Conversations and Misunderstandings about Diet

It’s a new year!

Let’s just leap into this new year by considering some of the latest things I hear about what is “OK” and “not OK” about diet right here at home in Montgomery County, AR, and across the world.

It is exciting, actually, that there is even conversation in Montgomery County about this because that certainly wasn’t true four years ago. We are usually a bit behind. But, as might be expected with conversation, there are misunderstandings. My job is to clear up misunderstandings so here I go.

What about Jane!

I heard about a young woman who lost maybe 50 pounds, or at least it looked like it, on what she called a keto diet. We will call this young woman Jane.

What did Jane say this keto diet included? Vegetables and meat! The person telling me this story wondered if keto was a dangerous diet because a network television report said it was. Let’s consider if that might be true.

What is a keto diet?

First, there is no absolute definition of a keto diet but I know local folks who say they are on a ketogenic, usually shortened to keto diet. A true ketogenic diet by the book depends on whose book you are reading. The term “keto” comes from ketones, the energy source created when body fat is broken down by the liver.

A keto diet might have very rigid rules about the percentage of calories in the diet from carbohydrate, protein, and fat as specified by the person who wrote the book. I know nobody local who is following any such set of rules and suspect they haven’t read any book. Nor do I know anybody local fretting over their ketones but there are certainly folks in the world who do fret.

Arguments abound on the internet and elsewhere (and I may have read them all) about whose book is right. In any case, serious counting and tracking is required in order to adhere to the diet.  There are potential benefits and detriments to that “true” keto diet.

For one thing the rules (no matter whose rules they are) are often less concerned with the nutritional value of the diet than about the weight loss or body building potential. Further it is usually a cookie cutter approach, assuming that the exact same approach will be right for every person. This, of course, is absolutely not the case.

Up to recently it was the government such as the USDA and central medical organizations like the ADA making the rules, encouraging the wholesale consumption of all things grain and gnashing teeth over too much “fat.”  Those rules got us a very overweight population with a lot of chronic diseases. So we now have competitive groups of people, including some doctors, fighting back, making new rules and being every bit as rigid about their new view of the perfect diet.

Under these new rules, all grain is the devil and there is no such thing as too much fat. This too is a cookie cutter approach assuming the same approach will be right for every person.  Also, of course, absolutely not the case.

When there is a battle for the public belief, there will be a lot of press coverage. That might be on social media, in the newspaper, from your next door neighbor, or on your favorite network TV channel. The media and probably your neighbor don’t know what is absolutely right or wrong anymore than you do. And yet we listen attentively and then perhaps conclude that “a keto diet is dangerous.” – when, in fact, we don’t even know what a ketone is.

Jane’s diet

So throwing aside the “keto” name Jane gave to her diet, consider only what she actually is eating.

She eats vegetables and meat, the fare that was cooked up and eaten on the farm before the invention of commercial food production. You can’t beat that diet from a nutritional perspective. You can’t beat that diet from a weight management perspective. The only thing missing in Jane’s diet is all that nutritionally deficient and high calorie commercial food proudly displayed in the center aisles at the grocery.  The more nutritionally deficient stuff you eat, the less room for the food that adds value.

Which foods are right?

So here is my suggestion. As you read or hear about the right or wrong stuff to eat, think about these questions.

Is the “right” stuff something whole and delivered to us just as God made it? If it gets broken apart, ground up, modified, and heated big time; boxed, sacked, or bottled up so that it can sit forever on the grocery shelf, it doesn’t qualify nutritionally. It will be higher calorie, and probably introduce non-food elements that your body doesn’t know what to do with.

Is the “wrong” stuff something whole and delivered to us just as God made it?  Fat is the element that often seems demonized in this category. There are many different kinds of fat, all found together in food.  Some of the fat (just some, mind you, not all) that naturally arrives in beef, cheese, or even eggs (as examples) is considered troublesome. How did we survive 100 years ago before somebody told us that particular fat was bad? Shouldn’t someone have told God?

Vegetables are naturally “low fat”, low calorie, and packed with vitamins and minerals. Vegetables are a good thing to combine with meat that is higher calorie but brings generous nutrition in protein and fat. Calories are required but nutritional balance is what manages weight and health.

Before you look for a complicated solution

Jane apparently set out to lose weight and lose it she did. For some people who are chronically ill and a metabolic mess, recovery may be more difficult. Not impossible but more difficult. But before you look for a complicated solution, make sure it isn’t a simple problem. Try what Jane did. Vegetables and meat!

If that doesn’t work for you, let me know. I will have other ideas. Next week we will examine “fasting” which is equally misunderstood.