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Myths about diet & health (2)

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Myths about diet & health (2)

January 19, 2024, 4:53 PM IST 

Continuing our discussion from last week, today we will address two additional myths.

Myth: Eat everything in moderation

These are “words of wisdom” often uttered by many respectable people including our elders and doctors. The problem with this advice is that when we consume everything in moderation, we also get diseases in moderation. This myth is so pervasive in our society that we have come to expect old age diseases as normal part of aging. What if we are wrong? In fact, we are wrong and it was proven 24 years ago when National Geographic commissioned a study with Dan Buettner, widely known as the Blue Zone Study.

Blue Zone study

Dan Buettner identified five communities worldwide with the longest living people: Okinawa (Japan), Sardinia (Italy), Icaria (Greece), Nicoya (Costa Rica) and Loma Linda (California, USA). These places showcased individuals living to 100-105 years without the prevalence of lifestyle diseases associated with old age.

Lessons learnt from these zones include a simple lifestyle, absence of modern processed foods, and daily activities involving over 10,000 steps. These are summarized in the table below.

Our ancestors lifespan

Our ancestors in India really did not live long lives. I remember in the 1950’s, if someone lived beyond 75-80 years, his death was celebrated as a life well lived. Today, at the age of 74, I shudder at that thought.

How many diseases?

Estimates suggest around 10,000 diseases afflict humans, and the field of medical sciences continues to specialize with over 135 medical specialties. The lack of centralized monitoring for medications prescribed by specialists adds complexity to addressing negative side effects and adverse drug reactions.

Myth: Different diets for different diseases

Most people have a belief that there must be a different diet plan recommendation for different illnesses. The most common question asked in my health groups is “I suffer from X, Y and Z. What should I eat?” Food should be healthy to prevent all diseases, if not, it would create an unresolvable dilemma as to what diseases should I treat and which ones suffer. This is likely one or the biggest myth of all and is continuously propagated by many dietitians, doctors, naturopaths and health spas. Just imagine you are suffering from diseases X, Y and Z and you are prescribed the following diet:

-For disease X: eat A, D, G, K & N and avoid B, E, H, J & P

-For disease Y: eat B, F, L, P & R and avoid C, G, M, S & Q

-For disease Z: eat C, F, H, Q & S and avoid A, G, K, P & T

How would you figure out what to eat and what to avoid? The premise that there is a special diet for every disease is fundamentally flawed. When you eat a Plant Based Whole Food diet, with a diverse variety of foods in each food group, your body receives all the nutrients it needs and it heals. And when body heals everything heals.

Self selection

When we look around in wilderness we find that animals living there eat whatever they want whenever they want and as much as they want. Why are humans are incapable of doing that? Why do we have to consult a dietitian to find out what to eat, what not to eat, how much to eat and when to eat it? During the 1930s many studies were done on this subject of self selection and it was found that, over an extended period of time, animals were able to self select their food choices in a way that their bodies remained healthy without creating any deficiency or excesses. One such study done in Canada in the 1930s on young children found that over a period of 6 months when children were left to themselves to select their food, from a buffet of varied choices, they did fine and there were no deficiencies or excesses. It was concluded that among young children the process of self selection works fine.

So the question arises as to why we lose this innate ability to self select our own food. The answer lies in the fact that we human are social animals and as we grow up our decisions are based on more than physiology. We start consuming foods not necessarily because we find them tasty and rewarding but also because they fulfill our psychological needs: to show off, feel grown up or to belong to a certain clique. Many addictions like tea, coffee, alcohol and tobacco start that way. Nobody likes these at first and many find their taste and feel unpleasant.

Designer foods

Some foods are designed in ways to create a dopamine response that we find rewarding like refined fat and sugar. Even these foods, if not tinkered with by specialists, are likely to satiate us quickly and not lead to much overconsumption. However, when foods are designed by expert psychologists who know how to circumvent our body’s satiation mechanism we fall prey to them, wanting to eat more and more. The best example to make this point is potato chips. When you make them at home you can’t eat more than a dozen or so without feeling satiated. When you eat Pringles chips you can keep eating one after another until the box is empty. In fact, the company took pride in that and their advertising tag line was “Once you pop, you can’t stop.” It is important to take conscious approach to our dietary choices.

Diet alone is not the solution

Similarly looking for all solutions in diet alone is also a flawed approach and needs correction. Recent research and Nobel prizes awarded in 2016, 2017 and 2018 have shown that when to eat (as in Circadian Rhythm) and when not to eat (as in fasting) are often equally important. In addition, the new science of microbes colonizing our colon called Epigenetics is creating a paradigm shift in our understanding of nutrition and diseases. Its impact is still not well understood but we are getting many clues.

Many people do not follow lifestyle recommendations like intermittent fasting or Ekadashi fasting or Navratri fasting which are essential for detoxifying the body. Also many people eat late dinners (after it is dark outside) and go to bed shortly thereafter. These lifestyle choices impact our health in ways we are only beginning to understand.

In the coming weeks we will delve into lifestyle choices, like fasting, and their impact on health. Stay tuned.

To Read this article on Times of India click here

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