Case in point: A few years ago I was having coffee with some acquaintances and I mentioned that the day before I had cooked a Nigel Slater recipe: cod fried in butter with lemon and mash. The two women I was talking to, who are roughly about 15 years older, looked at me with shock and horror and said -in a lamenting and snooty british accent (Think Violet in Downton Abbey): "Oh, but we haven't touched butter in years... " I looked at them and I didn't have the heart to reply with the thought that crossed my mind: "Well... it looks like not having butter is not making any difference to your size..."
That was the beginning of my questioning any dietary advice given by "the food police" (like Nigel Slater calls them). What I couldn't get my head round was that: there they were, following all the "rules" of healthy eating and still being overweight and struggling to keep it down and there I was, paying not one bit of attention to any of those rules: eating what I liked and not exercising, and still being a dress size 6 (UK) (US size 2). It just didn't make any sense. Every single person I knew who was on a low-fat diet was overweight and every single thin person I knew didn't do low-fat . That couldn't be a coincidence. So, if what the medical profession was saying about low-fat food wasn't true, what else wasn't true? I started wondering about everything I knew about food and to investigate the matter further. In the end I came to the conclusion that most studies are flawed exactly for the reasons that Kitty explained in her comment on the previous post, that :
" The complexity of controlling variables for nutrition studies must make it almost impossible to get good data."
So if studies are not a reliable source of information, what else do we have? Well, I my case, I have the history of my family. Let's start with my grandparents who lived to their mid 80s and my grandmothers, who died at 94 and 97 respectively. And here is the thing: in the village where my paternal parents are from, according to the dietary advice we get: they should all be dead. The amount of salt they put on their food is huge, well, put it this way: my aunt didn't just put a pinch of salt on the salad, she would chuck a whole fist full of salt. Their main meat was pork, which was preserved in olive oil in clay jars. Sometimes chicken and rabbit. Occasionally lamb. Wild hare, partridge and quail while the hunting season lasted. No fish or seafood, or very rarely, since they are about 400 miles from the sea. They grew potatoes and vegetables. They ate white bread with everything. Deep fried everything. (My paternal grandmother didn't even own an oven). They didn't walk a lot: this village is so small, it takes just over 5 minutes to get to the furthest end. But there they were, unknowingly disobeying every rule of modern eating and defiantly living to their hundreds. As far as I know everyone from that generation living in the village died of old, not of disease or cancer or heart attacks. And except for one widow, everybody was thin. The next generation (my parents' generation) are not doing so great, but what's different? they all yo-yo diet. They also all eat very fast.
Now let's have a look at the other set of grandparents. Their diet was quite different. Where they lived was not right by the seaside but was close enough to have all sorts of fish and seafood available. They also lived in a area of green pastures so they had beef, milk and butter available. Lots of different types of cheese too. Stews with chorizo, pork belly, potatoes and collard greens. My maternal grandparents didn't stay in that village for the whole of their lives (unlike the other set, who did), they moved to a big city in their 40s. So for those who think that it was the quiet village life that made the difference... nope. This city is so noisy that people who are born in it have hearing damage by the time they get to their twenties, and the pace of life is so fast that when one of my cousins (on my father's side) visited for the first time (she must have been about 12) she asked me why people were running! They weren't running, they were walking, (similar to the NY pace) but to her, our walking was running.
My parents diet is a combination of the two. My mother is a great believer of variety. They eat all types of fish and meats, plenty of vegetables, beans and pulses. Milk and yogurt. Lots of bread (my father will not eat a meal unless there's bread to go with it :P) Lots of fruit. Sounds healthy, doesn't it? Well, let me tell you that they are both very overweight, even though they don't eat sweets or cakes or biscuits of any kind. On the other hand they are strong as oxen and are never ill (nor were my grandparents ever ill for that matter); well, my father gets a permanent cold every winter when he has the flu vaccine (he never had colds before) but that's a whole other story...
So quite frankly, my conclusion is that a lot of the issues that are blamed on food (such as hypertension, cholesterol, allergies, etc) have nothing to do with food. Weight gain is a lot more complex than the press makes it out to be. For most of history, lack of food was the main reason that people got ill and died before old age. My bet is that most of the medical conditions that are blamed on food are actually a result of emotional distress (subject for a whole other post really).
Food does have a part to play in health, because what we eat becomes us, so to find good quality food it's important. The main thing is to have common sense. One rule does not fit all. People who live in cold countries need different food than people living in hot countries. I see people in the UK who diet during winter and get continuous colds, and in the worse cases, chest infections and bronchitis. It makes sense to eat cooling foods -like cucumber- when the weather is hot, and soups and stews when it's cold outside. A lot of the time our bodies tell us what we need, if we listen carefully. If something doesn't taste good to you, it's probably not good for you. That goes for salt too. Your taste should tell you how much you need. Like Kitty, I don't like the taste of table salt, so I have sea salt. (Jessie asked what salt extracted by traditional methods was. I found a video of traditional saltmaking in Hawaii, which is pretty much the same as the traditional methods in Europe.)
While the press likes to go on about healthy foods and is continually praising the Mediterranean diet as the holy grail of health, the fact remains that most people have to make do with what's available where they live. Also, the Japanese and a number of other nations are just as healthy as people in Mediterranean countries, so I take the press' love affair with the Mediterranean diet with a pinch of salt (no pun intended).
In theory, if our diet is generally healthy we shouldn't need any extra supplements, but I have found that when I'm dealing with stressful situations, food doesn't seem to be enough. I'm not sure why this is. There is a line of thought in the UK that the soil is not as rich in minerals as it was decades ago. They say that to have the equivalent in the nutrition that a carrot had in the 1950s, you'd have to eat 7 carrots now. I have also read that some supermarkets irradiate fresh vegetables to give them a longer shelf life. I don't know if it's true, but I once had a bag of carrots in my fridge draw that was there for four months and still looked like I had bought it the day before whereas the carrots I buy from an organic supplier start shrinking within a couple of weeks if we don't eat them. So maybe there is something to it. Maybe if we're eating healthy, the food is enough to get us going in our daily routines (and to produce hair, skin and nails and all other regeneration and functions of the body that seem to be forgotten by the people who measure food just in terms of calories...) but not enough for when there is extra-stress. Maybe there aren't enough nutrients in modern food to be stored up as reserves. Obviously something has changed, because when you read what prisoners were surviving on in Nazi concentration camps while doing a whole day of physical work in the snow and still kept going, makes no sense at all that we have so much available food and yet, so many have no energy.
(If anyone has any theories on why this is, I'd be very interested to hear them.)