Have you noticed that the subject of nutrition is one of the great controversies of our time? It never stops being a source of differing and often opposing opinions on what and how we should be eating. Low fat or low carbs? Or are calories the only thing that matters? Do any of those diets we hear about like Atkins, South Beach, Stillman, Zone, Paleo, Ultimate, Mediterranean, Jenny Craig, Mayo Clinic, Weight Watchers, Slimfast, Vegetarian and Vegan, DASH, Nutrisystem, Macrobiotic, and Whole30 really work?
And beyond dieting we have been inundated with nutritional advice and an abundance of guidelines from the government. What has been the result?
Where did we go so wrong?
One major shift in our outlook on nutrition occurred in 1992, when the department of Agriculture came out with its Food Pyramid, replacing the “four food groups”, (called the Basic 4) that had been the standard for the previous 36 years. A dietary recommendation that promoted a balanced diet was swept away by something that looked decidedly unbalanced. And where did the food triangle come from? In 1974 a Swedish Grocery chain, Kooperativa Förbundet, invented the food pyramid as a response to high food prices at that time. They were trying to find a way for consumers to afford a nutritious diet for the lowest possible cost. In other words, they were trying to solve a completely different problem. Oddly the Swedish government distanced themselves
from it and continued to promote its food circle of 7 food groups. But the food pyramid took hold and was adopted by many countries around the world including the United States in 1992.
And we can look long before that. Both Presidents Eisenhower and Johnson had multiple heart attacks during their lifetimes. Both were prescribed low cholesterol diets to reduce their body’s cholesterol levels, and yet both experienced increases! In fact, when Johnson “gave up” and began eating beef from his own ranch, his cholesterol levels actually went down.
So where does that leave us? The tenants of the food pyramid and other long-standing nutritional “truths” should be familiar to everyone:
- Low fat
- Low sodium
- Low cholesterol
- Lots of whole grains
This has been the standard for a healthy diet for decades with dubious results. At the same time, researchers, nutritionists and interestingly body builders who focus to an extreme on weight loss have taken a completely different approach.
In Bill Phillips’ bestselling book “Body for Life” published in 1999, he puts forth a nutrition and exercise program for average people based on the same principles used by professional body builders. It emphasizes resistance (weight) training over endurance, a balanced diet that includes moderate quality fats and carbohydrates, and higher amounts of protein that most competing diets. Refined sugar is to be avoided. This program has transformed thousands of lives (see bodyforlife.com/success-stories and “Body of Work” on youtube).
These ideas are now working their way into the main-stream:
- The US Government Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee now acknowledges that “cholesterol is not considered a nutrient of concern for overconsumption” (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2015/02/10/feds-poised-to-withdraw-longstanding-warnings-about-dietary-cholesterol/)
- Consuming eggs every day is not associated with cholesterol problems or heart disease. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16340654)
- “The zealous drive by politicians to limit our salt intake has little basis in science” (http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/its-time-to-end-the-war-on-salt/)
- The value of whole grain based food has also come under question. (http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/whole-grain-foods-not-always-healthful/)
It’s as if everything we “knew” about nutrition was wrong. So who do we trust? Well, I think we can safely assume a few undeniable truths about our bodies and our diets:
- Genetically we are pretty much the same as we were thousands of years ago.
- Refined sugar has only been available and affordable to most Americans in the past 100 years or so.
- As a nation, we have been getting very obese in just a few decades.
- The dietary recommendations since the 1950s (low fat, low cholesterol, low sodium) have clearly failed.
So what should we do? My favorite word of advice for a healthy diet is this: Stay on the perimeter at the grocery store and avoid the isles. In other words, eat the same healthy foods that our ancestors did and we’ll be just fine.
My own experience? I lost 25% of my body fat in 30 days just by eliminating sugar, bread, dairy and any “man-made” food. It wasn’t that hard. And although I’ve relaxed my diet somewhat since, the habits that were formed during those 30 days have stuck. I’ve maintain my body fat index at 11-12% in the years since.
You may be asking, how does this tie into technology? My advice is to “stick with what we know” and avoid the fads, the hype, and the “cutting edge”. Tried and true is good. Simple is good. Latest and greatest is bad. Rapid and unending change is bad. If you disagree, just keep in mind that the purpose of technology in a business environment is to increase productivity and nothing more. It’s serious business. It really is.