What is a healthy diet?
Simply put, a healthy diet provides you with the most nutritional benefit with the least detriment, so your body can function optimally.
My clients often ask my opinion about the latest fad diet. Typically these kinds of diets state that they are healthy simply because they lead to weight-loss. The purveyors of these diet plans provide no solid data to prove that their path to weight loss actually improves overall health or is safe and scientifically sound. Thus, it comes as no surprise to me that my clients are having a hard time evaluating the health benefit of a diet. Today there is much confusion as to what a healthy diet really is. The messages we receive from our society about health — on TV, on the internet, in advertising — are often misleading and contrary to what our own “body wisdom” tells us is right. Therefore, we often find ourselves eating in a way that does not feel good simply because we have been told by an authoritative source to eat this way. Unfortunately these authoritative voices are leading us astray. To add to our confusion about making appropriate food choices, we have so MANY choices. In many ways mankind has benefited tremendously from the modern technologies that allow us access to plentiful and varied types of food. We are less dependent on the weather and geographic location when seeking out and obtaining a varied diet. However, the downside to this abundance is that not all of the additional foods available to us are good for us. As I discuss what I feel are the best food choices for us, I do so not from an ethical point of view, but rather from the perspective of achieving optimal health based on an understanding of human biology. I feel that having a firm understanding of human metabolism is essential to understanding which food sources can help us achieve optimal health. I have made a broad study of human physiology, nutrition, evolution, anthropology, cellular biology and biochemistry to this end. Anthropology and evolution have offered valuable direction in how we have come to eat the way we do and how we may eat in order to optimize our health. Human physiologic processes, such as digestion and hormone function, give a picture of how our body derives nutrition and responds in a general way to meet our energy needs. Biochemistry has helped me understand how the nutrients interact with each other. Perhaps most importantly the study of the living cell has been able to provide a solid foundation for understanding the benefit or detriment of our foods. Many of my suggestions will differ from popular notions of healthy diet. This is largely due to the influence of my understanding of the relationship between nutrition and the function of the living cell.
My studies of anthropology and evolution and our current anatomic design have convinced me that we have developed to consume a high-quality diet, which is easily digested and dense in both energy and nutrients. My study of primate brain anatomy and physiology was pivotal in leading me to this conclusion. One of the main features that distinguish primates from other animals is the size and metabolic activity of the brain. The more advanced the primate is, the larger the brain (relative to overall body size) and the larger the percentage of overall available energy used by the brain. The increased energy shunted to the brain is necessary because metabolism in the brain requires more energy than in other parts of the body. In order to become an advanced primate with a larger, more active brain, the animal needs reliable access to a high quality diet. Studies of different large primates confirm that animals in environments where food is scarce and of low quality have smaller brains. Conversely, animals which develop the skills necessary to maintain access to abundant, high quality food — primarily ripe fruit — have larger brains. Thus primates who were able to eat high-quality, energy dense foods developed bigger, more active brains than similar sized primates with low-quality diets such as leaves. Humans are most closely related to these advanced primates as far as brain size and are in fact the most advanced animal on the face of the planet in this manner. We have used our great intellect to develop unparalleled proficiency as gatherers of high quality foods and have advanced in hunting in a way that brought about significant changes in our access to nutrition. The ability to derive more of our needed nutrition from animal sources not only increases the quality of our diet, it allowed us to stray from the forest. We were able to survive in environments without vegetation and travel large distances. We could survive and settle in environments that were previously uninhabitable and in spite of the fact that the food sources were not optimal. We could both survive and form long standing communities with skills specially developed to derive adequate nutrition in such locations. This well represents our ability to act through our intellect to live in a unique relationship with our environment. I believe we are able to supersede our more instinctual desires in order to satisfy our intellectual selves. We derive reward from acts such as exploration, perseverance, and problem solving. Our social relationships make even harsh environments pleasant. It is important we embrace this aspect of our being. As many pitfalls and potential problems as it has caused to live “outside” of nature’s given parameters, this ingenuitive prowess is also the only thing that will allow us to persevere in the world we live in today.
Today our food choices are not limited by what is naturally available in our immediate environment. The development of agriculture and technology has given us the ability to control our diet in a way that is bizarre among the animal kingdom. Our development of methods of processing foods and the creation of synthetic food additives has brought consumable products into the world that would otherwise not exist. Packaged foods and fast food restaurants, as well as health-food markets and diet food manufacturers, all promote their products as the best food for us. It is true that we have access to foods that are far more detrimental than would be naturally available. However most of us have access to an abundance of highly nutritious foods — more than would typically be available in the wild outside of a select few environments. I think many people assume that we would be best off if we mimic the peoples in isolated communities that still “live off the land.” However, it is important to remember that the diets for these communities are widely varied. People in these communities often struggle due to limited food sources, and while they survive better than many of our industrialized neighbors, they may in fact not be consuming optimal diets at all. What I am hoping to do today is make use of our tremendous ingenuity and technology to make optimal dietary decisions based on our needs and what will most effectively provide for them. These considerations will vary based on the person and will have to be balanced with social, ethical and financial constraint. However with the simple guidelines in my Foundation For Human Nutrition you will be able to consider your physical and mental health as well.
We must learn to select an appropriate diet from the vast selection of foods available to us.
The more nutrients available in a food, the better your metabolism will be able to utilize the fuel in order to energize the living cell. If the foods are rich in energy sources, such as fat and sugar, but lack the vitamins and minerals needed to support our metabolism, we will become rapidly malnourished and unable to utilize the energy available in an efficient way. For this reason, most commercial and restaurant foods promote general un-health and disease. It is not, however, the case that we must inverse this theory and eat foods high in one or more nutrients and poor in overall quality. Many times when trying to be healthy, we fixate on a popular nutrient contained in a food. Manufacturers of foods use these trends to promote products as healthy. Unfortunately, these types of foods tend to be “unbalanced” and of generally poor overall quality. Also, many weight loss diets recommend foods that are relatively low in calories on a volumetric basis. So, you might think that these diets will help you to lose weight because you will feel full on fewer calories. Unfortunately, these diets just don’t work in the long run. Eventually, your body will recognize that it is being deprived of life-sustaining, high-quality, nutrient-dense foods. When you follow one of these high-volume, low-calorie density diets, your body will compensate for the missing nutrients by eating more. So ultimately, your caloric intake will not change much, and you will not lose weight. Also, these foods are considerably less enjoyable to eat, so we find ourselves with the burden of consuming more of a food we enjoy less, which leads to a lower quality of life. In fact, when we finally stop this sort of eating for a more pleasing nutrient-dense diet, we will commonly over-consume for a couple of weeks before returning to our original caloric intake. Experiments done in animals have clearly verified these facts. While human studies on diet have never been controlled in a way that can offer absolute evidence as to the health effects of specific diets, the best studies available show correlation with the well-documented animal studies. It is clear that we are best suited to a diet that contains foods rich in nutrition and energy, both from a physiologic and a psychological perspective. We are healthier and feel better when we eat an optimal diet. I suggest that my clients begin to research foods and try things that are rich in both nutrients and energy and see if it is pleasing and creates a lasting good feeling. I suggest foods like tropical fruits, dates, root vegetables, eggs, milk and cheese, shellfish and mollusks, and the organs of healthy animals. In combination, these super foods will end up not only providing the energy needed to fuel the body, they will also provide the vitamins and minerals needed to support optimal metabolism of these foods. A good example of a super food is milk, which contains a broad spectrum of nutrients in an energy-dense, sustaining food. It contains carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins, minerals and fats that interact directly with our physiology in order to boost metabolic function. Milk is also digested and absorbed in healthy individuals more thoroughly than most other foods.
In my next post, Part II of my Foundation For Human Nutrition, we will explore the topic of optimal diet and super foods in more detail. I will then begin describing my 5 guidelines for selecting a healthy diet.
Humans have evolved through the ability to acquire a high quality diet
Chimps eat less vegetative and more pith matter when fruit is scarce than gorillas Short comparison of diets
Types of eating in mammals
Jaws of hind gut fermenters are more robust for more mastication relative to their size:
Do to levels of phytanic acid it has been deduced apes use hind gut fermentation
Differences in humans and apes based on phytanic acid
Blood levels Of Phytanic acid are lowest in vegans: we don’t absorb the nutrients provided by the Bacteria like Hind-gut fermenters.
Caloric intake regulates feeding regardless of total nutrient density size of meal or sensory cues
High quality protein allows for metabolic regulation of energy intake diluting food with fiber on a low quality diet creates metabolic down turn.
Symptoms of dieting for weight-loss
Study shows anxiety and depression disorder is induced by repeated exposure to caloric deprivation
Rats will go through a lot of trouble to get the calories they need even if it is from foods they don’t like.
Older rats wont eat food if it tastes bad