Foods not nutrients

Are you more confused than ever as to what we “should” be eating for health and for weight loss???  The fat versus carbs debate is getting tiresome and it does not help that even experts seem to disagree what we should eat for optimum health.  When I start to feel bewildered I remind myself to stay grounded, and the best way to do this (in my view) is to consider foods not nutrients.

This means promoting foods and diets that look after health and weight and advising against those that don’t.  For example, we should promote fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, fish etc. while advising restraint on processed, take-away and convenience foods such as chips, crisps, soft drinks and fried chicken. Blanket statements like “avoid carbs” or “cut back on fat” are misleading; after all,  some of the most nutritious foods are high in carbs, (think lentils, chickpeas and whole grains), while others are high in fat (avocadoes, nuts, seeds, oily fish and olives).  Similarly, there are healthy diets that are high in fat (the Mediterranean diet) while others like the veganism are very low in fat. Eskimos have lived healthy lives on high fat diets while the people from Okinawa in Japan have led long and healthy lives on diets high in carbs. Focusing on fat or any other nutrient does not lead reliably to an appropriate balance of nutrients; rather we should look at the total diet and how it meets the needs of the people consuming it.
When feeling overwhelmed with the enormous diversity of nutrition opinion I find it helps to think of the wise words spoken by Michael Pollan – author of many fantastic books on food and nutrition.  He summarises good nutrition in just 7 words – EAT FOOD, MOSTLY PLANT, NOT TOO MUCH.  By “food” he means real food, not processed or “fake” foods and the “not too much” emphasises the importance of portion control.  Another piece of advice I hang on to is “never eat that which your grandmother would not recognise” although now that many of us are in the “grand” category, perhaps it should be great grandmother!

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