Finding nutrition wisdom above the din

Recently, a patient told me how confused she was about how to eat. She was in the middle of treatment for breast cancer, and I felt for her. She had enough on her plate, so to speak. She didn’t need to feel fearful that she was getting it wrong, nutrition-wise.

I reassured her that she wasn’t alone in feeling confused. Even under the best of circumstances (i.e., you’re healthy), there are many conflicting messages about how to eat to stay healthy or become even healthier. Once you have a life-threatening disease that has diet as a possible contributing factor, those messages seem to increase in volume, just as you feel even greater urgency to get it right.
I’ve noticed that politics (something I rarely talk about) and nutrition (something I always talk about) have one thing in common. The loudest voices tend to belong to those with the most extreme views. 
  • In politics, that means the extreme left and the extreme right get the most attention from the media, while the majority of the country hovers fairly silently somewhere closer to the middle.
  • In nutrition, the loudest voices also tend to belong to proponents of more extreme (i.e. restrictive) diets, often including promises of perfect health or healing from disease. The best recipe for a healthy diet is more balanced, and can vary from person to person.
The truth is that no one way of eating is right for all individuals, and as much as I would like food to be magic, it’s not. Even vegetables, which might come close. This is not to say that good nutrition isn’t important. It is. But it’s not the only contributor to good health. Regular (enjoyable) physical activity, quality sleep and healthy ways of coping with stress are also important. So is reducing exposure to toxins (cigarette smoke, excessive alcohol, exhaust fumes, and so on).
Taken together, all of these things help create conditions in the body that help you prevent disease and enjoy optimal health. It’s about boosting the odds in your favor, about dealing yourself the best possible hand (to use a few gambling metaphors). There are no guarantees, and anyone who tells you otherwise might also try to sell you some nice swampland.
For more on this topic, and my views of what healthy diets (that’s diets, plural) have in common, read or re-read my June guest post on Kath Eats Real Food: “The diet common denominator.”