Wednesday, December 14, 2005

What's a Healthy Diet Anyway? Part I

With millions of people thinking about a weight loss diet for the new year, one question that should be asked is, 'is it a healthy plan for me'?

Which brings the question, just what is the definition of a healthy diet?

We're told from a number of experts that a "healthy and balanced" diet is one that is rich with carbohydrate - 55-60% of calories, low in fat - less than 30% of calories, with protein making up the rest of your calories - 10-15% of calories.

For decades this has been the standard recommendation. And for decades we've grown fatter and fatter, to the point where two out of every three Americans are overweight, and one of the two is obese.

Yet, the experts tell us this is not because the recommendations are flawed but because no one follows the recommendations - that too many people eat too many calories, too much fat and do too little exercise.

Basically, blame the fat's their fault they won't follow the guidelines for healthy eating.

I've said this many times - I simply cannot accept that millions of people just don't care, or worse, just don't "get it" when it comes to eating healthy.

If these millions simply didn't care or didn't understand we would not have a multi-billion dollar weight loss industry in the United States! Obviously someone out there is spending some serious cash to try to lose weight but we're not seeing any changes in the health statistics that indicate the efforts are paying off.

Which begs the question - are the recommendations flawed?

Think about this - imagine you buy yourself a spiffy new car.

You drive it home, read all the recommendations for care of the car guide the dealer gave you and you follow them to a tee. Yet it stalls almost every day that you take it out for a drive. You go to the dealer and ask for your money back. They tell you you're not following the recommendations correctly, go back and read the guide again.

This is pretty much what's happening today when it comes to defining a healthy diet and providing a guideline to the public about how to eat healthy. Anyone who has tried a weight loss diet based on the accepted consensus about healthy eating knows all too well that when they fail - that is when they regain the weight - they're told it's their own fault. They failed to follow the recommendations correctly. They're basically told to go back and re-read the instructions and try again, do not pass go, do not collect $200.

Which brings me back to the question - are the recommendations flawed?

I believe they are.

I think in the never-ending quest to define what makes a healthy diet we've lost sight of the most critical key to health - nutrient-density. We set our sights on macronutrients a long time ago (carbohydrate, protein and fat) and left the micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, elements, essential fatty acids and essential amino acids) to take care of themselves in the belief that a varied diet will provide.

We hear it again and again, "a healthy and balanced diet provides all nutrients," or something to that effect that has led us to believe that when we eat a particular mix of macronutrients, based on the oft repeated percentage of calories formula, we'll consume all the required micronutrients each day without fail.

The problem is it just doesn't happen.

Not only are millions of people in the United States overweight or obese, they're also malnourished - they're starving for critical micronutrients. Throughout 2005 a number of studies were published in various journals that highlighted population-wide deficiencies in Vitamin D, Vitamin B-12, Folate, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Selenium, Magnesium, Potassium and others essential nutrients.

Yet, no alarm bells were sounded, no one called for a review of the dietary recommendations to see if they might be a contributing factor, no one asked why or how this could happen in America.

To me it is crystal clear that a healthy diet is one that is nutrient-dense and provides for all critical essential micronutrients each day.

It is also clear to me that one cannot and will not ever be able to achieve adequate intake of essential nutrients if they follow the Dietary Guidelines for Americans that insist that 55-60% carbohydrate, 10-15% protein and less than 30% fat and less than 10% saturated fat is the ideal.

I've yet to meet anyone who eats each day within this ratio guideline that is both a normal weight AND free from any health issues.

Have you?

Think about that and tomorrow I'll begin to explain what a healthy diet really is and how to eat for nutrient-density, which in turn provides for good health.

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