Food wars (Part 1)

Now that I am no longer a student, I find I have some need not to eat like a student. I’d like to eat proper food, perhaps even food I myself prepared, with some thought for things like health and ethics. This is starting to feel like Herculean task. What on Earth is healthy and how do you know what is ethical? In this post I will write about eating healthily. I’ll look at ethics in a follow-up post.

On the health side, there seem to be a host of “healthy” diets being propagated. The adherents of these diets, which have names like “paleo”, “low carb”, “Banting” and “mediterranean” are more fervent proselytisers than most missionaries. They claim to rely on studies and books, but I have trouble distinguishing them from mere ideologies. 

I do not have the time or inclination to wade through the mess of opinions, half-substantiated claims and assumptions that underlie these fad diets. Nor can I wait entire lifetimes for these diets to truly prove their worth. Unlike with, for instance, smoking, I no longer think that just sitting down and reading the relevant information will make how to eat healthily much clearer. For many things there are no real answers. Some things are clear and you need to act on those, for the rest you will need to use heuristics.

I think the following simple approach should be effective. There are three principles:

1. Change the easy things first: This is simply because I am lazy and have better things to do. If I tried to give up all carbs, I’d starve as I would not know what to eat, so I focus on making the carbs I do eat of a better quality.

2.Then change the most clearly harmful things. It seems everyone agrees that sugar (refined carbohydrates) is the most destructive fiend. Thus, for instance, cutting out fizzy drinks and juices.

3. Everything in moderation. This is a simple risk management strategy. Eating a moderate amount of something that turns out not to be too healthy is unlikely to do a lot of harm. Eating nothing of something that you need could be very dangerous. Similarly for eating lots of something that turns out to be harmful. This is why I am sceptical of the Banting diet (proposed by Tim Noakes) – it has virtually no carbohydrates and lots and lots of saturated fat. If the diet is founded on facts, great. But there’s a large risk that we find that over the long term too few carbs are harmful.

If you have any ideas on how to eat healthily, feel free to leave a comment, particularly if you can substantiate your claims.

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  1. Food wars (Part 2) | Meditations of Lambchop

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