Is there a “perfect diet”?

I am reading The Starch Solution by: John A. McDougall, MD and Mary McDougall. Now, let me start out by saying that the premise is a little extreme (like many “diet” books, in my personal opinion); but, the idea and science behind the recommendation is SO COOL!

The book encourages (well, “encourage” is an understantement) a vegan diet, stating that the human body is not built to eat animal products…and I mean ANY animal product! No meat, fish, poultry, eggs, or dairy.

If we go way, way, back: humans were “hunters and gatheres”, meaning that we had to find our food. Now, we have all seen at least one “survivor” show. How many times does the “survivor” actually catch an animal?! And if they do get lucky, do they ever get SO lucky to catch one two days in a row?

Most foods were gathered: grains, wheat, roots, fruits, vegetables, etc. Animals were a “once in a while” food.  Starches are packed with various vitamins and minerals, protein, and fiber and provide the body with the energy (from sugar) . Starch keeps us feeling full, promotes a healthy digestive tract, and helps lower cholesterol.

Starch/carbohydrate doesn’t sound so bad now, does it? When we think about an “unhealthy diet”, we usually think of: fat, cholesterol, salt, refined sugar? Now, how many of those things do we find naturally in starches, grains, veggies, and fruits? Well…none!

Now let’s look at animal products. Fat? Yes. Cholesterol? Yes. Salt? Yes. Refined sugar? PHEW, no! All animal products (meat, fish, poultry, eggs, dairy) have the fat, salt, and cholesterol. AND, on top that, there are no carbohydrates (except in milk), so they don’t provide sugar for energy.

Using fat for energy is inefficient, so the body stores it. Calories from carbohydrates, though, are broken down into sugar. Some sugar remains in the blood, and some is stored in the liver and muscles for later use (ex: during exercise). Calories from carbohydrates do not want to be stored as fat. The body recognizes carbs as energy, so it looks for ways to use sugar before storing it.

Now, if a person OVEREATS carbohydrates, extra Calories will always be stored as fat. It takes more work for the body to store sugar as fat, and starches tend to make us feel full so that we eat less, which is why this book claims that a starch-based diet promotes healthy weights.

Ok, so now that I have “put down” our animal foods, I can hear my mom in the back of my head saying “we have canine teeth for a reason!” The Leska household was always a “meat eating” one. I love my animal foods as much as the next person, and you will never see me turn down a piece of cheese. We can eat meat and still be healthy. It is all about the balance.

Diet books should be approached with skepticism. These books are rarely filed in the “non-fiction” section of libraries or book stores. So, take the information “with a grain of salt” and apply basic ideas to your daily life to make the recommendations work for you.

Can we get all of the protein, vitamins, minerals, etc. from a vegan diet? Well, YES; but, can we also have a healthy life as omnivores, using those canine teeth that my mom is so proud of? YES!

The Starch Solution makes excellent points about the benefits of fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals from starches. And, yes, our body does thrive on the sugar from carbohydrates. And, yes, a mainly plant-based diet has been shown to promote heart health, prevent or manage diabetes, and maintain healthy weights.

But, humans have been eating meat and animal products for a long time, and we do need nutrients from them that aren’t found in plant foods. Rather than restricting animal foods, consider starting small. Practicing portion control (3-5 oz per meal) with meats may be your first step. Or, maybe you want to try one vegetarian/vegan day per week? Or, maybe you will choose lean cuts of meat (-loin, or round) rather than higer fat cuts (ribeye, t-bone). Any step in a new direction is important! And, who knows, maybe you will be surprised! A vegan or vegetarian diet may not be as bad as it sounds!

There is no specific diet, as of yet, that has been shown to be the “absloute answer” to health for everyone. The human body is fascinating, and each one is a little different. This may be frustrating for some people who want an answer; however, in my opinion, this is GREAT news!

This gives each person the opportunity for “trial and error”. What works for one may not work for another, but try making small adjustments to learn about how your body reacts. If it doesn’t, then try something else! Eventually you will see changes, and HOW COOL IS THAT?! The more we know about our individual bodies, the better our chances are for success.

Have you read a “diet book” that you found interesting? Are you considering making lifestyle changes, or do you have questions about something you have read or heard on tv?


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