Lately, a lot of writers have come to me to validate (or discredit) a lot of nutritional information. Leading market publications have asked me to examine claims about everything from fruit protein powder to just fruit. This is mostly because I am vocal about nutritional scare tactics and “research” used to ward off certain foods. My perspective is always one of logical and scientific objection, not fear and paranoia. While everyone has a bias on some level, I try to find the balance and see all sides of things.
Did You Know?
1. I don’t hate the Paleo diet, I just don’t agree with the technical term or religious dogma surrounding it.
2. I believe in the use of low-carb diets.
3. One of my good friends runs one of the best CrossFit gyms in the country.
4. I regularly email one of the top nutrition professors in the country who happens to be a connoisseur of clean eating and loves his no grain-no fruit diet.
5. I am a vegetarian and have been for a while now.
6. I am a member of a pretty forward thinking environmental organization that pushes for changes in food distribution and laws.
Why Does This Matter?
I mention these things because I try not to allow my personal agenda to cloud the research and findings I read and study. I may not eat certain foods, but that doesn’t mean I tell other people they can’t eat them. Though I may believe in one aspect of nutrition for the majority, that doesn’t mean it’s suitable for everyone or even for myself. It doesn’t mean I am going to manipulate research in order to support my personal dietary habits. It doesn’t mean I am not passionate; trust me, passion is not something I lack. Still, I expect that a majority of people reading this who have been following me for years would be surprised to learn some of these things.
I have caught myself trying to find the one study out of 100 that proved the view I felt was right in my gut was correct. It is difficult to resist the sweet lure of laying out the one abstract study that “refutes” something. These studies usually predate the 50s. The problem is that valid research does not work that way. Searching for the one out of 100 studies to prove a point is not working for science, it is working for ego or fear.
What I find even more ironic is that I am one of the few people who has existing health-related issues with certain food products. I am a person who believes in being a voice for those who can’t speak for themselves. Go figure, I would be the voice of reason amongst others on their witch hunt. I don’t pick up the pitchfork; I build a soapbox. So let’s see if the following falls on deaf ears.
The Damnation of Food
At any given moment, anyone can visit the website of a “health expert” and find a food item they are not supposed to eat. Recently, I decided to take a closer look and tally the foods put on “don’t” lists and who was doing it. Sadly, I was not surprised to find that there was not one food I couldn’t find a person damning as something that shouldn’t be consumed. From celery to lamb, I can point to a site that recommends against it’s intake. This includes the usual suspects—dairy, meat, gluten, fruit, and grains. Green non-starch vegetables and wine are the least attacked foods. Ironically enough, people who are usually against eating fruit are the people who recommend a daily glass or two of wine.
Overall, I found more websites discussing the foods people should avoid rather than discussing the foods people should eat. It is a common occurrence for humans to focus on the negative so that is no surprise.
Top Five Reasons Food Is Deemed Uneatable
Every so often certain “experts” deem a food, or group of foods, “uneatable” for some reason or another. This will continue to happen until enough knowledgeable people come along and explain the faults in the “expert’s” reasoning or show the lack of scientific evidence. When more people say it’s safe to eat foods than people saying it’s not, the general public will open up to consuming them again. For some foods this will never happen; there will always be the ones stigmatized as just bad. One such example is dietary saturated fat.
In the 80s and 90s, dietary saturated fat had a really hard time and was essentially the whipping boy for a lot of problems. Bacon still can’t be mentioned without hearing a tired joke about having a heart attack. The same is true for eggs, fatter cuts of meat, and more. Over the years, a truckload of scientists and researchers have come out to show that saturated fat is not the evil we once thought it was. In moderation, it’s even a positive thing. It is funny that the same people “freeing us from the chains” of fat, are the ones pointing their fingers in other directions. “We shall overcome!” becomes “What’s next?!”
There is some food that is incredibly easy to target over others. Though I have seen people violently attack bell peppers, it is much harder to take them down versus grains. Still, let’s look at why and how these foods usually take a hit.
1. The food is a high-allergy risk.
Foods like eggs, wheat, and nuts are just a few examples. People with allergies to these foods make up an extremely small percentage of the overall population. But because there is an allergic expression in some, it leads to a rally against their use for all.
2. The food is connected with an ethical dilemma.
Most vegans and vegetarians deal with ethical issues. It can also be connected to environmental or economic issues. When people are making their “to-do” list, they turn to quantity, not quality. To me, this weakens the argument and only gives power to the other side. Sometimes it is okay to say that there are only a few reasons not to do something and let those reasons shine. For example, hurting a living creature seems to be a pretty strong argument so stick with that instead of waging a science war that will not end. It also shuts people up pretty quickly and shows their true ignorance.
3. The food is connected to a disease in a small population.
When a person has an illness or disease that strongly affects their quality of life, we want to find answers to fix the problem. We will desperately search in any direction for help to aid suffering people. While that is a noble thing, it sometimes leads to grasping at straws or misplacing them all together.
If we look at something like rheumatoid arthritis (RA), we have yet to determine the optimal course of action or the cause of this disease. We do have drugs which aid symptoms, exercises that help, and dietary recommendations that lead to less aggravation. But, we can’t say that food is the cause of the problem. We can’t say that food will cure the problem either. What we can say is that food can help or hurt the problem.
With all illnesses, I have seen quack professionals speak about extreme dosing of fish oil or complete removal of macronutrients which only leads people to injury or illness. Even holistic approaches can have consequences. The point is, a serious medical condition can’t be fixed with supplements and the proper breathing techniques. If an extreme medical problem could be cured with some supplements and a little breathing, then the problem wasn’t the illness initially claimed. However, symptoms can decrease with natural or holistic practices, and that is an extraordinarily real thing. With RA (as an example), there is a lot of research that shows appreciable benefits to ketogenic style diets and cycling calories.
Every case and body is different. While the laws of energy are not to be ignored or disposed of, optimization can be applied to everyone.
4. People can’t control their food intake.
I don’t think I need to elaborate more on this than to say—it isn’t the food’s fault that people shovel it in their mouths faster than the speed of light. Your lack of control doesn’t mean you have a right to damn certain foods. A misery loves company attitude is your way of spoiling the party for everyone else. Some people can eat. Some people can drink. Some people have better self-control than others. Not everyone is lucky enough to be one of them. When that is the case, it’s time to look inward, not outward.
A proper example for comparison is the use of alcohol or marijuana. I find it ironic that, usually, the cleanest of eaters and organic supporters are pro marijuana legalization. I think we all know drinking isn’t just fun nights involving a few glasses of wine; marijuana isn’t just for Grateful Dead concerts and brings no consequences or gateway.
What about gun control, do we remove use for all because some can’t handle them?
These are rhetorical questions to ask yourself. I have no public stance, but in the end it is always us not the object.
5. The food is associated with a lack of social cool.
Food, as much as clothes, music, and location enters into “cool wars.” The right branding, hype, and advertising can raise one food to glory while equally demolishing another. Honestly, it is a lot easier to belong to the “in” crowd than not. Popularity contests are all around us on a real level and help determine our choices. Everyone at your gym is eating a “slow-carb diet” and kipping. You can’t be the only person on the message board who hasn’t gone Paleo, could you? All your friends gave up meat, why shouldn’t you do the same?
Social status and eating can consume the decisions you make on a daily basis. Finding reasons to justify your actions, just so you don’t have to label yourself a follower, is not the right thing to do.
Are There Bad Foods?
I believe a lack of variety and nutritional value is awful. I don’t think having a soda is going to kill you. I don’t think bread is the enemy. I don’t believe smoked ribs are going to send you to your grave. I think the lack of nutrient dense foods is the problem. There is a significant difference there.
I don’t agree with using fear and shock value to change minds even though I understand it is a tactic that works. Even some of the people and organizations I support use it at times. While doing that can have short term positive effects, the lack of trust and science will be the downfall. Playing the cards you have is better than speculating. If you must speculate, state it as such. Do not try and support it with research that may mislead the less informed because in the end those who are informed with truth will prevail.
So, WTF Can You Eat?
I believe the following is a sound list. The foods listed below are selected based on the following criteria:
- Amount of nutrients per caloric value
- Ease of access (note: I live in North America, so this may vary in other countries)
- Research on nutrient and mineral digestion
Leading in Protein – Any meat, period. Eggs. Dairy products (milk, yogurt, cheese). Protein powders (check for quality companies).
Leading in Fat – Oils (olive, coconut, etc). Nut butters (almond, peanut), avocados. Whole nuts. Seeds.
Leading in Carbs – Any vegetable, period. Any fruit, period. Beans/lentils.
Restrict – Moderately intake high-density caloric items like nut butters, grains, alcohol, high-fat meats, etc. This is merely to arrive and complete your nutritional profile. Once arrived, enjoy indulgences where caloric intake allows. Consuming these items more frequently causes the need for more focus on energy balance. A handful of almonds or a scoop of rice easily becomes 200 calories.
If you have a variety of intake in all three categories and are a healthy individual with no odd ailments, there is nothing wrong with any of these foods.
The only foods I think may lead to problems for some individuals is dairy due to lactose intolerance issues. While it doesn’t seem to hurt people (according to research), it can cause discomfort. However, enzymes can be taken to help aid digestion. Hard cheeses are usually less of a problem too, keep that in mind. There are also goat based dairy options available.
But There Are Exceptions…Right?
In the future, I will release more information on what can be problematic for people and who. What is optimal and for who. Not only that, I will explain how to deal with these issues in a manner that complies with solid research to help you determine what is right for you instead of a one-size fits all bashing. In the meantime, you can also get more information in The Fat Loss Troubleshoot.
I encourage you to look at food for the nutrients it provides and then enjoy it where you have room. Keep an open mind and take an objective look when things are presented to you. Look for contradictions that don’t add up or make sense. Lastly, focus on what food does for you, specifically you, to determine your diet and lifestyle. Anecdotal doesn’t equal the answer for all, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t the answer for you.