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.

Comments (5) -

  • Anna

    5/26/2008 2:35:00 PM |

    Great reminders, Dr. Davis.  

    "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."

    There are local poor folks in pretty much in this situation, even in well-"nourished" nations, too.  Inner-city areas with poor populations often have no regular grocery stores, and the only place to buy food is in liquor stores that stock a very small food selection with little fresh food; convenience stores/gas stations (same pitiful selection as liquor stores); and fast food restaurants.  Charity food pantries are mostly stocked with boxed starchy, low-protein non-perishables.

    Poor rural people in well-"nourished" countries also often have limited access to good food sources, if they don't have reliable transportation.  Vegetable patches, keeping some animals for milk, eggs, and meat, and hunting used to be common as a way to get by.  My great-grandmother's family was quite poor, but they seemed to eat well.  They raised nearly all their own food and sold off the excess.  My grandmother "dressed" the chickens her mother raised to sell to earn the money to buy her high school ring (she was the first in the family to graduate high school) but I think fewer poor people in the US  raise their own food now.

    Grocery store chains often don't serve these folks well, even if they have some money or food stamps, because they don't often locate the stores in the poorer areas.  Poor people who want better food at affordable prices often must deal with substantial transportation obstacles and go greater distances, which greatly adds time, expense, and effort, and reduces the amounts of fresh food that can be purchases at one time (fresh food is usually heavier and more highly perishable, too).

    Mel Bartholomew, author of the book Square Foot Gardening, has a foundation to help poor women around the world to keep small gardens with his very efficient and less laborious SFG method, to increase their family's access to fresh foods.  There are also a couple international charity groups that provide livestock (chickens, sheep, goats, cows) to rural poor families in a number of countries, so that they might have access to the milk, eggs, or meat, as well as spinning fiber and hides.  

    In the last couple of years, I haven't been reading as much fiction, but I have been reading some history, and I'm seeing that the poor usually fared better, even in some dire circumstances, if they had the ability to keep an animal or animals.  Cold Mountain is a fictional account of a Southern small "gentleman's" farm, but the research that went into the description of living off a farm productively is fantastic! (the movie glossed over the details of the farm, but the book is a good read for anyone wanting to "eat what your great-grandparents ate".

      The Worst Hard Times, about the "dirty 30s" dust storms in the Great Plains states of the US, indicates that the folks who stayed put who had some livestock, often survived better and longer than those who didn't.

  • Dr. William Davis

    5/26/2008 4:14:00 PM |


    (I assume that was you.) Forgive me: Somehow I lost your wonderful comment. I must have inadvertently rejected it.

    I believe we differ on a relatively small issue, but agree on the larger ones. I am unable to account for what appears to be a stark difference in experience. I will say that this wheat-free approach works extremely well for the person just starting out and hoping to rapidly reverse many lipid/lipoprotein patterns, as well as insulin resistance.

    If you have your comment saved, please re-post. Sorry about that.

  • Anonymous

    5/27/2008 12:00:00 AM |

    Very well said Dr. Davis.  Many of us in America are very fortunate to have easy access to food.    

    Talking about angry, from time to time I'll have debates on the internet over the TYP diet principals.  There have been a few debaters that become quite bent out of shape with me over what I've said works at loosing weight.  As I like to joke, for being fat people, they sure are not jolly.

  • Anna

    5/27/2008 1:20:00 AM |

    Dr. Davis, now is a good time to remind your generous readers to donate food to their local food pantries, to help their neighbors in need.

    Our local food pantries are sounding the alarm to their donors that use of their food pantry by "food insecure" people is up at an alarming rate and the pantry is constantly on low supply.  I'm sure that is true at pantries around the nation, and the world.

    Anyone who has even a little something to spare  can contact their local food pantry to see what they could use most.  They'll happily take most food donations, large and small, but it's good to check for guidelines first as they know their clients' needs.

    Food pantries need refilling all year, not just at holiday time.  Keep your food purchase receipts and get a charitable receipt for your tax deduction records.  I like to make a separate shopping transaction so my receipt is all donated items.  I also take a quick digital photo of the shopping bags for my records, but that might be overkill.

    One can often find  big collection cans near the grocery store exits, but keep in mind they need unbreakables in those cans, so no glass containers.  If you can't find collection cans, find out where your donations can be dropped off.  My local CRC has a convenient temporary parking spot out right front for quick drop-offs or maybe there is a can an another area grocery store near the door.

    My experience volunteering at our local food drives is that the overwhelming proportion of donated foods are processed starchy carbs.  Canned corn, mac & cheese powder, white rice, pasta, crackers, saltines (for crying out loud!), etc.  I know everyone's heart is in the right place, but I sometimes wish there was a better way to get people to think nutritionally and balance the donations.

    I tend to try to find non-perishable protein foods for my donations, because much less protein foods are donated and there are fewer non-perishable protein options.  Our CRC asks for both family sized containers as well as single serve, EZ-open containers for the elderly and homeless.  Tuna,  salmon and sardines, as well as chicken and beef in pouches and cans, stews, soups, beans, almond butter, PB, etc. are what I usually donate.   I've even donated "potted" meat & Spam, which isn't the best thing in the world, but it is protein and it's better than canned corn or saltines!  If I drop off my donations at the CRC, they'll take sturdy glass containers, so I sometimes get olive oil, too, plus some spices.  

    I have found some great values when I  purchase food for donation at the local 99 cent store.  A dollar can go quite far at these stores, nutritionally, if one watches out for the sugar and starch minefields.  Non-starchy canned veggies are good, too.  I'll make a shopping trip there just for the pantry now and then and swing by the CRC to drop it off.  I don't bother claiming the mileage, but for those who itemize their taxes, it is possible to claim the miles driving to and from the donation point (or something like that - check - don't take my word for it), so that even helps with the gas!

    Don't forget other necessities, too, that people may be scrimping on because their available resources are going for food and gas these days - toilet paper; diapers; toothpaste, dental floss, toothbrushes, shampoo, soap, deodorant, & other personal care items, as well as dish soap, & tissue packs, etc.

  • Dr. William Davis

    5/27/2008 11:47:00 AM |

    Hi, Anna--

    Thanks for your helpful advice. I hope people, in particular, take advantage of your advice on donating non-perishable proteins.