Eat Real Food
Of course, each diet defines “real food” differently. Vegetarians will tell you meat is toxic and best left to the lions; Paleo folks think that grains are unhealthy and best left to the birds. Vegans will tell you milk is for baby cows, and low carb dieters will tell you that fruit makes you fat. There are even people called fruitarians who believe that vegetables—yes, vegetables—are toxic and unhealthy. So while there is little consensus on what healthy food is, most people (who aren’t selling anything, anyway) can agree on what healthy food is NOT: whole, real food is not processed, packaged food with a list of ingredients that includes additives and unpronounceable chemicals.
No leading nutritional authority is advocating an increase in processed food consumption. In fact, the one thing that all the differing diet ideologies seem to agree on is that processed foods should be limited as much as possible. The tides are finally turning on the fat phobia that was ingrained in us over the last four decades and that lead people to consume tubs of plastic that I Can Definitely BelieveAren’t Butter. Mark Bittman, a prominant food writer and sometimes vegan, just declared that butter is back—thank God, because it’s been back in my fridge for years. And while he does caution against over consumption of animal, corn, and wheat products, it is not because they are intrinsically unhealthy, but rather because they so frequently contain antibiotics and chemicals due to their massive, industrial production.
A new study by Dr. David Katz of Yale University examined various diets and found that the real winner when it comes to health is simply real food, not a set of rigid restrictions or principles. But is it really possible that health is that simple? Yes and no. Yes, in that health is determined by many factors, and diet is only one of them. The truth is that our genes, psychology, and other lifestyle factors all play a role in determining our health. And no, in that each individual can and should tailor their diet and lifestyle to their individual needs. If you are truly allergic to cow’s milk and feel markedly better eliminating it from your diet, by all means do it. But if you enjoy eating cheese and suffer no real physical damage by doing so, why go without it based on ideology? Surely there are worse things you can put in your body. The same thing goes for some rice, or a baked potato. Whether or not potatoes are Paleo or not, they are probably not the real villains in your diet. They may not have as much nutrition as some other vegetables, but let’s not kid ourselves into thinking that eating them is as harmful as eating Doritos!
Which reminds me of something Voltaire once wrote: “The best is the enemy of the good.” It sounds even better in French, but the idea is that the quest for perfection often keeps people from making any improvement—and I’ve been there. There are actually diet plans that prohibit carrots because of their sugar content. I know, because I’ve followed them, whole-heartedly believing carrots were part of the problem. It’s sort of hilarious to me now, but also kind of sad. Because when you decide there is only one perfect, healthy diet, eating becomes an exercise in discipline and dissatisfaction. Well, at least it did for me. If I can’t eat a damn carrot, eventually I’m going to eat an entire carrot cake. For me, extreme restrictions always seem to eventually swing the other way…
Personally, I’m focusing less and less on any specific diet and more on just eating whole, real foods instead of fake foods. I believe that homemade whipped cream has a place in my life, that butter belongs on my broccoli, and that a few drops of honey in my green tea aren’t anything to worry about. Whether or not my new approach will make me any healthier physically remains to be seen, but one thing is already clear: I’m much happier enjoying the good than I was obsessing about the best.