Why should you take nutrition advice personally? And what do I mean by that?
As a nutritionist I’ve been quizzed about the strengths and weaknesses of different diet trends and fads. Usually my clients want a simple answer in response to a question like “Is veganism healthy” or “What do you think of Paleo”?
The truth is that different people have different dietary needs, tolerances and preferences, and nutrition is highly personal.
It’s interesting, we expect people to be different to each other in a number of ways: their hair colour, their build, their talents, their favourite sport, their style of dress, their favourite colour, their favourite movie, their choice of music, their career choices, their dream partner and their dream home among other things. We expect that some people will have common interests and may even be very similar in some ways, though we understand that won’t mean they are exactly alike. We even anticipate that identical twins will have some differences to each other.
We know people have different preferences to foods. Some people love spaghetti bolognaise, other people love roast dinner, some people love spicy foods, some love seafood, some like marmite and it hurts me to say it, but some people even claim to love McDonalds.
In the same way that people have different preferences, people also have different needs. And while it would be really convenient and even tempting to advocate for the idea of a perfect diet that would perfectly meet everyone’s needs… it is highly improbable.
For example research tells us that the healthiest diet on the planet is a whole food plant based diet, so arguably a well constructed vegan or vegetarian whole food diet would be the closest you can come to achieving that. However, some people have a DAO enzyme deficiency, (like me) which means levels of histamines (an amino acid but also secreted by the body in response to allergens) can rise too high. If someone has a histamine intolerance eating a diet high in nuts, seeds, beans and certain vegetables can over elevate their histamine levels. Despite these all being “healthy foods”, this “perfect diet” would be imperfect for some people, and if they excluded these plant proteins they may become deficient, despite the fact the diet is built on “super foods”. Furthermore, some vegans become low in iron and vitamin B12, even without enzyme deficiencies so they too need to monitor their nutrition status.
So does that mean everyone can eat meat (or should)? Well back to the histamine intolerance example, in fact too much chicken or processed meat, or fish can also raise levels too high, so it is not just a vegan diet that is problematic, they actually NEED to be picky with what they eat.
Let’s consider another diet, one currently trending in popularity, the Paleo diet. This diet recommends the restriction of grains, pulses, beans, corn, dairy and sugar, and promotes animal protein and vegetables, fruit, animal fats and coconut oil as primary food sources. There are lots of great benefits reported by this way of eating, however the approach doesn’t restrict or exclude processed meat (e.g bacon), which we know are linked to colon cancer.
Typically people eating this way consume an excess of protein rich foods on this diet, which for some is detrimental for their kidneys and digestive system and can be problematic for people who suffer from inflammatory conditions. And for someone suffering with Hemochromatosis (a genetic disorder where your body stores too much iron) this diet would be far too high in iron, making you vulnerable to iron toxicity.
Additionally, if you eat too much meat, and fats and not enough starchy carbohydrates, you can affect your digestion, your cholesterol levels, your energy levels and your brain function.
Some may argue the Paleo diet can be done well, but often quite frankly, it isn’t. So again, this apparently “great and healthy diet” is not healthy for EVERYONE, and like any diet, it needs to be considered with the context of the individual in mind.
So, in answer to questions about what the perfect diet is, I usually respond: “Eat real food, and for the rest, it really depends on you (your needs and preferences), and what you are trying to achieve.”
Personalised nutrition is fundamental for health. You need to be eating what is healthiest for your body, and that’s subtly different for everybody. In fact, I encourage people to take their nutrition, personally.
YES there are guiding principles for the “best diet” and they are eat real and whole foods as much as possible. For the rest, get yourself tested, see a good nutritionist and find out the best diet for you PERSONALLY.