A bewildering array of diet plans (from “real food” to Dexatrim) are available, and personally comparing these to identify one that “wins” can be daunting. However, society itself comes to the rescue here by providing a class of people who have a highly developed skill in cutting through noise and seeing things clearly. They are known as scientists. Thankfully, a pair of such professional probers set out to get to the bottom of the quagmire of diet plans and their conclusions agree with the adage that simple solutions can diminish big problems.
Simple solution example number one – sunlight: The village of Viganella in northern Italy is surrounded by mountains and, because of this, the quaint hamlet does not receive direct sunlight for almost three months of every year. A large mirror was installed on the correct mountain and it now reflects that most basic of necessities onto the town square. One and done.
Simple solution example number two – the space station: A potentially critical component of the International Space Station’s electrical system broke down in the summer of 2012, leaving the crew to effect repair stat. Surrounded as they were by ultra-sophisticated technologies, astronauts nevertheless could not identify the right tool for the job. That is, until someone taped a toothbrush to a simple metal grip. A cinch!
Simple solution example number three – great health: The many people who financially “win” from their participation in the $400 billion global health and nutrition industry may prefer not to hear it, but researchers advise that diets dominated by real food (fruit, vegetables, nuts and whole grains) may provide the greatest of all possible contributions to vibrant human health. Along with exercise, a diet of plant-based minimally processed foods, they say, are the best of all things that can be done. Natch.
Dr. David Katz, a researcher and physician with Yale University’s Prevention Research Center, rebels against what he sees as the empty promises of most diet plans and the latest-and-greatest nutritional supplements. In fact, he generally considers them to be another form of junk food. The journal Annual Reviews asked him and colleague Stephanie Meller to compare the scientific evidence of all the currently mainstream diet programs, choosing them ostensibly because of Katz’ reputation for dispassionate appraisals. Katz self-reports that he not only does not have “a dog in the fight” but that his only interest is getting to the truth.
The findings of their comparison have been published as “Can We Say What Diet Is Best for Health?” in which well-known diets such as low fat, Paleolithic, low glycemic, vegan, low carbohydrate, and the “real food” Mediterranean diet plans are compared. The team of two point out, first, that rigorous, long term studies of the various diet possibilities have not been done and, therefore, no specific diet can be pointed to as the very best. However, through the morass, they have identified certain common elements which pervade, aspects that have proven beneficial to human health. Their conclusion: so-called real foods – those that are close to nature, mostly plants, and processed to a minimum – are “decisively associated with health promotion and disease prevention.”
The question of whether anyone hears a scientist when she screams in the forest can be compared to the question of whether a respected authority’s recommendation to consume a lot of celery, carrots and berries will be taken to heart. Indeed, Katz and Meller’s top-of-the-lungs conclusion does not introduce a new concept to the ongoing discussion about human health. However, the continued increases in the rates of cancer, diabetes and other diet-preventable maladies does beg the question of how many do actually listen. It is possible that the findings of such Ivy Leaguers’ are, in fact, only academic.
Katz and Meller’s paper avoids any temptation toward simplistic reductionism by pointing out the specific positives they see in some of the diets. The paper does, in fact, cheer loudly for the so-called Mediterranean real food diet which, it says, displays proven benefits as a preventative against cancer, heart disease, obesity and type 2 diabetes. That diet is conspicuous for its modest intake of meat and alcohol while encouraging the consumption of fiber, antioxidants and polyphenols. (Antioxidants and polyphenols are available almost exclusively from basic plant foods.)
Also noticeable in the article is a promotion of the “sensibility” of carbohydrate-selective diets (not to be confused with low-carbohydrate diets). In such diets, whole grains (not to be confused with whole flours) can assist in mitigating glycemic loads and have positive associations with weight control and cancer risk. (Whole grains are those that retain the germ, endosperm and bran of the original, out-of-the-earth plant, as opposed to refined grains, which generally carry only the endosperm into consumers’ mouths.)
Katz and Meller’s message is that real foods are highly relevant to general health, disease prevention and longevity. Simply and profoundly, what humans actually need to physically thrive is already, and has always been, available.
Opinion by Gregory Baskin