Nutritional Theories. Are you confused?
(Vitalité Québec, April 2006)
The recent explosion of books on health and nutrition is both encouraging and discouraging. It's encouraging because it shows that people are increasingly interested in living a healthy lifestyle and taking care of themselves. However, it's also discouraging because more and more consumers complain that they're confused by the growing number of conflicting nutritional theories. People are a bit lost, and justifiably so. Should they eat a special combination of foods? Should their diet be based on their blood type? Should they adopt a Mediterranean diet? Should they opt for an Asian diet and eat ridiculous amounts of tofu? These are just a few of the questions asked by consumers, who are increasingly interested in improving their health.
To add the confusion, some people seem to feel better on one particular diet while others see no significant improvement or actually feel worse on the same diet.
Here is some background on the seemingly conflicting theories to help you navigate the sea of information out there. The key is to remember a few rules.
- The law of non-contradiction: Something cannot be both true and false in the same sense at the same time. If two or more diets contradict one another on the same points, they can't all be right if you apply this rule. Always keep in mind the key conditions "in the same sense" and "at the same time."
- Ancestral genetic individuality: Our ancestors all had to deal with a particular diet based on the geographic region in which they lived. Consuming certain foods while excluding others over decades, even hundreds of years, inevitably impacts the way the digestive system functions. Here are two examples: Asians have a greater ability to metabolize or transform monosodium glutamate (MSG). In fact, Asian grocery stores sell it in packages of up to 10 kg! However, Europeans have a harder time metabolizing MSG. If someone of European descent eats it, he or she can suffer from what has been dubbed "Chinese restaurant syndrome." Similarly, Asians and some Africans are deficient in lactase enzyme production and, therefore, have difficulties with lactose in dairy products.
- Acquired biochemical and physiological factors and modifications: On a biochemical and physiological level, we are the sum total of two elements: our genetic baggage and our lifestyle. Our lifestyle can either improve on or weaken our genetic tendencies. Genetically speaking, someone can be born with strong lungs, but if he or she adopts harmful habits (e.g. smoking) or is exposed to outside aggressors (e.g. asbestos), his or her lung capacity will be reduced according to the concentration and exposure to the aggressive element. Trauma can also alter a person's ability to stick to an "ideal" diet. For example, someone whose intestines have been frequently irritated will be unable to eat the "ideal" amount of fresh, raw fruits and vegetables.
- Climatic and environmental factors: Our diets can (and should) vary according to the season in order to meet our bodily needs and eat quality food. In fact, those in warm climates require concentrated fewer calories than those in cool climates. People will eat more simple sugars (e.g. fruit) in a warm climate and more carbohydrates (e.g. grains and root vegetables in a cool climate. We also need to take into account the quality of the food available to us. Although fruit is considered to be an alkalinizing food, if it hasn't ripened on the tree–which is highly likely for most imported fruit–it will be less alkaline.
- Biochemical individuality: As early as 1955, Nobel Prize winner Dr. Roger Williams stated that we all have biochemical individuality which must be taken into account when determining our nutritional needs. We do not all have the same nutritional needs and our diet (and supplements) should reflect those differences. This individuality is the combination of our genetics and acquired biochemical and physiological factors.
Basic principles of a healthy diet
Habits to adopt
The question "What is the ideal diet?" is a difficult one to answer. Food that is healthy for some can be poisonous for others. However, there are a few guidelines to help you determine your ideal diet, which are recognized and recommended by most health authorities.
Eat foods at the bottom of the food chain and increase your consumption of vegetables. They reduce the risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease while alkalizing your body. Try to make vegetables at least 60% to 70% of your lunch and dinner. But be careful, as you may need to increase them gradually. Be sure to listen to your body.
Eat whole grains most of the time. However, be aware of the possibility of allergies or intolerances to gluten or corn.
Eat more vegetable proteins in the form of legumes, nuts and grains. Try to eat legumes at least four times a week.
Consume 1 to 2 tablespoons of cold-pressed vegetable oil every day to get your essential fatty acids.
Habits to avoid
Reduce your consumption of simple sugars and refined carbohydrates. Refined sugars increase your risk of infection. Reduce your consumption of fast food, fried food, as well as hydrogenated and saturated fats. Avoid artificial additives, such as artificial colourings, sweeteners and flavours.
There is a surprising variety of "healthy diets" our there, all of which sound promising. Just remember that your body will guide you as to whether a particular diet is the right one for you.
Follow the basic principles of a healthy diet, avoid junk food and enjoy eating without making a religion out of it. Don't let your preconceived notions and other people's opinions prevent you from making appropriate changes, but avoid developing phobias. And, above all, don't become a fanatic of a particular diet. Keep in mind that a diet that works for you might not be beneficial to someone else.
Finally, aside from what is necessary for regaining your health, your diet should not be an end in and of itself. Healthy eating will merely help you restore the health and energy level you need to do other more important things.