Michael E. Makover, MD FACP, Chief Medical Officer JIBEI
Recent books and headlines shout the supposed great news – fat is good for you! Butter is back! Eat all the saturated fat you want! Do not eat carbohydrates! Unfortunately, that is dangerously wrong. Beware of the fat pushers.
Selling nutritional advice to hungry Americans, whether true or made up, is a more reliable gold mine than an actual gold mine. Soon the next fad will sweep the fat mongers from the shelves and magazine covers. Amateur dietary advice changes faster than the weather and sometimes is just as destructive as a tornado. The real science changes very little and builds step-by-step from careful research.
Most people understandably want to have their cake and eat it too, literally. They want to be able to eat whatever they want without getting fat or unhealthy. Unfortunately, by the time they realize that is impossible, it is harder to dial back or recover the good health they had previously enjoyed, but at every point it is possible to do much better.
How do you make sense of all this and what should you do?
In the past, mothers knew that they should feed their families good American red meat, fried food and potatoes, pie and ice cream, which meant very high amounts of saturated fats, sugar, simple starches and salt. Mothers are usually right, but they were not correct about that, as they raised and fed a nation into an epidemic of hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis). Bacon is not health food.
Heart attacks were epidemic, people dropping like flies. Movie stars, presidents (President Eisenhower barely survived one and President Johnson died of one soon after he left office) and everyone else often had their lives abruptly cut short. Strokes also killed and disabled hundreds of thousands. Life expectancy was much shorter – sixty-five years old in 1950. Today it is nearly eighty and many live much longer and in much better shape.
Strokes and heart attacks are half what they were just fifty years ago – though we have much more to do to make them extinct.
There are many reasons for this terrific improvement, but better nutrition is a very important part. Let us hope that we do not step back from some of the most important discoveries science has made and find ourselves back in the very unhappy old days.
Atherosclerosis is a disease, not normal aging, and by far the most serious health threat to modern life. The understanding of atherosclerosis and that high cholesterol is the major cause is now one of the most completely proven facts in all of science. It is not a ‘theory’, it is a fact. Treatment based on this has saved millions of lives and spared countless more from painful disability.
Keep it simple!
Much of diet and nutrition advice gets caught up in small details, driving people crazy with precise descriptions of exactly what percentage of what foods should be in your daily intake and concentrating on individual ingredients, such as how much antioxidants and what kinds of amino acids and what percentage of fat and protein, etc.
What we advise and what makes much more sense is to choose a combination of foods and an approach to eating that will naturally provide you with the right kinds of foods and nutrition that help you be healthy while enjoying good, tasty food. No endless measuring or calculating necessary!
For example, Mediterranean countries like France, Italy and Spain naturally eat healthy kinds of food (though we would recommend leaving out the cheese and creams and substituting olive oil or canola oil for butter), so descriptions of the Mediterranean Diet make sense. Another is one developed to help reduce high blood pressure (it does help). It is called the DASH Diet.
Note that ‘diet’ just means the foods you eat. Unfortunately, most people when they hear ‘diet’, think it means ‘going on a diet’, which usually lasts a very brief time. The way to good health is to teach yourself to enjoy a healthy way of living and to make it your natural way of life. Please see our other articles about that.
Healthy eating is as simple as One, Two, Three:
1. Eat foods that promote good health.
Choose vegetables, whole grains; nuts, beans and legumes; fruits; white meat of chicken and turkey; fish; healthy fats (olive, canola, soy, omega-3’s, peanut and lesser amounts of safflower, sunflower, corn).
2. Avoid those that do the opposite.
Avoid simple carbohydrates, like refined wheat, white rice, etc.; saturated fats (found in red meat, dairy fat, coconut, palm oil and palm fruit oil); artificial food additives; most factory-processed foods.
3. Take in the right number of calories for the weight that is best for you.
When your weight is too high, take in fewer calories than you burn up until you are where you want to be, and then just keep calories in and out generally equal.
Writer Michael Pollan coined a shortcut description:Eat food (meaning as little processed food as possible). Not too much. Mainly plants.
Vegetarian diets can be very healthy, though it is not necessary to avoid all meats to be healthy (see table above). However, in some, such as in much of South Asia, the vegetarian diets are commonly full of unhealthy fats and not always properly balanced, causing major health problems. Vegan diets are also very healthy, but only if they use healthy fats, avoid excessive simple starches and ensure they get proper balances of protein, fat and complex starches.
Can you make this work for you? Of course you can! You are the absolute master of You. If you decide you truly want to adopt a healthy way of life, learn what you need to know, and keep going until you have made the new way natural for you, then you cannot fail. Remember, you are the King or Queen of You!
Please look at others of our articles and consider attending one of our Wellness Workshops. Our doctors and dieticians are always happy to help as well.