I am about to launch a series of posts on a layman’s perspective about nutrition. As I mentioned in My Eating Story, I became extremely interested in this topic and have read extensively on it since I was diagnosed with aortic stenosis. But before I get to that I thought I would summarize what I believe most mainstream nutritionists think about healthy ways of eating.
During my rehab at El Camino hospital we had a lecture from the director of the facility who is herself trained in nutrition. She advocated a way of eating that was essentially whole food plant based (wfpb): minimize junk like overly refined foods, eat lots of fruits and veggies, and cut back on meat, replacing some of it with plant sources of protein. She recommended we read The Blue Zones, by Dan Buettner, about regions in the world where some of the healthiest and longest living populations live, to back this up. Those populations all eat variations of wfpb.
She also pointed out that may it appear to many of us that nutrition science has flitted all around on its stance on various nutrition topics, and that’s how it’s presented in the media. But in reality, science tends to slowly evolve after research has stood the test of time, and mainstream nutritionists are largely in concurrence on the broad aspects of what constitutes a healthy diet. I know this slow evolution also has occurred in my own field, but the media isn’t interested in it enough to publish premature headlines about it like they do in the nutrition field.
Recently I read Food and Fitness After 50 by Dr. Christine Rosenbloom and Dr. Bob Murray. Dr. Rosenbloom is a nutritionist with and Professor Emeritus at Georgia State University, and also has a lot of nutritional information on her website. Dr Murray is an exercise physiologist. In the section of the book “Eat Well” the authors make the same point about how nutrition science has evolved. They then give key points of a good diet. It should:
- Contain all macronutrients (carbs, fat, protein) in a healthy balance
- Focus on nutrient rich foods
- Reduce chronic disease risk
- Be enjoyable to eat
They then suggest 4 recommended ways of eating that meet these points: mediterranean, DASH, Flexitarian, and MIND ( a combination of Mediterranean and DASH).
All of these diets emphasize fruits, veggies, whole grains. Mediterranean also emphasizes fish, legumes and olive oil with other animal products in moderation. DASH (for Diet Against Stroke and Hypertension) has been around since the ‘90s and recommends beans, fish, and low-fat animal products. MIND (Mediterreanean-DASH Intervention for Neurogenitive delay) is a more more recent combination that has been shown to reduce age-related cognitive decline. Flexitarian is “flexible vegetarian” and recommends fruits, vegetable, grains, legumes, seeds, and nuts with other animal products on occasion. To me it appears to be essentially equivalent to whole-food plant based. You can see there is a lot of overlap among these 4 diets even if they don’t agree in all details.
Dr. Rosenbloom also talks about processed food in her book. Not all processed food is bad, frozen fruits and vegetables or canned beans, for example, are healthy. I think “junk” is more overly processed food, like cereals with refined grains and lots of added sugar. The food industry has scientists that work to find the “bliss point”, or optimum blend of salt, sugar, and fat that make food taste like more . Remember the Lays potato chip commercial “I bet you can’t eat just one”? They weren’t kidding. Those are the kinds of foods we really want to avoid, like Tv dinners, cookies, ice cream, chips, etc.
Based on the similarities between this book and what I was taught at my rehab class, I assume these are the consensus among mainstream nutritionists. I think the vast majority of people would do well on any of the above 4 diets or a combination of them, and certainly be much more healthy than eating the Standard American Diet. Exceptions might be people with certain food allergies or intolerances, such as to grains, legumes, or dairy, who would want to avoid or minimize the problem foods. But the nutrients in them can be found from other sources. People with gluten intolerance or its more severe form, celiac disease, for example, can eat pseudo-grains such as amaranth, buckwheat, and quinoa.
Eat Well, Move Well, Be Well
Food and Fitness After 50 actually has 3 sections, “eat well”, “move well”, and “be well”. What I described above is from “eat well”. The move well section is a detailed description about physical activity for healthy aging. The be well section cover topics like social support and stress management. In a previous post I discussed what I call the four pillars of healthy aging. Eat well and Move well are like my first two pillars, while Be Well covers my last two. I highly recommend this book for learning about all of these topics.
- Moss, M, Salt, Sugar, Fat, Random House, 2013.