Whenever I speak to people about their health, they seem to confirm a belief that I've held for a while. One group of people pursues health based on either a fear that they have, such as contracting cancer as a parent did, or putting on weight, or getting older. The other group follows the latest fad, whether it's raw, vegan or paleo. They like the sound bites that the various proponents "sell" to their followers, and start doing everything that the new fad suggests they do.
Fear is never a great motivator
Whatever you are trying to achieve, you are more focused on a great outcome if you are motivated by pleasure and enjoyment, not by fear. People who are motivated to stay healthy because they are scared of weight gain or aging, end up feeling deprived and miserable. Watch them at the next dinner party you attend. They are happy to tell you why they are avoiding all the foods and drinks they love, but their focus is on fear, not on enjoyment. Fear of illness and weight gain needs to be replaced with the pursuit of vitality and energy, through the consumption of a large variety of delicious, nutrient-dense foods. There is no need to be afraid of good food, and no need to fear disease if your diet is serving you well.
Fads are more often than not, biased
It gets a little tricky to separate the science from the zealousness of the fad followers. They believe so strongly that they are right, even when science AND their health tell a different story. And very few of these fads have stood the test of time. There are no real, long-term studies to show that they are in fact superior to a normal, nutrient-dense, well-balanced diet, free of processed foods. Just because humans may have eaten a lot of meat in our distant past, does not mean that we should do so now. Fossil records can only pick up on animal bones, not the remains of a vegetable feast. Just because raw food contains a lot of enzymes and nutrients, does not mean we have to eat only raw food. Eating only raw food can limit the concentrations of nutrients and lead to dietary deficiencies. Just because animals suffer from cruel farming practices does not mean that we should completely shun ethically raised animals. Vegans can suffer from severe nutrient deficiencies, some of which can cause permanent damage. Idealism is wonderful but you have less energy to correct wrongs if your idealism is leading to poor health.
As a species, there is no nutrient nirvana in our past. We can't look back nostalgically to any particular time in our history, when we got all the nutrients we needed, in the right quantities, at the right time, in a stress-free environment! Historical research has repeatedly found that globally there has always been a shortfall of some nutrients. This has been due to such things as a lack of minerals in the soil, vitamins in produce, or insufficient food generally in a harsh climate or season.
What to do?
We now know an enormous amount about what the body and brain need to be optimally healthy. We also know that consuming one food group to the exclusion of others doesn't lead to long-term health. And, that certain nutrients are best found in some animal products.
Do you feel fabulous? Do you feel energetic? Is your skin glowing? Are your hormones singing? Is your thinking clear and sharp? Are you enthusiastic and inspired to live your best life? If not, go to your doctor and get a full spectrum blood test done, to check whether you are deficient in any minerals, vitamins, or other nutrients like essential fatty acids. When you get your results be open to changing your mind about what type of diet is best for you.
Don't pursue health based on a fear, a fad or a sound bite!
Aiello LC. Brains and guts in human evolution: The expensive tissue hypothesis*. Braz. J. Genet. 1 Mar 1997; 20(1).
Carmody RN and Wrangham RW. Cooking and the human commitment to a high quality diet. Cold Spring Harb Symp Quant Biol. 2009; 74: 427-34.
Curnoe D. The palaeolithic diet and the unprovable links to our past. http://medicalxpress.com/news/2014-11-palaeolithic-diet-unprovable-links.html?utm_source=nwletter&utm_medium=email&utm_content=ctgr-item&utm_campaign=daily-nwletter (accessed 4 December 2014).Martinko K.
Why the paleo diet isn't really paleo. http://www.treehugger.com/green-food/real-paleo-diet-was-very-different-its-modern-interpretation.html (accessed 25 February 2015)Keith L.
The vegetarian myth — food, justice, and sustainability. California, USA: Flashpoint Press; 2009.
Pollan M. Food rules: an eater's manual. USA: Penguin; 2013.