Nutrition has never been so hot. Diet topics are national news. Fad diet books continue to make the best-seller list. Television shows feature weight loss camps with diet advice freely given. And, the internet is a virtual tidal wave of nutrition information. We have never had so much access to diet advice, yet Americans are fatter and eat worse than ever.
A large part of the problem is while nutrition information is freely available, there is more misinformation and more conflicting information than ever. First saturated fat is bad for you. Now it is fine, but sugar is the problem. Agave syrup is a good substitute for table sugar. Oh wait, actually it is worse than high fructose corn syrup. Low fat diets are the best for weight loss, then high-fat/low carbohydrate diets are touted as the sure-fire way to lose and maintain weight. Or, maybe it is Weight Watchers and the Mediterranean diet that is your best sure-fired way to lose those extra pounds? Numerous food-combining diets have come and gone, as have body-type diets, blood-type diets, and so on. It is easy to throw up our arms and say, “I give up. I’m going to eat whatever I want because the experts can’t figure out what’s what!”
As I’ve discussed in previous columns, nutrition is not a black-and-white science. There always will be varying opinions and scientific findings that conflict and confuse. But, there is a solution. Instead of focusing on where experts (and fad diet gurus) differ, let’s look at what the vast majority of studies agree upon. To use a term coined by Dr. David Katz, let’s look at “Feet, Forks and Fingers.”
The research overwhelming supports ten basic lifestyle habits that lower disease risk by almost 100%. Of those, three account for approximately 80% of all age-related, chronic diseases: exercise (feet), diet (forks), and smoking (fingers). People who exercise daily and sometimes vigorously, eat nutritious diets, and don’t smoke are at very low risk for disease.
When it comes to Forks, there are three diet habits that consistently lower disease risk, including cancer, diabetes and heart disease, the three main causes of suffering and death in the United States. Those three diet habits are: 1) 100% whole grains, 2) colorful vegetables, and 3) colorful fruit. Study after study finds that when people eat mostly 100% whole grains and load every plate with colorful produce, they lower their risk for heart disease by 80%, diabetes risk drops by up to 90%, and cancer risk is reduced by 60%. That goes for men, women, children and elderly, and all races.
The studies have been done in every country throughout the world. A study from Sun Yat-Sen University in China concludes that vegetables lower all chronic diseases (Molecules 2015;20:21138), while a study from Curtin University in Australia found that vegetables lower pancreatic cancer (Cancers 2015;7:2309). Researchers at Emory University in Atlanta conclude that vegetables lower non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (Hepatobiliary Surgery and Nutrition 2015;4:161) and a study from the University of Liverpool in the UK found that a vegetable-rich diet creates a healthy mix of bacteria in the gut that in turn lowers disease risk. Whole grains reduce the risk for the same disease that refined grains promote, including heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, and even obesity.
It’s simple. Skip the hype and the conflicting news stories. Focus on Feet, Forks and Fingers. Exercise daily, load every plate with colorful produce, switch from refined to whole grains, and don’t smoke.
Elizabeth Somer, M.A.,R.D.