Today’s political climate is a volatile one. It seems that each party has cemented itself firmly in place and is unwilling to even entertain constructive input from across the aisle. In many cases merely pronouncing a particular party affiliation triggers immediate judgement from those within earshot.
I wonder how many of us would remain cordial to our acquaintances if we were all forced to wear an elephant or a donkey on our chests. My guess is that far too many great working relationships would be fractured by preconceived notions and prejudice.
Before we don our blues and grays again, how about we shift our focus away from our differences and instead celebrate the beautiful common ground in which we all live.
The strife in the nutritional sector mirrors that of the political world. However, there also exists a neutral ground. And in the world of nutrition, that common ground is whole, unprocessed foods.
Living at the edges of civility is the lunatic fringe. The vegetarians and vegans. The paleo/primal fanatics. The keto guys and gals. The pegans. The Mediterranean crew.
The vegetarians bemoan the paleos for all the saturated fat they consume. The primals slight the vegans for their deficiency of B12. The ketos beat up the paleos for their lack of dairy. The vegans oppose anyone who dines on animal products.
Everyone has a beef with somebody. (Actually, vegans won’t have beef with anybody.) But when it all comes down to it, the net result from eating correctly from any of these camps is a substantially higher intake of whole, unprocessed foods than the average American ingests.
It’s worth pointing out that when a study comes out proclaiming the benefits of any one dietary subset, it’s usually in comparison to the abysmal Standard American Diet. If you shift away from the SAD diet to pretty much anything holding you to real food, you’re almost guaranteed to see positive results early on. That’s true of vegan, paleo, Mediterranean, and so on. Any whole food diet will show promise out of the gate. From there, it’s a matter of figuring out what style of eating makes the most sense to you from a performance and longevity angle. But the point is, you have to get yourself to the starting line first.
My roots are in the paleo soil, but I don’t think there is one single optimal human diet. Our guts change over time. Our sensitivity to certain foods ebbs and flows. Stress and other external stimuli can affect how we process our food. As our life circumstances change, we should be willing to adapt our food choices accordingly.
A client’s diet isn’t necessarily going to look like mine. Nor will it look exactly like the next client’s diet. But on average, the launching point for each client’s diet is essentially identical. It all starts with cleaning up processed foods.
Before coaching anybody through paleo or low carb or keto, I always have them clean the junk out of their diet and get back to eating real, unprocessed food. That’s always step 1.
Throw a couch potato into a marathon and he’ll never want to run again. Thrust the keto diet onto someone who is sugar addicted and eats a staple of fast food and he’ll feel horrible, throw in the towel, and swear to you that whole food diets don’t work. Clean up comes first. There will be time for fine tuning later.
So what exactly needs to be cleaned up from your food? I’ve talked about it before, but it’s worth repeating: Processed sweeteners, processed grains, and processed industrial seed oils.
Take a look at the label of almost any packaged product out there and you’re likely to find the big 3 culprits right in there. Here’s what they might look like on your label:
According to the University of California at San Francisco, sugar is hiding in about 74% of packaged foods under at least 61 different names, including cane juice, dextrose, high fructose corn syrup, maltodexrin, and more. If you’re interested, you can see the whole list here. Remember, even if it doesn’t say “sugar”, that pesky sweetener still might be in there under another alias.
Get in the habit of reading food labels. Look at the total carb count, and then see how many of those carbs are coming from sugars. Net carbohydrates on a label are the total carb count minus the fiber. So if the label shows 30 grams of carbs and 5 grams of fiber, the net carb count is 25. In many processed foods absent of, or low in fiber, most of the carb total can be attributed to sugar.
Grains have little nutritional value. But they are cheap, filling, and easy to store, which makes them an appealing staple to not only restaurants but family pantries as well.
Reactivity to grains varies from person to person and from grain to grain. While for many of us the biggest concern with grain consumption is bloat and potential weight gain, those with gluten sensitivities and celiac disease have legitimate cause for concern. Bloat and gut inflammation are certainly not comfortable. But a gluten reaction in a celiac individual can be downright debilitating, which makes wheat particularly troublesome. It’s quite a daunting task to pick a processed food off the shelf and find it devoid of wheat, soy, or corn in some form. But here’s the real kicker…Even if it’s not on the label, that doesn’t mean it’s not in there.
As Dr. Amy Meyers describes here, the government doesn’t require that gluten be disclosed on the label, and in fact can be hidden under names such as artificial color, emulsifiers, food starch, flavorings, and natural juices.
If you think you’re doing well by buying “Gluten Free” foods (breads, crackers, wraps, pizzas, cookies, etc.), remember, these are still just processed starchy foods made without wheat.
The best way to avoid grains is to simply make the proper whole food choices.
I picked up a jar of cashews the other day. This is the ingredient list: CASHEWS ROASTED IN PEANUT AND/OR COTTONSEED AND/OR SUNFLOWER SEED AND/OR CANOLA OIL.
The problem with this list is the processed seed oils. These are volatile structures that are easily destabilized. The result is free-radical production that can damage our bodies at a cellular level. For this reason, industrial seed oils are probably the most offensive of the Big 3, even more so than sugar or grains. These problem oils include soy, sunflower, safflower, corn, canola, and cottonseed among others.
I encourage you to read this page on Dr. Cate Shanahan’s website. Dr. Cate does a great job of distinguishing between good and bad fats and their effects on your body.
Back to the cashew label. Also of note is the interesting use of AND/OR. This is because large suppliers buy enormous quantities of oil for mass production of their product. Whatever oil is cheapest at the time of purchase is what you get. So you never really know what combination of oils you’re getting at any given time. And almost every packaged product you pick up is going to contain some kind of industrial fat or oil.
So what fats are good to use? Some of my favorites are avocado oil, olive oil, coconut oil, and grass fed butter. These are more stable oils and fats that are less prone to degradation during processing and cooking.
Eat Real Food
You will find none of the Big 3 offenders in a grass fed steak. Or in an avocado. Or in a freshly prepared salad. Remember, just cleaning your diet of the most prominent disruptors to your health will probably get you 70% of the way there. Get back to eating whole, unprocessed food, preferably prepared fresh at home. Until then, don’t even concern yourself with the path less traveled.
And if at some point you do decide to journey farther into nutrition land, be sure to acknowledge your counterparts across the way for at least venturing out from the same base camp.
Be Your Best,