Of all health topics, diet and nutrition can be one of the most confusing areas for us to fully understand. There are so many fads, trends, experts and opinions out there.
How do we make sense of this conflicting diet advice?
In my 30 years of work as a GP I have pretty much seen, heard and tried it all in terms of diet.
One particularly extreme diet that my parents adopted for the family back in the 1980s was the Pritikin (or zero fat) Diet. I have a clearly embedded vision of my mother in the kitchen piling all my favourite foods into a garbage bag after her GP told her she had so-called high cholesterol.
I felt like I went half-crazy. Within a matter of days my brain felt like it would not work, and I distinctly remember realising at that point that I needed fat in my diet to think clearly. I also knew as a toddler that capsicum just did not agree with me, and no amount of sitting at the dinner table staring at it on my plate was going to change my body’s view of this particular vegetable!
So, after completing a post-grad Diploma in nutrition, and years of hearing what people said every day about how they feel and what they eat, I started to refine my thoughts on the matter. I pledged to bring diet into as many consultations as I could, on a daily basis. Whether it’s being tired, having a bad gut, struggles with immunity, weight or mental health issues, I firmly believe that diet plays a very large role, and I’m on a mission to explore that role.
“So, what do you eat?” I ask.
“I eat a balanced diet” or “I have a really healthy diet” are the two most common replies.
After a few more questions we finally get to the real list of foods and supplements going in.
Getting to the truth about your diet
Here are my ten key questions to ask yourself if you’re confused about diet and nutrition:
- Are you metabolically healthy and feel great? For example, no signs of pre-diabetes, and no build-up of coronary disease shown on a CT coronary calcium score. Then well done, carry on living your healthy lifestyle, we don’t need to talk about diet.
- Or are you one of the millions of people across the Western world that have been caught up in the epidemic of obesity, diabetes or heart disease, which really took off in the 1980s? In that case, we do need to consider making some positive changes.
- Do you have problems such as reflux or irritable bowel? Think of your gut as a complicated pipe… isn’t it worth considering the possibility it’s responding to something you are eating?
- Have you heard the term essential when it comes to nutrition? Well, we have a requirement for essential amino acids (protein) and essential fatty acids (fat). There is no such thing as an essential carbohydrate (sugar).
- Do you take multiple supplements or eat so-called superfoods? Have you explored all of the undesirable items to take out first?
- Despite what you might read from people spruiking the latest miracle cure, there is no ‘one diet fits everybody’ rule.
- Have you heard weight loss talked about as calories in, calories out? This is not usually true, as certain foods trigger a different hormonal response in your body.
- Do you train like mad but can’t lose weight? Unfortunately you can’t out-run or out-train a bad diet.
- Do you get HANGRY (irritable and cranky when hungry)? This could be a sign that you are not metabolically flexible enough to handle your eating pattern, and it’s putting stress on your body and brain.
- Have you thought about cutting meat out of your diet? Well, the war on eating meat, which started in the 1800s, is based on moral, not health principles.
So, rather than treating what we eat as an afterthought, let’s have a think about what little changes we can introduce, bit by bit, which will all add up to helping us lead healthier, happier and more active lives.
Dr Victoria Buntine is available for consultations on Mondays, Tuesdays, Fridays and alternate Sundays. She is happy to accept new patients.