Nutritional advice seems, at times, confusing.
We’re told to eat like we live on a Greek island or perhaps to eat like a caveman. Sometimes the advice is to eat more protein or fat or carbs; other times it’s to eat less protein or fat or fewer carbs. Some diets say no human should be consuming any sort of dairy, while others tell us to avoid wheat.
It’s enough to make you throw up your hands in frustration.
Fortunately, overthinking nutrition in this way is also completely unnecessary.
As Marion Nestle, Paulette Goddard Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University, put it in a recent blog post:”Nutrition advice could not be easier to understand.” Almost all nutrition experts would give the same basic advice to the average person, and Nestle sums up this advice perfectly in 14 words:
“Eat plenty of vegetables and fruits; balance calories; don’t eat too much junk food.”
That’s all the average person needs to know about diet. There are no deep secrets, no magic pills. If your doctor tells you that you need to start avoiding a food or eating more of something, listen. But otherwise, don’t worry about it.
Nestle isn’t the only one to distill the supposedly complicated discussion of nutrition into a simple statement. Author Michael Pollan memorably put it as: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” And writer Mark Bittman put it perhaps even more plainly: “Eat Real Food.”
Still, Nestle tells Business Insider that the confusion is understandable.
“Most people get their information about nutrition from food companies selling products and from the media hyping the latest research,” she writes in an email. “Reporters love writing about breakthroughs,” even though those “breakthroughs,” when analysed in context, don’t normally change anything from the basic advice to look for good, real food.
There are many different types of foods in our diets, and trying to specifically look at what the latest research may say about a specific food can be confusing. “The messages about foods often seem contradictory,” Nestle says.
But as she and other experts point out, the solutions to basic questions about diet are simple.
We know that junk food — processed items packed with sugar and salt — isn’t good for us. That’s not Bittman’s “real food,” which Pollan simply refers to as “food.” And plants provide us with most of what we need.
None of this advice is draconian either. No one is saying you can’t touch meat or cheese or that you can’t consume alcohol.
“The simple choices and actions don’t make money for anyone and nobody is pushing for them,” Nestle says. But focusing on those simple choices provides the basic dietary advice that we all need.
Eat well, and don’t overdo it. Deep down at least, we all know exactly what that means.