It’s easy to feel bombarded when confronted with information about how to eat healthier and live longer. A quick online search of different diets yields more information than the average person could — or might even want to — handle. It’s no wonder the average person makes more than 200 food choices each day!
One search result claimed that following a soy diet improves your odds of surviving lung cancer. Another said that eating like a caveman can boost your health — and another suggested that low-carb, high-protein diets are a heart risk. Others showed that a Mediterranean diet helps keep hearts healthy, juicing techniques could help in warding off Alzheimer’s and vegan diets are good for children and animals.
With so much conflicting information, who are we supposed to believe — and how are we supposed to sort through the chaos?
When we recently asked about diet choices, we heard that while it’s confusing to have so much diverse information available, many people are doing research and listening to their own bodies to find out what works for them.
Mike Tremoulet of Houston summed it up perfectly in his response:
“One point to note, and I believe this strongly, is that nutritional science – actual, irrefutable hard science – is fairly immature right now. I don’t think we have it all worked out.
“Look at food fads and advice over the years. Margarine was going to save us from butter, now butter will save us from margarine. Cut back on meat and up your whole grain, or cut back your grains and up your meat and vegetables.
“The best advice I can ever give is to find a diet or food philosophy that works for you, that your body responds to, and stick with it.
“Maybe someday we’ll understand all the factors, but for now, don’t fall into chasing the ‘right’ or ‘best’ way to eat and stick with something that works. For me, that’s meat and vegetables. For someone else, that’s vegetarianism. No judgment.”
Here’s a sample of some of the other responses we received:
Cassandra Gibson-Jones of The Woodlands, Texas:
“When I was pregnant in the economic downturn of 1987, our finances were stretched so thin that all my husband and I ate each day was a box of macaroni and cheese made with fake butter and canned milk, a carrot, a can of tuna, a cup of tea and we split a packet of instant oatmeal.
“Our meals were full of chemicals, salt, fat and sugar all of which negatively impacted my pregnancy. When our finances picked up, I vowed never to knowingly consume processed or tainted foods again. But the food companies are tricky.
“I read the packages but it is difficult to know what I am consuming. I struggle to keep informed.”
Joy Weese Moll of Kirkwood, Mo.:
“I [have] read 70 books since August 2009 to support my healthy lifestyle while losing 70 pounds. It took a dramatic effort to get myself to change the way I eat.
“I got fat with the rest of the country in the 1980s and ’90s by falling for the hype that food should be convenient, take no time to prepare, provide the bulk of my day-to-day happiness and can be consumed in any quantity at any time of the day or night. I lost weight by checking out of the American food system, for the most part, and eating mostly foods that I cook from scratch.”
Ann Griese of Byron, Minn.:
“After reading ‘Fast Food Nation‘ several years ago, I eliminated chain fast food restaurants (i.e., McDonald’s, Burger King, etc.) except the occasional Subway or Quiznos sandwich.
“I used to eat out for lunch every work day, now I pack a lunch of homemade food. I have tried to eliminate most commercially prepared/packaged foods (snack foods, baked goods, frozen meals, etc.).”
Andre Morand of Richmond, Calif.:
“My dietary choices are most strongly influenced by the body of research that indicates less processed ‘traditional’ foods are the best not just for good nutrition but for preventing disease.
“I’ve followed the research indicating a Mediterranean diet yields significant health benefits. A lot of my meals feature traditional Mediterranean dishes made with olive oil, legumes and fresh vegetables and fruits.”
Roberta Reed of Erhard, Minn.:
“Five years ago, I had multiple health issues. Doctors gave me medication for them, but it only treated the symptoms. It didn’t improve my health.
“So I started researching on the web. All my problems had one thing in common. They were caused by inflammation.I discovered a person could eat an anti-inflammatory diet. It was called ‘primal’ or ‘paleo.’
“I removed all inflammatory foods from the house. I searched high and low for recipes. I found a source for grass-fed beef and pastured chickens. We got laying hens and let them out during the day in our yard so we got fresh omega-3 rich eggs.
“It was difficult at first, but I stuck with it. Now it’s just second nature. All my health issues disappeared, and I no longer need any medication. My health seems better than most my friends and co-workers who are my age.”
Tom Hunter of Wabasha, Minn.:
“We started to research traditional foods in about 2005, and we soon came to doubt the conventional wisdom regarding low-fat diets and other ways to eat ‘healthy.’ We now doubt all processed foods and most information from the big food companies and big health organizations, such as the American Heart Association.”
Sigrid Asher-Bolinder of Denver:
“Knowledge, memories and cultural wisdom inform my food choices each day. Comfort foods, seasonal foods, what is right and just, nutrition, cultural cuisines and the occasional mad craving jostle with one another as I decide what we shall eat.
“I was a daughter of the ’70s, an idealistic, broke student. [The book] ‘Diet for a Small Planet‘ informed my choices of grains to combine to create complete proteins and lessen the meat we eat. We had several years of consuming Virtuous Brown Foods that none of us misses. However, as we found ingredients and recipes to access more of the world’s foods, our family developed tastes for a variety of cuisines.
“It took about sixty years to come to this conclusion. … In summary, I veer between ‘Seek moderation in all things‘ (Aristotle) and ‘Everything in excess! To enjoy the flavor of life, take big bites. Moderation is for monks,’ (Robert A. Heinlein). ‘Eat a wide variety of lightly processed foods‘ (Hal Higdon) is the goal; it’s getting there that’s the journey.”
Lisa Burke of St. Paul, Minn.:
“I grew up in Greece, so the ‘Mediterranean diet’ is what I know and love. I eat a lot of vegetables, beans, eggs, fish, nuts, cheese and yogurt, and fresh fruit. I cook exclusively with olive oil.
“In recent years I’ve tried to avoid carbohydrates, so I don’t eat nearly as much bread, pasta and rice as I used to. Instead, I use spaghetti squash as a vehicle for my favorite sauces, and eat some wild rice.”
>> Share your story with us: What influences your food choices the most?