Wednesday, December 14, 2005

What's a Healthy Diet Anyway? Part II

So where was I?

Ah, yes - from yesterday's article - 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.

I stated yesterday that I believe the current dietary recommendations - those claimed to support good health and normal weight - are flawed. My belief comes from simply looking around and seeing so many people who are overweight or obese and/or in poor health.

So let me start today with a definition of health.

Health - that is good overall health - means you're free from disease and disorders that affect your quality of life and you're not taking any prescription or OTC medication to stabilize any condition you may have been diagnoised with. Basically your body is working just fine and you have no dysfunction that is undermining your sense of well-being.

Now some will contend that good health should also include someone who feels good even though they may have high blood pressure and are taking medication or someone with any other ailment who can manage it with a prescription or over-the-counter drug each day.

Feeling good does not necessarily equal good health. Looking good does not necessarily equal good health. Managing a disease/disorder/dysfunction does not equal good health. Being free of disease, disorder and/or dysfunction while feeling good and maintaining weight within an acceptable range does indeed equal overall good health. So, there is our definition.

With so many "experts" repeating the recommendation that 55-60% carbohydrate, 10-15% protein and less than 30% fat is an ideal diet to strive for, over decades, you'd think we'd all be healthy wouldn't you?

Sadly, we're not.

I contend that the current macronutrient ratio, percentage of calories based recommendations are contributing to our weight and health problems.

It is simply not "normal" for large segments of the population to grow overweight or obese over time; nor is it "normal" for large segments of the population to have the types of health problems we see in the US. Of course there will always be a small percentage of the population destined to be obese - that's a given that historical data supports. Of course there too will always be a population afflicted with health ailments no matter how well they eat - that's a given that historical data supports too.

But for the vast majority of us, being overweight or obese is not normal anymore than experiencing insidious, progressive degenerative disease and disorder is normal. For the most part, we are living in conditions that are highly abnormal and are directly contributing to our rates of obesity and illness.

It is not normal to our metabolism to consume:
  • 150+ pounds of added sugar annually
  • dairy products that have been processed to reduce or remove fat content
  • a high volume of processed cereals
  • large amounts of processed, enriched grains
  • man-made trans-fats (partially hydogenated oils)
  • more sweetened beverages each day than water
  • high amounts of high fructose corn syrup
  • additives, preservatives and chemicals to extend shelf-life
  • the majority of foods from boxes, cans and jars
  • one food made to taste like another
  • high volumes of any and all fruits year-round
  • high amounts of processed vegetable oils

The above are just a small list of the changes we've made in our diet over the last 100-years and we're seeing the effects now. Because we have essentially abandon our traditional, whole food based diet, we're failing to meet our nutrient requirements and too easily are over-consuming calories. I believe part of this over-consumption of calories is our body's attempt to meet its nutrient requirements through triggering hunger - a "please eat more to meet the nutrient-requirements I need" from the body.

A "healthy diet" is one that provides all critical, essential nutrients each day, every day - or provides enough of those we can store when food is abundant to take us through times of lean. Our dietary recommendations today fail to do this and result in a long-term chronic state of low-level malnutrition across wide swaths of our population.

It doesn't have to be this way. We can eat healthy and realize the benefits of a nutrient-dense diet - normal weight and good health. To do this means dismissing everything we think we know about a healthy diet, that is the accepted consensus, and start again at the basics - the very nutrients required by our bodies and our metabolism.

When you approach meal planning from the perspective of nutrient-density, an interesting thing happens - carbohydrate is reduced significantly as a percentage of calories and protein and fat increase as a percentage of calories. This is because the body's requirements for micronutrients are not based on particular foods being eaten as a percentage of calories, but on meeting actual requirements of essential nutrients to function properly.

Often the very foods we're told to avoid or reduce significantly are often the ones that offer the higher levels of essential nutrients! Take cheese as an example.

Cheddar cheese is packed with nutrients when it is made from whole milk. Yet we're told to eat reduced/low-fat cheese instead because the fat adds too many calories. But take a look at how many nutrients you lose by eating the low-fat cheese instead of the whole milk cheese (from the USDA Nutrient Database for Standard Reference):

These are significant nutrient losses in an attempt to save just 65-calories. That's right, you're totally losing some nutrients and significantly reducing others just to save yourself 65-calories. No one is telling you this though!

In my experience, and in what I have seen others experience, when you eat a nutrient-dense diet you feel better and you often lose weight without hunger and tedious calorie counting. The easiest approach that I've found, one that often meets nutrient requirements without much planning, is a controlled-carb approach.

That said, there is a right way to eat controlled-carb and a wrong way. If you do not follow a controlled-carb plan correctly, you're still leaving yourself without your required nutrients. So, tomorrow I'll provide insights into doing a controlled-carb diet correctly and what pitfalls to avoid.

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