You would never think that writing a post about diets would be hard. Especially since this is more or less my profession, and I am rarely at a loss for words when it comes to talking about nutrition.
But when you get right down to it, “diet,” nearly everything about it is burdened by dislikes, disagreements, misinformation, magical belief and a host of other problems that end up making a casual conversation about it nearly as bad politics or religion. Sometimes worse!
Diets: A Snapshot
I’m going to tell you a story. I teach nutrition. Mostly to health professionals such as dietitians, nurses, doctors and surgeons in the U.S. and also around the world. It’s one of my favorite parts of what I do. I am often learning just as much from my audience as they are learning from me.
I once taught a class to primary care physicians who had asked me to speak about dietary principles after bariatric surgery. They wanted to know about protein, fat and carbohydrate intake after common surgical procedures. Seems easy enough… until you realize there is very little data to go on and most of the recommendations come from health professionals agreeing about what they do or making observations on what their patients do and how that might relate to health.
So, I finished my talk and gave some basic conclusions to sum up my presentation. I got a couple of good questions about protein and then I got this:
Doctor – “So why do I want my patients to have any carbs? I mean, I just tell them to eat as few as possible. Because they really don’t need them, right?”
A bunch of other people in the room sort of nod in agreement.
Me – “Well, I can see why you might say that, but I am not sure it’s what you mean.”
Doctor – Raised eyebrows and gave curious look.
Me – “I think that probably you do want your patients to have broccoli and kale and blueberries and other good, colorful fruits and vegetables. And you might not mind if they have some lentils or black beans or maybe even an occasional sweet potato. I mean, you likely do want them to consume foods with good antioxidants and fiber, right?”
Doctor – “Of course I do.”
Me – “Then you don’t actually mean to tell them not to have carbohydrates, because all those foods are carbohydrates. You just don’t want them to have refined sugars, grains and starches.”
Doctor – “Oh, right… I see what you mean.”
The Nature of Diets
Here is the problem: we’re all confused. Even health professionals who are supposed to know the body are confused about the basics. And if that’s the case, you can bet they are even more confused about the details. I don’t judge because on some level they have a right to be.
Some time ago, someone posted a link to a study on Facebook showing that bacon will make you live longer. I am not going to dignify it further by discussing here. But it’s a good illustration of the fact that the place we are at now with nutritional research is this: I could make a decent argument for almost any diet from Vegan to Paleo being “the best” and find adequate research to be right.
The Key Takeaway
What does this mean? Science aside, it likely means on some level within reason there might be a wide range of eating types that are perfectly healthy for humans. It might also mean (and I think it does) that we need to ask a lot more questions before we can start running around and saying with certainty that we know what the best diet is for health and weight-loss.
Best diet for what? I will leave you with the words of two people I respect very much: Dr. Arya Sharma and Yodi Freedhoff who wrote the following in their book Best Weight: A Practical Guide to Office-based Obesity Management.
“The difference between dieting and a healthy lifestyle is easy to explain. A diet is the smallest number of the calories and the greatest amount of exercise that a patient can tolerate. A healthy lifestyle is the smallest number of calories and the greatest amount of exercise that a patient can enjoy.”
Think about that. In health,
About the Author:
Dr. Jacques collaborates often with the Obesity Action Coalition (OAC), Producer of the Your Weight Matters Campaign. She is a Naturopathic Doctor with more than a decade of expertise in medical nutrition. Her greatest love is empowering patients to better their health.