Looking at the broad sweep of human history, we who are lucky enough to live in the developed world are surrounded by an unprecedented abundance of food and food choices. Freed from the struggle to find enough food to survive in our immediate environment, a struggle that has marked most of human existence, we have the luxury of declining to eat certain foods that our ancestors would have gladly eaten. This freedom from want allows us to make informed choices to improve the nutritional quality of our diet, but it has also fueled the demonization of foods like wheat and dairy that have long been valued as wholesome and the exaltation of foods like kale and quinoa, which have long lingered in comparative dietary obscurity.
This freedom from want allows us to make informed choices to improve the nutritional quality of our diet, but it has also fueled the demonization of foods
So how are we to make the most of our food freedom when we are constantly bombarded with new revelations about heroes and villains lurking in our kitchens—only to have those revelations revealed in turn as the work of publicity seekers pedaling bad science?
Here are a few simple suggestions for making good food choices.
Don’t Make Any Sudden Moves
Radical shifts in your diet, or any other aspect of your life, are rarely a great idea. Unless a food or product is the subject of a recall because it is contaminated or unwholesome, you can generally continue to consume it while you are learning more about the pros and cons of including it in your diet.
Consider the Source
This is true both for the source of your food and the source of your information about food. The gold standard for both would be clean and ethically produced. If food is sourced from someplace where agricultural products are not inspected, there are no restrictions on the use of pesticides, and working conditions are unsafe and unsanitary, you probably shouldn’t consume it. Similarly, if food “science” comes from a “dirty” source with an economic or political interest in the “story,” you probably shouldn’t consume it either. While no single source of information is entirely reliable, the editorial standards for publication in established medical journals are fairly high and provide some level of screening to help filter out some of the junk science.
Look for Corroboration
Real science takes time—and generates results that can be repeated. A tremendous amount of research and peer review of that research is needed to start to tease out the truth about any subject. Many of the tantalizing or horrifying food stories that we read, especially those stories that bubble up in the unedited wilderness of the Internet, are based upon things suggested by early findings and small studies.
“Listen” to Your Body—and Your Doctor
Trust your experience. If something hasn’t bothered you in the past, it probably isn’t going to be a problem in the short term while you are deciding whether it is a good choice for you. Don’t forget that you are unique—from your smile to the curves of your digestive tract. If your best friend is one of the very small number of people who cannot tolerate gluten, that doesn’t mean your health will improve if you eliminate certain grains from your diet. But if you are experiencing some symptoms of a food allergy or intolerance, most often digestive and dermatological issues, it is important to talk to your doctor about how to identify a problem food and eliminate it from your diet.
Goji berries? Acai berries? Coconut water? Kale? Each of these foods is wonderful in its own way, but there are no magic berries, leaves, teas or juices that will change your life. All plant-based foods, in their whole, natural, unprocessed state, are truly miracle foods packed with antioxidants, vitamins and other healthful phytochemicals. Enjoy them in as fresh and unprocessed a state as you can, and enjoy them as a diverse assortment. Humans have evolved to be quite successful as omnivores, and we thrive on a varied diet. Dietary diversity really is key, because when it comes to foods, we really can have too much of a good thing—and the current kale craze provides an excellent example. Doctors are seeing people in their offices with digestive issues and symptoms of severe thyroid gland suppression as a result of obsessive over-consumption of kale.
Savor the Flavors of Life
No matter what food choices you make, don’t let food be one more source of stress and anxiety. Try to follow a simple 80/20 strategy to build the bulk of your diet; 80%, from whole foods with a special emphasis on colorful, water-rich fruits and vegetables and 20% from foods that you love, regardless of their inherent healthfulness. Sharing foods you love with those you love will give a bigger boost to the health of your heart than you’ll ever get from a bowl of chia seeds.
Article by Howard Murad, M.D., FAAD, a world renowned skincare expert and founder of the Inclusive Health movement. Click here to learn more about Dr. Murad.