The question I get asked the most is: "What Should I Eat?" With so many diets these days, it's no wonder people don't know what to eat. This what I call nutritional confusion and this can lead to eating disorders such as orthorexia. Several factors contribute to this: the media, nutritional studies, and improper dietary guidelines.
One month eggs are bad, the next month eggs are good. One month coconut oil is good, the next month coconut oil is bad. The same goes for red meat, bacon, kale, spinach, grains, you name it. What you hear and see in the media is highly confusing. Why? Because the media doesn't know nutrition, they just want shocking headlines to increase ratings.
A perfect example of this is when Time magazine told the world: Cholesterol is bad for you. People listened. But then it said: Eat butter. Consumers are confused by misleading headlines and an uneducated media... not to mention, fad diets and competing information.
Conducting a nutritional study is not simple. The details and interpreting the data are important. Avoidance of confounding factors is paramount. You've got to look through the details and understand how to interpret the data in order to make sense of it. For instance, researchers conducted a recent study on "high-fat diets." What they found in their study was decreased gut flora and complications with disease and diabetes. This didn't make sense to me. Upon review of the study, I saw the "high fat diet" used did not include avocados, nuts, and good fats. They were eating McDonald’s and ice cream, which contain a lot of sugar and unhealthy fats. The moral: The devil is in the details.
Improper Dietary Guidelines
The United States does not have proper dietary guidelines. The National Academy of Sciences met to review the dietary guidelines process and found our present guidelines ignore large amounts of data, potentially due to industry influence. They hadn't been following the science so they didn't reflect the science.
Orthorexia: An Eating Disorder
Nutritional confusion can cause people to follow rigid diets and restrictive protocols in an attempt to ease symptoms and achieve better health. This leads to a condition called "orthorexia." Orthorexia is when someone avoids specific foods in the belief that they are harmful. This is a condition I see more often than not in my practice.
Orthorexia is an eating disorder. It's insidious because it falls under the guise of being healthy. Orthorexics tend to over-exercise and eat restricted “healthy” foods only.
Most people have developed a psycho-emotional fear around certain foods - rational or not. There are those few who truly have negative reactions to certain foods, but for most it’s psychological not physical. This becomes a problem because if they remain restricted for too long the restriction can produce hypersensitivities to the few foods they are eating. In addition, restrictions can deprive orthorexics of essential nutrients and vitamins, leading to malnutrition and putting the person's wellbeing at risk.
So what should I eat?
From the perspective of Functional Nutrition, resilience (not restriction) is the goal. As I tell my clients, "Eat the rainbow."
Nutrition strives to restore balance, integrity and resilience, not to be more and more and more restricted. If your relatively healthy - eat everything, in moderation.* Make sure your plate contains a rainbow of colors.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: It's all about the balance.
If you have any questions, as always you can respond in the comments below or contact me here.
*Please note: Certain disease states such as celiac or SIBO require a more restricted diet. Working with a nutritionist who specializes in these areas is highly recommended.