The Nation's Health + Nutrition

Diet: Don't be angry, be GRATEFUL


Given the confusion over what constitutes the "ideal" diet, a discussion that has been hotly debated for decades, some people become very angry that we still don't agree on what is truly healthy.

"Why should I even try if the experts don't agree? They say something is bad one day, then say it's okay the next!"

But that's a short-sighted half-truth born of frustration. We have certainly zigzagged in our understanding of diet over the years. The grand national experiment in low-fat eating, for instance, clearly failed to improve our health. In fact, the opposite occurred: The largest epidemic of obesity and diabetes in world history. You could get angry from this failed experiment . . . or you could learn from it, take what lessons we can and improve on it.

Step back for a moment and consider: In what other age could we even have this discussion?

If we lived in a world where you were hungry, your children were hungry, and you didn't know where the day's food was to be found, we would have no need whatsoever for this conversation: You would take whatever you could find, kill, or steal.

Say you woke up this morning and your cabinets and refrigerator were empty. The stores were far away or non-existent. You and your family would have to improvise, to forage or hunt your day's food. It would require hours. You wouldn't fuss about glycemic index, or saturated fat, or whether or not sugar or wheat was present. You would just eat whatever you could get your hands on. When caloric deprivation threatens, we take what is available.

But we live in a world of plenty--of enormous excess--that allows us choices. It is a world that encourages eating more than is required for existence, a world tailored more to indulgence than to simple satiety or sustenance. That's when distinctions among food types and quality make a difference. But it is a dilemma born of riches.

Starvation and caloric deprivation would settle the argument for us very quickly. It doesn't mean that we shouldn't continue to debate the finer points of diet. But don't do it with anger or frustration. Do it GRATEFULLY, recognizing that we are lucky to be able to have such a conversation in the first place.

Image courtesy Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

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