The one secret to a successful diet

Recognizing that’s not not just one thing and stop being foolishly reductionist– whether it’s fat, sugar, refined grains, or anything else.  I don’t know how I missed this Jerome Groopman piece from 2015 looking at the history of the war on fat evolving into the war on sugar, but it’s really good stuff.  Here’s a nice bit from the end:

The problem with most diet books, and with popular-science books about diet, is that their impact relies on giving us simple answers, shorn of attendant complexities: it’s all about fat, or carbs, or how many meals you eat (the Warrior diet), or combinations of food groups, or intervalic fasting (the 5:2 diet), or nutritional genomics (sticking to the foods your distant ancestors may have eaten, assuming you even know where your folks were during the Paleolithic era). They hold out the hope that, if you just fix one thing, your whole life will be better. [emphases mine]

In laboratories, it’s a different story, and it sometimes seems that the more sophisticated nutritional science becomes the less any single factor predominates, and the less sure we are of anything. Today’s findings regularly overturn yesterday’s promising hypotheses. A trial in 2003, led by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, compared an Atkins diet, high in fat and low in carbohydrates, with a low-fat, high-carbohydrate, low-calorie one. After a year, there were no significant differences in how much weight the people in each group had lost, or in their levels of blood lipids—including their LDL cholesterol, the primary concern for heart attack and stroke. In a follow-up study in 2010, participants who followed either a low-carbohydrate or a low-fat diet ended up losing about the same amount of weight (seven kilograms) after two years. It was impossible to predict which diet would lead to significant weight loss in any given individual, and, as most dieters well know, sustaining weight loss often fails after initial success…

Science is an accretion of provisional certainties. Current research includes much that is genuinely promising—several groups have identified genes that predispose some people to obesity, and are studying how targeted diets and exercise can attenuate these effects—but the more one pays attention to the latest news from the labs the harder it becomes to separate signal from noise. Amid the constant back-and-forth of various hypotheses, orthodoxies, and fads, it’s more important to pay attention to the gradual advances, such as our understanding of calories and vitamins or the consensus among studies showing that trans fats exacerbate cardiovascular disease. What this means for most of us is that common sense should prevail. Eat and exercise in moderation; maintain a diet consisting of balanced amounts of protein, fat, and carbohydrates; make sure you get plenty of fruit and vegetables. And enjoy an occasional slice of chocolate cake.

Yes, yes, yes.  I’ll be off soon to have my daily giant slice of pizza (jalapeno instead of pepperoni while I’m still trying to lose a few pounds), which works just fine in the broad context of an overall healthy diet.

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About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

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