On Good Food: a ‘Good’ Diet

In 2006 Sue Kiyabu, a Honolulu writer, decided to eat nothing but organically grown food in Hawaii. Just for a week. What was his diet rule? He drew a circle 100 miles from where he lived and resolved on eating only what is grown within that circle. He dubbed his experiment as the “No Shoyu. No Milk. No Bread. No Rice. The Gas-Saving, All-Organic 100-Mile Hawaiian Diet’’. An experiment that lasted exactly 7 days, no more. Yet, when recalling it, he would say that there were days when he genuinely

felt like a misanthrope.

Why is it as difficult to stick to a healthy, all-organic menu?

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Unhealthy food cravings are a natural bodily response. They are a reaction to the evolutionary pressure human species have experienced for well over 200,000 years, the pressure that has allowed us to survive and procreate as a race. Yet, it has also modified our organisms to easily store fat and crave what was once difficult to come by – fatty and sugary foods.

The mere sight of “palatable food” creates changes in our dopamine receptors, lightens up our reward centers and produces opioids that trigger biophysical cravings, similar to those activated by alcohol and other widely recognized addictive substances.

However, in an age of food abundance, we no longer need what took our body millennia to develop – the more than 100 genes we have related to what we would now call a disease – obesity.

What Sue Kiyabu has done can be hardly considered a feat.  Yet, what would happen if his little experiment was prolongated or led to an extreme – what would the unintended consequences or side effects be? Alas, food restrictions do go much further than this.

Blood-type based diets, human chorionic gonadotropin injections, quick fix try pills, appetite suppressants, laxatives and diuretics are simply the beginning of a long list of low-calorie, low-fat, low-protein and more often than not, low on essential nutrients fad diets.

Self-imposed strict dietary rules and altering your food choice due to religious reasons, health concerns or to reach a sense of achievement induced by food intake restrictions can lead to starvation and food disorders such as anorexia or bulimia nervosa. Both can potentially damage every organ system in our body with the former having the highest mortality rate out of all mental illnesses. What they are is a testimonial to the

fragilty of our ‘free will’ when making ‘rational’ food choices.

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Having a healthy diet should not be complex or unachievable, neither a feat. It is about using common sense in your food choices, self-experimentation and listening to your body. The paleolithic diet, otherwise known as the hunter-gatherer diet, which adheres to the principle of consuming wild plants and animals that have been habitually consumed during the Paleolithic era,  or intermittent fasting, an eating plan that alternates between fasting and non-fasting blocks of time claim to be based on research on our genome and to be able to best suit our genetic predispositions. Indeed, nutregenomics, the branch of nutritional genomics that study the effects of foods on gene expression, states that genetics have and will play a considerable role in your tolerance to various food allergens such as gluten, lactose, soy or caffeine. Hence, due to the variety in our genetic background and mindsets and attitudes towards food it is impossible to pinpoint the right or wrong choices or to construct ‘best fit’ diet.

What, in this case, is the chivalric code d’honneur for a modern age diet – one that is nutritionally-rich, environmentally and ethically-good and economically-wise?

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A basic rule to follow is to think of the foods that your ancestors would have eaten. Eat and shop local, organic, whole foods in their natural state and avoid foods that are labelled or processed.  Drink plenty of water – it is, after all, the sole compound that constitutes approximately 60% of the body of an average adult. And most importantly, develop a healthy relationship with food – enjoy the nutritional diversity as well as the joy of sharing your meals with others. As J. R. Tolkien puts it:

If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.

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“Embrace randomness in all its forms: live true to your principles, don’t sell your soul and watch out for the carbohydrates.”

Nassim Taleb

The article has been published in the monthly newsletter of the Faculty of Life Sciences and Computing in London Metropolitan University.

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