“Our food choices are some of the most important choices we get to make in life. The way we eat has a bigger effect on our health and the health of the planet than any other activity.” - Michael Pollan, The Omnivore’s Dilemma
I had to read Michael Pollan’s book for my culinary medicine elective. I took the class because, while food is quite literally medicine, when we graduate medical school we are woefully ill-equipped to counsel patients about myths and facts related to healthy eating.
This is horrifying, since “4 of the top 10 diseases that kill Americans are the result of a bad diet” (Pollan, 2006). As if that isn’t enough, check out the WHO’s list of top 10 causes of death worldwide: 5 out of 10 are, again, the result of poor diet. If doctors can’t help their patients eat better, how can we truly help them combat chronic disease?
Even for people diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, though we may be told by our doctors that we can eat anything (as long as we give insulin for it), this couldn’t be poorer advice. None of us should be eating the standard American diet. In fact, people with type 1 diabetes are just as susceptible to insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, and the onslaught of chronic disease that stem from these conditions as the next non-T1D person.
“Eat Food. Not Too Much. Mostly Plants.”
That’s it. It's really quite simple. The diet industry would have us believe that healthy eating is complicated, that we need to focus on demonizing individual components of food so that they can keep processing and repackaging our food and selling it back to us as “healthy.”
But while the nutritional literature is vast and confusing, the data overwhelmingly support the very simple truth that: the more real, whole, 1-ingredient food we eat, the better our health outcomes.
What is real food? It’s not processed or packaged foods that have to advertise themselves as healthy.
It’s foods that don’t come in packaging, foods that our great-grandparents would actually recognize. Foods without added preservatives, HCFS, oil, or sugar (check the labels–it’s in everything!). It’s eating meat as it used to be: as a luxury. And composing the most and rest of meals (your plate) with vegetables.
It means preventing or reversing heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, and insulin resistance, and reducing the risk of certain cancers and dementia in ways that traditional medical interventions cannot. It means that your food choices will automatically have the right balance of nutrients to help you live a long and healthy life. It means you’ll probably lose weight without trying. It means your blood sugars won’t spike as much after meals and you’ll get off the blood sugar rollercoaster.
Let Food Be Your Medicine
If you’re looking for a label, the Mediterranean Diet (and culture) comes the closest. Indeed, it is scientifically shown to lead to the best health outcomes.
And remember: change doesn’t happen overnight. Track your usual food intake and start small by making small substitutions and small sacrifices. Slowly build habits over time! Your body will thank you.