Food & Fitness After 50: One Size Does Not Fit All

“It is good to be open-minded, but not so open-minded that your brain falls out.”

Health500I first heard that line at a lecture early in my career, from the late physician, Victor Herbert. Dr. Herbert was an internationally known hematologist and nutrition scientist who was outspoken about nutrition nonsense. His book, Nutrition Cultism: Facts and Fictions, was published in 1984, long before the current wave of nutrition and wellness mania had taken hold.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled that so many people are trying to eat healthfully and get fit. However, many people have taken it to an extreme and have turned food and fitness into a moral issue. To be clear, you are not a bad person if you ate ice cream last night and you are not necessarily a good person if you ate a kale salad. And, in this era of wellness, people are falling for crazy (and expense) stuff to enhance their wellness. I recently read about a rose quartz comb, selling for $160, claiming to clear away negative energy. (For a funny, scathing review of the rose quartz comb, see the SciBabe’s post. (Warning, explicit language alert, so if you are easily offended by rough language, you might want to skip it.)

Since writing Food & Fitness After 50, I’ve had many interesting and sometimes head-scratching conversations with people about nutrition. One person told me she was prepared not to believe anything in my book because she had her own “nutrition philosophy.” What ran through my mind was to tell her that nutrition was a science, not a philosophy, but I kept that thought to myself. It also made me wonder why someone with no training or formal education in nutrition science would say something like that to person who taught nutrition at a university for 30 years and has been a registered dietitian for more than 40 years? I think it gets to the point that people are taking great interest in health, which is a very good thing, but they think their path is not only the right path, but the only path.  And, to top it off there is a certain smugness to the way they inform you of their beliefs. It’s like the joke, “How do you know if someone is vegan? Don’t worry, they will tell you within the first 2 minutes of meeting them.”

Nutrition is a science, but it isn’t black and white. Like all science, it evolves as we learn more about the connection of food to health. There is no “best” diet, but there are a lot of “good” diets, and that is the point we make in our book. If you prefer vegetarianism or a Mediterranean-style diet, either can be right for you, but neither is “best.” Another consideration is your state of health. There is solid research to support the DASH eating plan for those with high blood pressure, for example.  There are national guidelines for treating obesity. A dietitian, who is trained in medical nutrition therapy, can help steer a person toward a plan that is tailored for their health. If you broke your leg chances are you wouldn’t Google “broken leg” and treat it with information you found on the Internet. But, when it comes to something as important as nutrition, people are willing to ask Google, talk to their neighbor, or listen to a celebrity and believe whatever they are told.

Sustainability is a hot issue for most people, but they may not think of sustainability when it comes to their diet. For a healthy eating plan to be successful it should be something you can sustain for a lifetime. When the book, Wheat Belly, was popular, I know people who followed the plan, shunning wheat as an evil food. (How do you know if someone was following the Wheat Belly diet? Don’t worry, they will tell you in the first 2 minutes). But, giving up wheat for life isn’t sustainable, and it isn’t necessary either.

One of my daily reads is ConscienHealth. It is a smart, thought-provoking blog that puts nutrition, specifically focused on obesity, into perspective. The latest post on the dangers of moral certitude summarizes the issue:

 “In the final analysis, a dose of humility might be best. Nobody has perfect dietary advice to offer. Nobody has cures for obesity. But plenty of smart people have good ideas to share. Moral certitude is not as persuasive as good science for deflecting weak ideas and weeding out the hucksters.”