Bloody Aftermath of The Diet Wars

Anyone who follows politics has heard the oft-repeated axiom that we are, at heart, a center-right country. And it’s true. Most people in the country are centrists, agreeing on more things than you might suspect from watching the cable news channels.

Sure, the devil is in the details, and sure there are some areas of strong disagreement, but when you discount the extremists on both sides, you can’t escape the conclusion that the axiom is correct: the vast majority of Americans are just a few degrees right of center.

Which got me wondering… what would it be like if we looked at nutrition through the same lens as we do politics?

In the diet wars, the extremists get the most press, just like they do in politics. Cable news loves the Tea Party and the Occupiers, but the vast majority of people fall somewhere between those two poles. And so it is with nutrition.

Let me explain.

The Diet Wars can get pretty dicey. Not only is there major disagreement over the amount (and type) of protein we should be eating, but there’s wild disagreement over the role of fat, the importance of carbs, the value of exercise, the need for calorie counting, and just about anything else you can think of.

But– like with politics– when you sit down with people who are not intractably bound to an extreme position you find that there are more than a few things they actually agree on.

To take the political analogy one step further, let’s say we had to propose a “Nutritional Rights Bill” in the congress of public opinion. This “bill” would have to be bi-partisan–—one that could be accepted by both Dean Ornish and the late Robert Atkins. (Think that’s impossible? Read on.)

So in the spirit of nutritional “bi-partisanship” I’m going to propose a short list of things everyone I know—-from vegans to Paleos, from raw foodists to calorie counters—-should be able to agree on.

1. Eat more vegetables. Even if you’re on the strictest high protein high fat program, vegetables are still a free food. Just about everyone agrees that they are a wildly rich source of antioxidants, anti-inflammatories, vitamins, minerals, fiber, and chemopreventive agents like indoles, flavanols, flavonoids, polyphenols, catechins and other health giving plant compounds.

2. When (and if) you eat meat, make it grass fed. Yes it’s more expensive, but there’s no hormones, steroids or antibiotics, the fat is higher in anti-inflammatory omega-3’s and lower in pro-inflammatory omega-6’s.

3. When (and if) you eat starchy carbohydrates, the less processed the better. Oatmeal beats Frosted Flakes. Ezekiel bread beats anything else. And you probably don’t need quite as many carbs as you thought, anyway.

4. Water and green tea are two of the healthiest beverages on the planet. The more the better.

5. Nuts, beans and berries should be staples of your diet. (I know the die-hard Paleo folks don’t agree with the part about beans, but hey, I’m going for the center here!)

6. Most people would benefit from a multivitamin, extra vitamin D, probiotics and magnesium.

7. The less sugar and high-fructose corn syrup you consume, the better.

8. A certain portion of your daily diet should come from raw foods.

9. Olive oil is good for you.

Sure, the disagreements among health professionals make for better episodes on the Today Show —especially when those health professionals are colorful and interesting. But next time you feel like throwing up your hands over the fact that the “experts” can’t “agree on anything”, take another look at this list.
We actually agree on more things than you think.

Not long ago, the great consumer advocate and food writer Michael Pollan took a stab at a similar list of “commandments”, even simpler and less specific than my own. It’s worth repeating them here:

Eat food.
Not so much.
Mostly plants.

If you follow the spirit of these recommendations—whether you’re a high-protein person or a raw foodist– you’ll be building a solid foundation for a healthy eating program.