Sunday, March 11, 2012

Nutrition is my new religion

Photo of the last huge bowl of corn masa I'll ever eat.
When you open a newspaper or find a new news website, what category is your favorite? What do you like to turn to first? Some say they're most interested in sports or world news or politics. You know what my category is? Health.

This is the subject I read about on the Wall Street Journal and New York Times websites. Health articles are what get me to The Huffington Post or motivate me to buy a copy of Harper's Magazine. I just want the health news. I've been this way for years, but it might be getting more fixated in my middle age. It's not that I want to live forever. It's just that as I head toward my 50s, I'm increasingly concerned with living without pain. I devour any information that might help me reduce or avoid the aches and pains of aging.

Items with titles like Effects of High Cholesterol blah-blah-blah or Diabetes Linked to you-name-it are irresistable to me. I have to know whether Body Mass Index or Waist-to-Hip Ratio is a more reliable health indicator. I must know what causes arthritis or what can best treat eczema. I can't stop.

These days I'm obsessed with nutrition. Like a woman who's had an experience of God that makes her seek others to support her beliefs, my experiences with digestion have me seeking health articles and books that support mine. Years ago dairy products started giving me problems, so now I avoid them. In the past couple of years I've noticed that wheat and grains also cause me pain and discomfort so I've reduced those. Sugar completely screws with my energy levels and makes me hungrier. Alcohol and coffee might occasionally taste good to me, but they don't make me feel good.

These experiences make me very open to articles and books that criticize the nutritional value of dairy, wheat, alcohol and coffee. It's easy for me to believe that dairy was never meant to be consumed past infancy and that tofu endangers your hormone levels and that cutting carbs improves health because these are foods that have not worked for me. I'm wide open to anyone who says the human digestive system evolved to thrive on meat because that's what my body thrives on. I fully agree that everyone is better off without sugar and wheat because I know I am.

We like to think a subject like human nutrition has been scientifically researched with hard data that has led to inarguable conclusions, but it hasn't. At this point, you can find data to support anything you want to believe. Need support for your belief that meat is killing us? Or that high cholesterol is caused by eggs ? Or that grains harm the liver? Or that humans can thrive on an all-meat diet with no vegetables or other foods at all? The research is out there for any of those assertions and more. As with religion, people have strong nutritional beliefs and are drawn to others who agree. I can argue a vegan all night about whether wheat or meat is good for us and neither of us will run out of published evidence to make our points.

When people use their own experiences as the basis for what they believe, it leads to extreme closed-mindedness as often as it leads to the truth. My experience might teach me that skin rashes are caused by what I eat. Your experience might teach you that they're caused by external factors like detergents. Maybe we're both right or maybe there's a more all-encompassing reason that no one has figured out yet.

Thus is nutrition my religion. Despite decades of research, little about diet has been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt and we take most of our food information on faith. What's the healthiest way to eat? The expert-backed answer changes each decade. I am certain about what I know about my body, but I realize there's no point in trying to change someone's mind if they're committed to their bread or brandy.

I'm still an atheist, but my fervor about diet might rival the passion someone else has about Jesus. Go ahead. Just try to tell me that humans are meant to eat daily amounts of wheat, grains, soy or sugar. Just try to convince me that meat is worse for me than tofu. I'll argue all day, wild-eyed and full of zeal.


Jessica Young said...

Hey Friend--sounds like you're headed for a paleo diet. There's a great food blog called that is gluten-free and she's paloe. It might be interesting to you.

Regina Rodríguez-Martin said...

Elana's Pantry looks great. Thanks for the tip. said...


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Regina Rodríguez-Martin said...

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