What you eat shouldn't be so confusing!
“The kinds of food that a person, animal, or community habitually eats.” (noun)
Dieting is very confusing and unfortunately, we tend to attach a negative connotation to the word, making food seem like some sort of enemy. Not only that, but our diets - i.e. what we eat, is more confusing now than at any other time in human history:
No added sugars, low fat, high fat, good fats, bad fats, soluble fibre, insoluble fibre, low calorie, electrolytes, low sodium, organic, paleo, sugar free, gluten free, high protein, low carb, Atkins, GMO, all natural, etc.
Should I keep going, or do you get the point?
There is a terrific article from Business Insider that I came across the other day titled, “What this scathing exchange between top scientists reveals about what nutritionists actually know.”
I am still amazed at the number of nutritionists, diet coaches, nutrition experts, life coaches, etc. that I come across that promise results. Due to the field of work that I am involved in, I commonly get individuals asking me for diet advice. I routinely help those individuals by giving them as much information as I can for free because I know I am giving them guidance. I do not plan their diet. I do not tell them what they should or shouldn’t eat. Not because I don’t think I can help them, but because what works for one person certainly won’t work for someone else.
Don’t believe me?
A 2015 study published in the journal Cell discusses the differences in nutrition amongst a populous. Many people assume that all food products create the same physiological reactions based on their intrinsic chemical properties (i.e. nutritional content). It should make sense, right? Eating an apple or having a glass of milk should be similar from individual to individual. Well, the study fed similar meals to tens of thousands of human subjects, and found that the ingestion of these meals produced different healthy and unhealthy physiological responses from one individual to another, based on various genetic and environmental factors, such as patterns of insulin production, dietary habits, gut microbiota composition, and levels of physical activity.
The main conclusion from the study was that universal dietary recommendations have ‘limited utility’ and that, in the future, nutritional advice will have to be highly personalized in order to be effective.
The study from Cell further confirms the general theme of the article from Business Insider - there are far too many uncertainties when it comes to dietary science.
"There are a few things we are certain about," he has said. "We know that you can't live without food, and that if you eat too much, you get fat. There are certain essential nutrients - vitamins and minerals - that you need to have. You should make sure there is no lead or mercury or other toxins in your food. After that the knowledge base gets thinner and thinner."
So why all the uncertainty?
In my opinion, most self-titled coaches or experts in the diet industry do their absolute best to differentiate themselves from the crowd. Everyone has a voice, so why not be as rogue and different as possible so that you can convince individuals to come to you rather than someone else.
Not only that, but nutritional science is still very much in its infancy stage. Yes, there are things that we know, but there is a lot that we do not. It is impossible to eliminate all possible variables when it comes to dietary science, so we can only watch and view trends and patterns. We always hear news headlines that tell us one day that a food is healthy and can prevent cancer, yet another day that same food has been linked to a increased risk of cancer or some other health risk.
“The expense and logistics of randomized controlled trials leaves nutrition scientists to consider the other forms of evidence. This is where observational studies come in. In observational studies, subjects are not assigned randomly to different diets as in a traditional experiment. Instead, scientists merely record what kinds of foods each person consumes - they eat whatever they like - and then observe what happens to their health. For example, the scientists might notice that people who eat lots of one specific food, say broccoli, get cancer more often. The scientists might then report that broccoli is "associated" with heart disease.”
So what is my point with all of this? Every person is different. How your body reacts to the nutrients you ingest may vary wildly from a friend or coworker. Don’t listen to hype about this diet trend or that, because just because one diet has been shown to be effective with someone you know by no means indicates its efficacy for you.
Inform yourself and speak to intelligent, qualified, educated individuals who can properly help point you in the right direction. Hiring or paying someone money to design a meal plan for you is not always the answer, and is more often than not just a money grab.
Finally, I always recommend individuals keep a food journal. Yes it can be tedious. Yes it can be annoying at times. But you gain such valuable information from tracking what you eat. Not only can you learn about exactly what you’re eating, but you can also reflect back upon what you ate hours and days in the past to assess your physiological outcome. For example, how was your energy level? Did you have an upset stomach? Were you bloated, gassy, and irritable? Knowledge is power, and when you can look back on what you consumed, you can better understand certain trigger foods that cause both positive and negative reactions for you.
Stay tuned, as there is plenty more interesting research to share and discuss!