An ideal diet?

Under the heading of “better late than never,” last week I went to a talk on “Eating to Prevent Disease” at the South Lake Union Discovery Center. The speakers were Mario Kratz, PhD, MSc, a researcher at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and research faculty member in several departments at the University of Washington (including the Nutritional Sciences Program), and Meeru Dahlwala, co-owner of the Indian restaurant Shanik. My mentor, Judy Simon, moderated.

Going against my usual MO, I did not take notes during this talk, but a few points the speakers made resonated enough with me (read: paralleled my own thinking about healthful diets) that I wanted to share them.

Dr. Kratz commented on the never-ending debate about what diet is the “ideal” diet. When it comes down to it, he said, a healthful diet is based on plant foods (primarily vegetables and fruits) and includes very few heavily processed foods. Beyond that, the research is inconclusive. He personally eats eggs and full-fat dairy, and has red meat and fish a few times a week.

He questioned the highly publicized research that links red meat consumption with disease and death, both because of the nature of the research and the uncertainty about whether it is red meat itself that may be unhealthful…or red meat that comes from animals raised on feedlots. Ahhh…the very thing I often wonder myself. I often lament the fact that it would be impossible (read: too expensive) to do a long-term randomized control trial looking at health outcomes of people who eat industrial red meat vs. people who eat grass-fed meat.

Ms. Dahlwala spoke about the importance of finding a way to eat that feels right, as opposed to adopting a diet that’s trendy or “supposed to be” healthy. For example, she said she tried to be vegan for a while, but it just didn’t work, because yogurt is such an important part of her native east Indian culture. She is currently mostly vegetarian, and eats extremely healthfully…while allowing herself the indulgence of a small piece of chocolate cake several nights a week. She found a way to eat that feels right for her body and soul.

Even though Ms. Dahlwala is a restaurant owner, she lamented the demise of home cooking, commenting that today, cooking is often seen as just one more chore, instead of an act of caring and love. She admitted that after a day of cooking in the restaurant, often the last thing she wants to do is come home and cook for her family. But she does, basing her family’s diet on simple, delicious, healthy meals, and focusing on the act of feeding rather than the act of cooking. I also loved that she has taught her children how to do basic meal prep (chopping veggies, sautéing onions) so that if she needs to, she can go for a sanity-sparing run after work. She comes home from her run a happier person, and quickly finishes putting dinner together.

Delicious, healthy food and exercise…truly a recipe for a happy, healthy life!