I am what I eat?

My Monday evening walking companion told me about an app she’d just put on her phone – Dr Greger’s Daily Dozen.   I looked him up.  He says ‘The more I’ve researched over the years, the more I’ve come to realize that healthy foods are not necessarily interchangeable.’ He is an advocate of a plant based diet, and  recommends that each day a person eats,  ‘a minimum of three servings of beans (legumes), one serving of berries, three servings of other fruits, one serving of cruciferous vegetables, two servings of greens, two servings of other veggies, one serving of flaxseeds, one serving of nuts and seeds, one serving of herbs and spices, three servings of whole grains, five servings of beverages, and takes one serving of exercise (90 minutes at moderate intensity or 40 minutes of vigorous activity).’

Then I downloaded the app and borrowed one of his books – How not to die – from the library.  Starting it, realised that I’d dipped into it before, a few years ago when a work colleague was enthusiastically recommending it.

My day-to-day diet is routine and more or less unwavering – I eat exactly the same every breakfast and every dinner, lunch I may vary a small amount.  It sounds boring, and I may be in a rut, but I enjoy it.  And I’ve picked the content to give a range of nutrients.  However, it may be that I am not getting the full basket that will keep me aging healthily and supplements are not all they are cracked up to be, and so I am willing to be challenged by, for example, Dr Greger, and my daughters. 

A couple of years ago one of my daughters told me I didn’t eat enough protein.  As a response to this I noted for a week everything I was eating at the time.  To my surprise, it turned out she was right.  I was eating no-where near the daily protein recommendation for a person in my age category.  The advice is: ‘to consume protein as 1-1.5g/kg body weight each day (ESPEN) due to reduced mobility, ageing, reduced immune function and metabolic changes which can impair wound healing and the ability to fight infection.’   Now I keep a close eye on my protein intake aiming to ensure I get to the advised amount. 

Turning back to the Daily Dozen app, I started to log my progress.  By lunchtime of the day I downloaded it, I realised I’d be eating most of the day, scrambling to find items on the list, and spending too much time/effort trying to check the boxes.  Four hours after downloading it, I deleted the app from my phone.

However, I persisted with the book – second part only.  (The first part talks about various medical conditions, which, at the moment I don’t have any of).  The second part is about the daily dozen and while they are so vital to health and healthy aging. 

I’ve never been one for leaping on bandwagons or being swayed by evangelists touting a specific thing – diet, running technique, organisational methodology, religion, etc.  They seem to mitigate against critical thinking, and (often) common sense, neither of which, as a friend pointed out, are as sellable as being ‘terrified into extremism’ as he put it.

Although I am a vegetarian, mainly non-dairy, and supportive of Michael Greger’s general theme of plant-based eating, reading the book I tired of his endless quoting of research, and his strident tirade for a plant-based diet.  He well over-emphasises his message, although the book does contain some useful and valid info. I read a fairly balanced review of it that says, ‘While the book’s biases prevent it from being a fully caveat-free resource, it offers more than enough fodder to keep health-seekers questioning and engaged. Readers willing to listen when challenged and fact-check when skeptical will gain much from Greger’s passionate, albeit imperfect, tome.’ (I also read other info/comments categorising him as a ‘quack’ which I don’t think he is).

As well as Michael Greger, Megan Rossi re-appeared in my consciousness this week with the New Scientist selling tickets to a talk she is giving (21 April).  She’s someone advocating for ‘gut health’.  I bought her book, Eat Yourself Healthy: An easy-to-digest guide to health and happiness from the inside out , in October 2019, read it and then gave it to a friend. 

Rossi, again, is an evangelist for (gut) healthy eating. (Again, triggering my scepticism.)   Her approach, much easier than Greger’s, is 30 different plants per week .  As I abandoned the daily dozen, I decided to see if I could get to 30 plants in a week.  I did manage to achieve that, albeit straying well outside my routine dietary pattern.  I’ll give it a go for a second week, just out of curiosity.  What I enjoy in this challenge is the rediscovery of things I enjoy eating but very rarely buy – beetroot, mushrooms, and sprouts, for example, and taking a look at veg and fruit I’ve never. or rarely, tried before – my local Chinese supermarket being a great source for these.

Less of a breathless evangelism and more of a sober look at the current state of knowledge, The Science of Gut Health: What the Research Really Says About Your Gut Microbiome, by Gabrielle Fundaro, Jessie Hoffman, is worth a look.  The writers say ‘From breaking down nutrition science to busting myths that are so prevalent in today’s society, our main goal is to empower individuals to become responsible consumers of social media content and experts on their own bodies.’  Good on them. It appears they are less interested in monetising a fad and more interested in pursuing sound, evidence-based knowledge.

Coincidentally, as I was writing this blog, a podcast alert dropped into my in-box – Debunking the Great Food Myths, with Tim Spector and Dan Saladino,  I stopped writing and listened to it.  It confirmed, much of what I’d come across so far and reiterated the expression “you are what you eat” meaning that our lifestyle and diet choices impact our health and well-being.   (They too went for the idea of eating 30 (different) plants per week as part of a healthy diet).   

Thinking about what I’ve learned in my short exploration on increasing my food variety I’ve realised:

  • I may be inadvertently lacking some nutrients and, assuming this is the case, (how will I know?) I will continue to extend the range of plants I eat, aiming for the 30 a week, without being fanatical about it. 
  • My favoured nutritionist is still Michael Pollan.  His sage wisdom encapsulates all I’ve come across so far.  He says, ‘Eat food, mainly plants, not too much’ and backs this up with 64 rules of eating that are ‘all thought-provoking and some laugh-out-loud funny.’ His approach is sound and non-evangelical.
  • Common-sense, experience, critical thinking, and a scepticism for the monetising of something touted with evangelical zeal still stand me in good stead.

What’s your view of ‘you are what you eat’?  Let me know.

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