People have a lot of opinions about food and health. Some people could care less about eating healthy. Some people rely on exercise and eat whatever they want. Some want to eat healthy but don't feel they can afford it. Others still are just so picky it's impossible for them to eat anything nutritious.
Even within the "eat healthy live better camp" there are still a lot of opinons and disagreements about food and health.
Some say you should only eat organic produce. Others say its more important to eat local produce. Some will say to stay completely away from gluten and grains. Others will tell you grains are okay if they're whole and unprocessed. Some diets make you stay away from oil and butter. Others say as long as its real and raw it's okay. Some people swear by a meat-free diet and others scorn vegetarian diets. And so the list of disagreements goes on.
There are a lot of diets out there.
My parents are very into healthy living and I think we experienced just about every diet at one point or another. I've been vegetarian, I've done the blood type diet, I've done low-carb, I feel like I've done it all. I've always studied and tried to learn and take away the good things about each approach while balancing out the bad things.
Here's my opinion.
While I think some principles are pretty universal, I don't think that there is one diet out there that is perfect for everyone.
I do love writers like Michael Pollen and documentaries like Food Inc. I agree that the American diet is full of over processed unhealthy non-foods. I don't think most people eat nearly enough fruits and vegetables and I do think our diets are meant to be primarily plant based.
But people have different body types and different metabolisms. Athletes, body builders, stay at home moms, diabetics---you can't tell me that they'll all thrive on exactly the same diet.
Environment, body type, genetics, lifestyle...they're all factors. No matter how great a diet is, you really should modify it to meet your personal needs. I realize some people have to really commit to something specific in order to stick with it, but I really don't think any one diet out there has the answer for every single person.
There are a lot of different diets that can work for people and that can be very healthy. Education about how much you need of what and different ways to get those things is key. The main issue to me is actually the quality of what we're eating.
Here are some things that I would call universals:
- Processed food is NOT food
- Real food goes bad eventually
- Refined sugars, white flour, artificial flavors, colors, sweeteners, chemicals etc ---are bad.
- Exercise/staying active is important
- Splurging occasionally won't kill you (though it could knock you off the bandwagon)
Most healthy diets have these things in common.
Here are some of my opinions about the non-universals:
Meat is not the enemy---that being said, most people have too much meat in their diet and often the meat being eaten lacks nutrition because of how it's processed.
Dairy is not the enemy---but again, quality has a lot to do with whether or not you're actually getting any benefits and most people consume far more dairy than is healthy for an everyday diet as it can be very difficult to break down or more difficult to digest when combined with certain foods.
Vegetarianism is not the enemy---vegans and vegetarians often get a lot of flack for their no meat lifestyle, but both can be done in a healthy way. Meat isn't the only way to get protein. And sometimes the unhealthy version is still healthier than the average American diet.
Carbs are not the enemy---while carbs are often linked to weight gain, its the unhealthy processed carbs that are truly bad. Good carbs like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, etc. don't have to be cut out entirely to maintain a healthy weight.
PROCESSED FOOD IS THE ENEMY.
My dad has a happy meal that is 8+ years old and looks...almost exactly the same as the day he bought it (save for a little shriveling). I don't believe that's real food.
People will argue all day long about whether or not certain things are beneficial. A lot of diets like the Spartan diet, the Paleo diet, the Hallelujah diet, etc. focus on eating REAL foods and I think that is good. Most of these diets ARE much healthier than the average American diet that consists of soda, fast food, and a pantry of non-perishables. So if you are doing one of these diets, good for you! I think they can be done in a healthy way.
EATING HEALTHY CAN BE EXPENSIVE
Eating healthy is an investment. I think it's a good one. We spend a lot smaller percentage of our income on food now than we used to (or even most people do around the world) and I think that shows in our health. Honestly though, what's more important that the thing that actually sustains us? Invest in that.
GRACE vs. CONDEMNATION
Lastly, I'm a huge hypocrite when it comes to healthy eating. I know what I should be eating but most of the time I choose cheap and convenient over healthy. I choose my entertainment budget over my grocery budget. AND I FREAKIN LOVE FRENCH FRIES! At the end of the day, what we eat is up to us and it's not our place to make other people feel guilty about their choices. Education and encouragement is good, but condemnation and guilt trips are not. Like I was reading in this blog today, GRACE.
Eat whatever you want on your birthday. Have dessert sometimes. When you are eating out, give yourself (and your waitress) a little bit of a break if you can't find something within the exact limitations of your diet. If you are a guest in someones house---eat what they serve you because its polite. Know when to stick to your guns and when to relax and break the rules.
Yes, the goal should be to take care of yourself and your family the majority of the time. But, it doesn't have to become your god, your idol, or your new religion. Balance is key. No one diet is absolute truth. Do your research, choose what fits your lifestyle and do the best you can.
This very lengthy post was triggered by an upcoming diet John Paul and I are going to attempt (and seeing a lot on the topic in the blogs I read as of late). But more on that later... ;)