“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”
If you’ve purchased a life insurance policy (good move!), then you already know that your health was a pretty major consideration in determining your premium and any discounts that might have been offered along the way. Obviously it pays in more ways than one to keep yourself healthy! Experts agree, “[g]ood nutrition is an important part of leading a healthy lifestyle. Combined with physical activity, your diet can help you to reach and maintain a healthy weight, reduce your risk of chronic diseases (like heart disease and cancer), and promote your overall health.”
So it’s clear: eat well, stay healthy—or at least healthier. Now comes the tricky part. How? What’s the magic formula for eating well? Is it the Paleo diet? Some swear by it while others profoundly disagree with the meat-heavy grain-free approach to eating. Maybe the opposite approach, going vegan—consuming no animal products whatsoever—is the key? Could be, but there are pros and cons to this diet as well. Perhaps it’s a gluten-free diet that will free you from the bonds of illness and prolong your life? Well, unless you have celiac disease or a wheat allergy, again the reviews are mixed for eliminating wheat from your menu.
If your head’s spinning by now, it’s okay. Trying to suss out the truth of which diet is best is kind of like trying to find an honest man in a liar’s convention. But the good news is there are some basic guidelines available, which, regardless of the specific approach you might take to your daily meal plan, will enable you to make smart, healthy choices about food.
In his book Food Rules, writer and local food advocate Michael Pollan offers a simple, seven-word prescription for a healthy diet: eat food, not too much, mostly vegetables. Succinct as it is, Pollan’s advice is actually packed with meaning and, it turns out, it’s entirely agreeable to the mainstream of experts.
The American Heart Association, for example, has published nutritional guidelines that advocate a diet heavy in fruits, vegetables, and grains while limiting the consumption of meats, sugary foods, and soft drinks.
The American Cancer Society concurs, and recommends people “[c]onsume a healthy diet, with an emphasis on plant foods.” ACS guidelines specifically encourage limiting consumption of processed meat and red meat, at least 2.5 cups of vegetables and fruits a day, and choosing whole grains over refined products.
After Pollan presented his point of view to the Centers for Disease control, Anne Haddix, CDC’s chief policy officer at the Office of Strategy and Innovation indicated it was time to implement Pollan’s advice at the federal policy level.
“How we go forward on this will take some very different types of thinking than we have done in the past,” Haddix said. “We have an opening we have not had for years. … Of the federal agencies trying to address food issues, CDC is uniquely positioned. We have to step out as leaders. … Now is the time to ramp up our efforts and reach out to people who make us uncomfortable and go for it.”
It looks like policy makers are paying attention. The President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition’s guide on How to Eat Healthy emphasizes fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and a variety of lean proteins—including, but not emphasizing meat.
We’ve come a long way from the old-school food pyramid, and that’s a good thing. Advances in science have led to a greater understanding of what, exactly, proper nutrition is—and more importantly, what it is not. The Harvard School of Public Health has a great article online about the evolution of the food pyramid, which can be viewed on their website.
The bottom line is this: balance. Michael Pollan, the AHA, the ACS, the CDC, and a panoply of experts agree that having a balanced diet composed of mostly whole, nutritious foods is the most important aspect of living a healthy life. It’s the extremes in life that get us, and it’s probably best to be on guard against any diet that claims to be the One True Diet for all of humanity. As the late comedian Johnny Carson once said, “I know a man who gave up smoking, drinking, sex, and rich food. He was healthy right up to the day he killed himself.”
Got some food advice? Working a diet that’s working for you? Please tell us in the comments. We’d love to hear from you!