Every few years, another diet seems to be all the rage. Food fads come and go every day. Go ahead, try to follow all of the advice that has proliferated: eat low fat, cut out all sugar, eat like a caveman, become a vegan, cut out gluten, go dairy-free, measure glycemic index.
You’d be left with nothing but water — and maybe spinach. (Most diets allow spinach.)
As you push to make positive changes in 2015, the best advice is simply to ignore the cacophony of “expert” voices. The secret to healthy eating is painfully basic. Michael Pollan articulated it memorably several years ago: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
Mark Bittman, a longtime advocate of sensible eating, makes the case for some similarly untrendy basics in a 2014 column for The New York Times, arguing that vilifying salt, fat, and sugar misses the real problem. There is a mounting public-health epidemic in this country around obesity, diabetes, and other problems associated with unhealthy diet and sedentary living, and the answer, Bittman says, is simple: “Eat Real Food.”
Almost all of the unhealthiest food — the products highest in bad fats, sugar, and salt — comes out of a bag or a box, not off of a tree or from the ground.
Pollan recommended that people avoid “anything your great-great-grandmother wouldn’t recognise as food” and “shop the perimeter” of the supermarket, largely avoiding the freezer and the junk-filled aisles.
Bittman has a similar message, but he goes a step further, advocating a national program that would get this barebones advice across. With all the nutritional claims on processed foods, it’s easy for people to think, even subconsciously, that sugar-free cupcakes are part of a healthy diet.
Sugar and other caloric sweeteners are indeed a major culprit in weight gain, but they are not a silver bullet. “Sugar is not the enemy, or not the only enemy,” Bittman writes. “The enemy is hyperprocessed food, including sugar.”
We can’t ignore the fact that, pressed for time, money, and sometimes good advice, many people struggle to eat healthy. But the least we can do is start clearly presenting what Bittman calls “real food” as the ultimate health food — instead of gluten-free bagels and paleo protein bars.
And, better yet, we can level the playing field by working to make it so that hyperprocessed food — with its flashy packaging, advertising budget, and sometimes cheaper prices — is not more attractive than vegetables.
“We don’t know everything about the dietary links to chronic disease, but the best-qualified people argue that real food is more likely to promote health and less likely to cause disease than hyperprocessed food,” Bittman writes. “And we can further refine that message: Minimally processed plants should dominate our diets.”
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