health, industry representatives are fighting to keep their products on the plate.
And if that wasn’t enough to ring the cow bell, the USDA will only be looking at their own scientific data, discounting anyone else’s. The argument is that the government has their own standardized resources and process. Of course, on the other side of the aisle, the scientific community feels as though their research and knowledge will not be brought to the table.
Something sure does smell fishy…
*I tried to summarize the key points about this issue. The references I made can be found here. Warning: it’s a long article.
What happen to the Hippocratic Oath?
Decades ago, I remember learning how the news and media industries were controlled by a handful of conglomerates. This made me question ‘hidden agendas’ and look for biases. When I read the news, I read critically and almost never take something at face value. I guess I was ahead of my time (or a good student) because now everyone is talking about conservative versus liberal news, and fake news, all of which continue to confuse and frustrate readers from gaining some understanding of the truth.
However, these days, it’s the scientific sources under fire, as in, not only do we have to wonder what filter or spin a news article has, but where did they get their information from. And I’m not even talking about cherry-picking, or cropping a photo, or video manipulation, I’m talking about SCIENCE.
On my first day of statistics class, our teacher told us that all data can be manipulated through statistics. Great. Another hurdle. It used to be Bible quotes were used to give credibility to this or that idea, but now it’s pseudo-science, statistics, and studies. Using religion for personal gain and purposes was bad enough, but somehow the realm of science, which is supposed to be grounded in scientific observation, you know, PROOF, adds another layer to the shit pie we’re consuming.
“More shit pie?”
“Oh, yes. Shit pie is my favorite. Mmmm.”
The red meat debate
Okay. Is red meat alright or not? A google search for ‘the red meat debate’ gives us 30 million results. I think this recent question submitted to Harvard Health Publishing says it best:
But just in case you don’t believe it’s a controversial issue, consider these headlines:
- Inverse – 4 blind spots in the confusing debate about meat: get ready to be grilled
- The Atlantic – The Actual Reason Meat Is Not Healthy: Nutrition studies leave out a crucial factor.
- The Washington Post – A study says full speed ahead on processed and red meat consumption. Nutrition scientists say not so fast.
- WebMD Health News – Controversial Studies Say It’s OK to Eat Red Meat
In short, well-circulated publications like Time magazine ran articles that said, yes, red meat is a-okay! Then the scientific community went bonkers over the legitimacy of the studies. It turns out the funding for this research was provided by the meat industry. Tah-da!
But is the damage already done? There are hardcore believers that meat consumption is not only delicious, but safe, and perfectly fine in generous quantities. High fat is high fun!
Yet, despite the fact that the U.S. News and World Report has ranked the Keto diet as one of the worst diets to follow, for like three years in a row, it’s one of the most popular, if not, the most popular in America. Even more crazy are the short-term side effects like bad breath, strange smelling urine, and flu-like symptoms. (I’ll take the occasional bloating from a high fiber diet any day over that!)
This CNN Health article painted an interesting picture of how diets like Atkins or the South Beach (same as Keto essentially) have re-branded themselves in an effort to stay appealing in the diet world. So, why is it popular? And despite the landslide of evidence that scientists, doctors, and nutritionists have told us about “eating your fruits and vegetables”, why do folks insist on eating towards an early grave?
I suppose for the same reason why folks smoke or drink. It won’t happen to me. I don’t care. Also, we’ve been lied to, and I know that sounds like I’m into conspiracy theories, but advertisements have only gotten better. Remember when doctors recommended smoking? There’s SO much information, as well, and I fear it’s easy for us to get lazy, scan a headline, and call it a day.
but we already knew that. We know that a bag of Cheetos is less healthy than a bowl of cut fruit. I remember when people starting telling me that fruit was bad because of all the sugar it had. This went against every inch of common sense in my body and brain. The short of it though is it’s always better to eat fruit in it’s natural state (as opposed to processed), and while fruit is sweet, it’s loaded with fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals.
I get it though, nobody wants to eat their fruits and vegetables. Nobody wants to hear about steak and ice cream causing inflammation which help cancers form and grow. We’re a species that wants to look slim and beautiful now. We want to eat whatever we want. We ignore the bad stuff because we feel powerless to change any of it. There are no guarantees in life. Some folks have smoked cigarettes all their lives seem fine, and the healthiest folks can get really sick and die.
The good news
So how are we supposed to know? How is the public going to figure out the truth when there are plenty of “experts” recommending fad diets?
There’s a global organization that is fighting misinformation. They’re called the True Health Initiative. I’d recommend heading over there and taking a look at some of the fake health facts they are battling such as cholesterol in eggs being OK, dairy being necessarily for calcium, sugar in fruit being bad, and so on. They’re short articles.
And something that I probably should have mentioned earlier is when I went on my search for information, I was careful not to use articles from vegan websites or places where I thought there might be an obvious bias.
Ok. Another article you might find interesting is from The Guardian. It’s a summary of the carbs versus fat wars and how researchers are trying to end the debate. Interestingly, it’s a late 2018 article, one of the oldest ones I used because just about everything else I linked to was new, like 2020 new. Yeah!
And from Nature is a new checklist that can be used to check the validity of a scientific paper. Will I use it? I don’t know, but I downloaded the pdf anyway because I want to know what the scientific community is looking for when vetting these types of things.
I know you hear it all the time, but it’s true, it’s important, more than ever, to read critically. It’s easy to get depressed over the world’s money-grabbing ways, and hey, I certainly do, but there are people still fighting for your rights to accurate information. There are ethical folks who believe in doing what’s right, and isn’t it nice to know they’re out there?
Welcome to the Age of Aquarius, baby, where the key currency is information. We’ve had our bucket challenges, and now, here comes the tide. Put on your swimsuit, grab a floaty, or whatever you need to dive in, and start paddling.