“Choose your poison? Wait, what? I thought we were picking a diet?”
Yeah, here’s the thing: Some foods are kinda like poison.
In some instances, there are the food problems that vary from person to person: allergies, intolerances, and sensitivities.
But there are also some foods that are just plain bad for everyone, and others that look like they may be problematic for most people, but the scientific jury is still out.
There are two food items that pretty much every diet agree on as bad: refined sugar, and trans fat.
I’ve already discussed how getting rid of sugar should be your first step, so let’s talk about trans fats. The Harvard Medical School has stated that “for every 2% of calories from trans fat consumed daily, the risk of heart disease rises by 23%…. there is no safe level of consumption.1”
The easiest way to avoid trans fat is to avoid factory-made food. This doesn’t just mean junk food like chips and fries, but also includes bakery goods like bread and muffins. Also, check labels for the words “shortening,” “partially hydrogenated vegetable oil” or “hydrogenated vegetable oil;” these mean trans fat. (Note: Seeing “0 grams trans fat” on the label is no assurance that it is really trans fat free. If a “single serving” — which is often smaller than what you will actually eat — has 0.49 grams or less of trans fat, they can legally say that it’s has no trans fats. But remember: Harvard says there is no safe level of consumption.) Think that granola bar is healthy? Check the label.
What other foods might be wise to try eliminating from your diet? And how do you know?
I’ve lost faith, by and large, in medical studies. Too many of them are on too small a population, for too short a time, and/or underwritten by someone with a vested interest in the outcome. (Prime example: This “study” done at UCLA, which suggests that eating probiotic yogurt “may” [and I quote] change the way our brain reacts. Surprise, surprise: the study was funded by Danone/Dannon yogurt. My first clue was that there were no cautions regarding the sugar content in flavored yogurts.)
I do think there’s validity in looking at historic population trends for clues as to where we went wrong. I find this chart particularly interesting, showing the rapid increase in autoimmune diseases since 1950.
I haven’t found a chart on it, but just among my own acquaintances, I’ve noticed an increase in new diseases that no one has ever hear of before. Idiopathic angio edema for one; pain amplification syndrome for another.
What’s causing all this? I readily admit that the answer is complex, involving a combination of factors, but the purpose of this post is to focus on what you can do, starting today, in your own life. And changing your food changes what you’re made of, so it makes sense to start there.
There are a number of things that shifted in the American food supply in the last part of the 20th century, but probably the single biggest change is this: We’re eating more factory-made food, and less homemade food. Main dishes, soups, breakfast, and baked goods (except for bread) used to made almost exclusively at home. Now we get most of those from the freezer, a can, a restaurant, or other convenient, ready-made, factory-made source. It’s easy for ingredients to sneak in without our knowing it.
The currently-hot Paleo diet is based on the presupposition that our Paleo-era ancestors were healthier than we are because they hadn’t started eating grains, beans, or dairy. I disagree with the assumptions and the conclusion, but I’ve heard enough stories of people who had radically improved health on the Paleo diet — especially with autoimmune conditions — that I think there’s something to it. We may not fully understand the mechanism yet, but the results suggest there’s something valid to at least part of the Paleo prescription.
However, I think that going from no diet to a strict Paleo diet is a recipe for failure for most people. It’s too much change at one time to allow you to adapt your habits and your tastes in a sustainable way. (And the Whole30 is just 30 days of super-strict, no-cheats-allowed Paleo.) That’s why I recommend that you wean yourself off of sugar and refined carbs first. Once you’ve done that, what might you try next?
From there, I would recommend greatly reducing all of the wheat, corn, and soy in your diet. Why? Because:
- They make up a disproportionate amount of the standard American diet. Corn, in particular, finds its way into a disturbing percentage of our everyday foods. Read more about how corn sneaks into our meat and soft drinks here.
- A lot of people are reporting noticeable improvement when eliminating or restricting these items. Myself included. When I did Whole30 (after already being sugar-free for several months), my brain fog and heart palpitations went away.
- You’re going to be replacing all that bread and pasta with vegetables, which are almost always lower in calories and higher in nutrients than grains. Plus, less likely to kick off cravings.
- Both corn and soy have been bred to be resistant to RoundUp — ya know, that weed killer that kills anything it touches? — so that these crops can be sprayed with RoundUp without killing them! (Sugar cane and sugar beets have, too.) Supposedly, none of that makes it into our food. I’m not so sure I’m willing to take the risk, though.
- These foods have been rebred and/or genetically modified so much in the last several decades that they are significantly different than they were several decades ago. (“Theoretically [GMOs are] just the next level of agricultural advancement. What’s different is a new gene is being inserted into a crop which otherwise wouldn’t be there.”2) Between 1996 and 2013, the total surface area of land cultivated with GM crops increased by a factor of 100.3 Does this mean that these changes are definitely bad for us? No, but I’d rather not be a lab rat until we find out.
At first, the thought of giving up your bread, bagels, muffins, chips, crackers, and pasta (PASTA?!) sounds like a death sentence! And it’s a challenge, to be sure. But once you adjust to this new way of eating and cooking, it really becomes easy.
And in the next three days’ posts, I’m going to show you just how easy.
Later today, I’ll post a grocery list, then Saturday you’ll go shopping, and Saturday and Sunday you’ll do some easy-peasy cooking! I’ll introduce you to a couple simple, versatile meal templates.
The hash method:
And the soup method:
You won’t believe how many possibilities these two techniques will open up for you, OR how quick and simple they are!
I’m not a doctor, nutritionist, or any other health professional. You should always check stuff out for yourself!