25 February 2014

Call Me a Food Fad Agnostic

There are a lot of different diets and food-philosophies out there, but it seems like the two biggest ones right now are Paleo and Vegan. Maybe Locavore, depending on where you are? That one often ties in with Paleo, though. Or even just the less formal "we only eat organic stuff" people, who are pretty common up here now that I think about it. There are three different aisles in our grocery store with quinoa in them. Three!

So, there are all these philosophies of "the best way to eat." And each of them has a whole lot of science backing up their claims, and a whole lot of people who follow them religiously because don't you know how important it is to eat healthfully? And many of them overlap in one way or another--eating only organics is often a common thread. I suppose all of them eat vegetables of some variety. But they are nevertheless all different: Vegans don't eat anything that comes from animals, but do eat grains. Those who follow the Paleo diet don't eat grains, but do eat meat. Locavores eat any of the above, but only from local farmers. And the less-specific organics-only crowd eats any of the above, local or not, but only from certified organic sources.

And they all claim to be the healthy way to eat; the way our bodies are supposed to eat. The way that's best for us.

They can't all be right! That's basic logic: when you have two or more contradictory statements in front of you, no more than one of them can be correct.

If you've ever looked into any of these diets, or even Googled "eating healthfully," you know how much conflicting nutrition research there is out there. "Everyone should cut out dairy!" "Only lactose-intolerant people should cut out dairy!" "Everyone should go gluten-free!" "If you don't have celiacs, going gluten-free could mess up your body!" "Everyone needs to stop using butter!" "Butter provides the kind of fats your body needs!" It's a little bit ridiculous.

Is there one best way to eat, that will be most nutritionally beneficial to every single person on the planet? Maybe. I doubt it, but maybe. Just because, logically speaking, no more than one of these contradictory food philosophies can actually be the best way to eat, it doesn't follow that any one of them is that best way, or even that one exists. If we've learned anything from the growing body of nutrition knowledge these past few decades, isn't it that different people's bodies work differently? Some people don't process lactose well. Some can't have wheat. Some are deathly allergic to peanuts. Some have different conditions which can be helped by a change in diet, but for whatever reason, other people with the same condition may not see improvement from the same changes.

So I don't see a reason to jump on board with any of the popular food philosophies. None of us have any food allergies or negative reactions to eating certain things, so I'm not going to cut meat out of our diet just because one camp says I should, or stop serving grains just because another thinks they are evil. We can't usually afford organics, so I'll wash the produce well and not worry about it too much. And I have serious doubts that a 100% Locavore diet is even possible in interior Alaska in the winter.

For a long time, "eating right" just meant getting a good balance. Meat, beans, grains, potatoes, fruits, vegetables. Not too much sugar or nutritionally-empty food. That still seems to make sense to me, more so than devoting the years it would take to analyze all of the research behind the different niche diet philosophies. I certainly don't deny that many people have found all of these different diets helpful, even necessary for those with medical conditions! But at this point, because they aren't necessary for us, I think I'll keep cooking the way my great-grandmother did and remain an agnostic on these fad diets.

I’m writing seven posts in seven days this week. To check out other bloggers who are doing the same, see the list here.

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