Long ago, we didn’t have to answer the difficult question: “What am I going to eat for dinner tonight?” Early humans ate what was available to them, which often wasn’t a lot. They weren’t paralyzed with so many different choices and ways of eating that we face today. Too many choices in our modern world have created a political battlefield of meat eaters versus plant eaters, gluten free versus bread lovers, high carb versus low carb … the list goes on and on. With so much confusion, what is the right diet for you and you only?
I don’t want to suggest that we’re better off living in the past, struggling to survive. Modern technology has provided us with access to healthy foods from around the world, which allows us to eat however we would like while ensuring we get enough variety in our diet to prevent malnourishment.
But too many options can lead to confusion about what is “right” and what is “wrong” to eat. People see our vulnerability and prophesy a style of eating that is the cure-all from allergies to Lyme’s disease. If diet claims were on the bottles of prescription medication, they would never make it to market. The issue is that those who concept various diets don’t know you personally. They don’t know the foods you actually enjoy, they don’t know your genetic makeup and they don’t know which foods sit well with you.
Nutrition is so crucial to our overall well-being. When we don’t feel well, we trust the unknown and eating becomes more of a chore than a connection to self, friends and family.
The unfortunate news is that there isn’t a “one size fits all” diet that works for every ailment and every person. Why is this? And why will it never be the case?
First, we all come from different areas of the world. Due to a fascinating phenomenon called epigenetics, the expression of our genes changes over time due to both environment and nutrition (and what’s amazing is that this change is heritable!).1 People of various origins digest and assimilate food differently. If you are of European descent, you’re less likely to be lactose intolerant because cow milk consumption has been happening in Europe for ages, so the genes to switch on the enzyme to digest milk, lactase, are turned on more.2
All too often we hear diet pushers say: “Look at what the Eskimos ate,” or “look at what this rare tribe in Africa ate.” Because I’m neither Eskimo or African, the likelihood of me as a European descendant having the same success as these groups when I come from a very different place with very different food sources is probably not guaranteed. We can’t qualify the success of a few as automatically successful for us all. In our modern times, humans have now traveled to other countries and have become intertwined with other cultures and races. We can no longer depend on genealogy as a clue to know what we should eat. Even if we could, it is still not a perfect science as we are all different individuals. Although I do believe nutrigenomics, the study of genes to determine a possible clue to the best eating pattern for you, is an emerging and exciting science, I also believe our own bodies can give us an even greater clue as to know what foods are right for us as individuals.
I’d like you to push away all incoming information about current diet trends and really focus on you. As you go about your day, notice your cravings, notice what foods sound bad to you. Then, as you eat your food throughout the day, really try to notice how your digestion is. How are your bowel movements? How is your energy? How is your sleep? How is your athletic performance? Are you recovering well? How is your mood? How is your relationship with your food? These are the most important questions. There are times when you should absolutely trust medical professionals, but because nutrition is dependent on the individual, take advice with a grain of salt. No one knows you as well as you do.
Stover, P. J., et al. “Emerging Concepts on the Role of Epigenetics in the Relationships between Nutrition and Health.” Journal of Internal Medicine, vol. 284, no. 1, 2018, pp. 37–49., doi:10.1111/joim.12768.
Szilagyi, Andrew, and Norma Ishayek. “Lactose Intolerance, Dairy Avoidance, and Treatment Options.” Nutrients, vol. 10, no. 12, 2018, p. 1994., doi:10.3390/nu10121994.