I know. Food is complicated.
Every day we’re bombarded with the latest science and fads telling us what we should eat more of, less of, or not at all. Should I drink coffee? Am I meant to eat like my paleo ancestors? Is it good or bad to eat fish? Are carbs in or out? What about meat? Atkins or Ornish?
The result of all this advice? Food anxiety. Like the “paper or plastic” conundrum, we worry about what to choose, what to avoid, and either way end up feeling guilty or anxious.
So I’m going to save you some time and anxiety. But before I do, read this:
Yes there are exceptions to every one of these things. If you are pregnant, you should take certain vitamins. If you have celiac disease you should avoid gluten. And so forth.
Got it? Good. Then let’s go.
Today, right now, you can stop worrying about …
1. Which Vitamins & Supplements to Take
Just stop. Unless your doctor directs you, do not buy another vitamin or supplement ever again. Save your money. Buy fruit. Eat spinach. Go out in the sun.
Here’s the thing — with very few exceptions, not only do you not need vitamins and supplements in your diet, but the ones you are taking may be making you less healthy.
For example, excessive amounts of refined vitamins (especially A, C, E and beta carotene) can increase your risk of cancer and other diseases by increasing the concentration of antioxidants. And, despite what you may have read, antioxidants are not a thing you want more of:
True, [antioxidants] knock the wind out of free radicals in a test tube. But once inside the human body, they seem strangely powerless. Not only are they bad at preventing oxidative damage, they can even make things worse. Many scientists are now concluding that, at best, they are a waste of time and money. At worst they could be harmful. (The Anti-oxidant Myth)
“But,” you say, “I have terrible eating habits. My multivitamin makes up for that.”
No. It doesn’t. If your diet is so bad that you suffer a vitamin deficiency, then your problem is beyond anything a multivitamin can fix. Nutrient-poor foods lack a whole raft of things your body needs. Vitamins are just a tiny part of that.
It is always better to get your nutrients from food, agrees registered dietitian Karen Ansel. “Food contains thousands of phytochemicals, fiber, and more that work together to promote good health that cannot be duplicated with a pill or a cocktail of supplements.” (What Vitamin and Mineral Supplements Can and Can’t Do – WebMD)
2. OMG Gluten!
This worry has got to be put to bed right now. Unless you are one of the rare individuals who have been diagnosed by a doctor as having celiac disease or a person who has a true wheat allergy, you do not have to worry for one minute about wheat and gluten.
Wheat does not cause you to gain more weight than other grains. Wheat consumption has not been scientifically linked to increased levels of obesity. There is no such thing as “wheat belly” and nothing particularly special about the “Wheat Belly Diet.”
In fact, foods containing whole-wheat, which have been prepared in customary ways (such as baked or extruded), and eaten in recommended amounts, have been associated with significant reductions in risks for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and a more favourable long term weight management (Brouns, et al)
Meanwhile, if you think you have celiac disease, get tested before you spend a whole lot of effort eliminating wheat and gluten from your diet.
Brouns, Fred J. P. H., Vincent J. van Buul, and Peter R. Shewry. “Does Wheat Make Us Fat and Sick?” Journal of Cereal Science 58, no. 2 (September 2013): 209–15. doi:10.1016/j.jcs.2013.06.002.
Wheat Belly: An Analysis of Selected Statements from the Book. [pdf]
Marion Nestle: Is Wheat Bad for You? Not for most people. (includes summary of Brouns et al)
3. Which Diet to Follow
For overall health, this one is easy: Science compared them all, and the winner was Real Food
“A diet of minimally processed foods close to nature, predominantly plants, is decisively associated with health promotion and disease prevention.”
Figure 1 The theme of optimal eating. Diverse diets making competing claims actually emphasize key elements that are generally compatible, complementary, or even duplicative. Competition for public attention and a share of weight-loss/health-promotion markets results in exaggerated claims and an emphasis on mutually exclusive rather than shared elements.
In other words, for optimum health, it doesn’t matter which diet you follow – vegan, paleo, low-carb, Mediterranean — as long as your overall dietary pattern adheres to a guiding principle of eating a variety of natural unprocessed foods, most of which are plants.
This holds true for weight loss as well. Another study that examined “branded diets” found they’re all equally effective. It doesn’t matter which one you pick, as long as you stick to it.
At six months, both low-carb and low-fat dieters achieved similar weight loss — about eight kilograms, on average, compared with people not on a diet. Low-carb diets (Atkins, South Beach, Zone) had a slight early edge over low-fat (Ornish, Rosemary Conley) plans, but by 12 months the differences between the two diets had mostly evaporated. (Canada.com [Bold mine])
An important point is that any “diet” that involves dropping an entire food group (carbs, meat, etc) is inherently hard to stick to, so within six months (often sooner), most people resort to their regular eating habits.
So, the bottom line: To lose weight, choose whichever branded diet appeals to you. Feel free to switch to a different one if you lose interest in the first one. Then, clean up your eating habits by choosing an overall healthful diet of natural food, mostly plants.
Katz, D.L., and S. Meller. “Can We Say What Diet Is Best for Health?” Annual Review of Public Health 35, no. 1 (2014): 83–103. doi:10.1146/annurev-publhealth-032013-182351.
Johnston, B. C., Kanters, S., Bandayrel, K., Wu, P., Naji, F., Siemieniuk, R. A., … Mills, E. J. (2014). Comparison of weight loss among named diet programs in overweight and obese adults: a meta-analysis. JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association, 312(9), 923–933. doi:10.1001/jama.2014.10397
4. Eating MSG
As of right now you can stop examining labels and worrying over menus in search of monosodium glutamate. MSG will not hurt you.
“Decades of research have concluded: There is no clear evidence linking dietary levels of MSG to unpleasant symptoms.”
This page is the source of the infographic and provides explanation and links to studies: Monosodium Glutamate – An Undeserved Reputation?
5. Drinking 8 glasses of water a day
That’s so 1945.
Most people get plenty of liquid every day.* Why? Because everything counts – water, coffee, apples, orange juice, soup, tomato sauce, lettuce, milk, beer, gin. Even a baked potato is 75% water. So even if you had zero glasses of water, as long as you consumed other liquids and foods you probably wouldn’t become dehydrated.
You also get plenty of liquid a day because – get this – you get thirsty. That’s how nature keeps us hydrated. The sensation of thirst happens before we become dehydrated.
So, instead of counting glasses of water and carrying water bottles everywhere you go, here’s what to do instead: Drink water when you are thirsty.
* NOTE: Elderly people should keep track of water consumption and try to consume 2 to 2.5 litres a day. The body’s thirst sensation begins to decrease after the age of 50 so older people are at risk of dehydration.
Mental Floss: Where did the 8 Glasses of Water Myth Come From?
There. Are you a happy egg now?