We Are What We Eat

Science relies on empirical data in order to assess what is “true” or “correct”. So what happens when it turns out that previous examinations of evidence led to erroneous conclusions? Widespread confusion, usually. For example, studies conducted in the latter half of the last century led researchers to proclaim that consumption of cholesterol and fats of animal origin increased the risk of cardiovascular disease. This encouraged an entire generation or two of folks to replace butter with margarine, lard with cooking oil or vegetable shortening, and to attempt to eat a “low-fat” diet, often by substituting simple carbohydrates in their meal plans. Later research provided evidence that trans-fats in margarine and shortening were even more damaging than either cholesterol or saturated fat to the cardiovascular system, and diets high in simple carbohydrates have been a major factor in the skyrocketing rates of overweight and obesity world-wide. The Annals of Internal Medicine published a report on March 17th, 2014 on a meta-analysis of information regarding the consumption of saturated fat and heart disease: this analysis of 72 studies including more than half a million people found found NO association between the two (Reuters has published a good summary of the findings).

Before you roll your eyes, groan and order a double cheeseburger with mayo, consider this: we eat primarily to fuel our bodies and to reinforce social bonds. While minimizing the risk of cardiovascular disease is important, other aspects of our physical health such as our risk of developing cancer and diabetes are impacted by our diets as well. Health is also much broader than just our raw physiology; it encompasses both mental and social aspects of well-being. Finally, what we choose to eat and to feed our families has a direct impact on the health of the planet through the effects of farming on the natural resources all beings need in order to survive and thrive on our little blue planet. 

Eat saturated fat? Sure. In moderation. Eat sugar and other carbohydrates? Yes. In moderation. Eat protein? Yep, in moderation. I think you get my point. For further information, I encourage you to read “In Defense of Food” by Michael Pollan. Although he is a journalist and not a scientist, his work is sound, engaging, and refreshingly easy to understand. You can find a summary of his 8 words to guide your food habits here

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