Health & Nutrition: Whom To Trust?

I unwittingly mentioned to Girl 2’s allergist that Pat and I don’t eat gluten.  She looked at me like I had two heads.

“That is a 4 billion dollar industry,” she said accusingly, implying that I had fallen for the hype.  (“And wheat is probably a 400 billion dollar industry,” I wanted to retort, but didn’t.)   I mentioned that my husband has lost weight this way.  “Well yes,” she cut in, “cutting out gluten reduces calories.”

Well, what I meant was, he’s lost weight without any discernable reduction in overall calories.  I know that cutting out gluten-containing foods, without making up for the lost calories elsewhere, would cause weight loss.

Apparently I had my “STUPID” sign on my forehead that day, because that’s how she was treating me.

But I really don’t care what she thinks and I didn’t want to discuss Pat’s and my diet, anyway.  We were there for allergy testing for Girl 2.  (She came back “very slightly positive” for a multitude of foods, including chicken.  Chicken!  Who’s allergic to chicken??  The doc said not to treat the results as true positives and to keep feeding her as normal.  Clear as mud, as my dad likes to say.)

But the conversation got me thinking about this Perfect Health Diet experiment we’ve been on, and other alternative nutrition/ natural remedy type things I’ve been trying.  If you read enough from that non-mainstream point of view, you start thinking it’s normal.   Then, *bam* mainstream hits you in the face.

I’ve always been more of a mainstream kind of gal, when it comes to health and nutrition.  So how did I jump on this crazy train, anyway?

I guess my point of departure was the sugar craving and overeating problem I’ve had for forever.  Jennifer’s experience was so positive, it seemed worth a try.  And the Perfect Health Diet book and related nutrition authorities like Weston A. Price, etc. seem to make sense.  They address issues that mainstream nutrition authorities leave unanswered.

For instance, humanity has been eating eggs for millions of years, until we “discovered” in the 1980s (or whenever it was)

Butter and a butter knife

Butter and a butter knife (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

that they’re bad for you.  Then we “discovered” in the 2000s that they’re good for us after all.  Or trans fat: decades ago the common belief was that margarine and other partially hydrogenated vegetable oils were healthier than butter and lard.  Now, it turns out, the trans fat contained in those items is really bad and we were better off with butter and lard.

Maybe it makes sense to just eat eggs.  And cream, and butter, and steak.  Americans started getting so obese after we were told to stop eating this stuff that people have eaten for forever.  (Of course, people have been eating wheat for a heckuva long time, too, which is why I’m not a firm believer . . . yet . . . in the anti-gluten aspect of our diet.)

Not being a scientist, though, I feel like either “side,” so to speak, could be pulling the wool over my eyes.  For example, Perfect Health Diet et al. speak of the “lipid hypothesis.”   They pretty convincingly argue that the supposed connection between saturated fat and heart disease (and related ailments) is unfounded.  But I feel like the mainstreamers, the proponents of the “lipid hypothesis,” could argue just as convincingly (like this, perhaps).  I’ve yet to see a good side-by-side comparison of the strengths and weaknesses of each position.

Scientific data are so easily manipulated to support one position or another.  Scientific studies themselves only prove so much.  And I have neither the ability nor the patience to read the scholarly literature myself.  So most of us read a few books or articles written for laymen (“secondary sources,” if you will), and decide to toss our hat into one ring or another.

And as I buy gluten-free products for my family–none of whom has a discernible sensitivity to gluten–and toss back gaggingly large handful of supplements every day . . . I start to second guess tossing my hat into the non-mainstream ring.


Or course, a lot of what we’re doing (or at least trying to do), is what everyone agrees is healthier: avoiding processed foods, avoiding sugar, eating more vegetables.  But choosing coconut oil over canola?  Ribeye steak over chicken breast?  White potatoes over whole wheat?  Cream over skim milk?  Sometimes it feels right to me, sometimes it doesn’t.  And with different authorities saying different things, all I’m really left to go by is my gut instinct.

For now my gut tells me, “So far, so good.”  I haven’t seen any drastic improvement in my health.  But Pat’s lost weight, and my sugar/ food issues are better, if not gone.  I haven’t gotten around to it yet, but soon we’ll schedule our yearly physicals.  Depending on how our blood work looks, we’ll reassess.

Until then . . . I’m enjoying all the butter.  😉


25 thoughts on “Health & Nutrition: Whom To Trust?

  1. I read the perfect health book and followed it for several months and lost about 10 pounds. Wish it were more! But gluten crept back it because I think it’s yummy unfortunately.

    The book is so scientifically sound, it’s worth reading. The only thing I had trouble with is the supplements. I just don’t like pill taking, even if it’s natural.

  2. It’s so hard to know who to trust, isn’t it? When it comes to food and nutrition, I’ve been in the non-mainstream camp for a long time…I think partly due to my upbringing and party due to the company I keep. My parents were into whole foods/organic foods/nutritional supplements before it was cool. LOL And, when I had my own kids, I sorta naturally picked up a breastfeeding/attachment parenting/homeschooling style and lot of those types of people tend to throw their hats into the non-mainstream camp as well.

    Sometimes I feel like I live in a non-mainstream bubble and I get out into the real world and are a bit shocked that people do actually buy large quantities of goldfish crackers and feed them to their kids on a daily basis. LOL

    But, the reason we stick with it, is because we mostly see the benefits. We don’t take tons of vitamins/supplements on a daily basis, but we do down loads of Vitamin C, Vitamin D, elderberry and garlic when sick and I can SEE the benefits, because I can see how much faster we recover and how less sick we are than we used to get. I’ve had first hand experience with curing a urinary tract infection with D-mannose or curing a sinus infection with apple cider, vinegar, garlic and vitamin C. So, I know those things work, because I’ve experienced it.

    We generally avoid gluten (not stictly so, and we always receive the regular Host for Communion), but I can tell a slight difference if I eat it, and I feel better avoiding it, so I do. Even though none of us have diagnosed celiac I can tell small differences if we are eating it or not. With my oldest daughter, there is a discernible increase in bloating if she eats gluten. With my toddler, she gets “red cheeks” (like eczema) if she’s had gluten recently. They are all very small and subtle, but enough that can tell that generally avoiding it is better.

    And, I do have a science background, and I don’t really trust scientific studies when it comes to nutrition and health. There are just so many compounding factors and influences. Disease is such a multi-faceted thing…there are a zillion different components to the question of “what causes heart disease”…and everything from diet to genetics to stress to fitness levels plays a role…so it’s really complicated.

    But, when it comes to butter versus margarine, it seems pretty clean. Butter is basically just take cream and shake it..people have been eating butter for ages. Magaraine is totally processed and not found anywhere in nature. I don’t follow the Perfect Health Diet strictly anymore, but we do avoid gluten and stick to whole,unprocessed foods (for the most part) because that just makes sense. I don’t think we need science to tell us that eating foods that are whole and natural and unprocessed is better than eating junk, processed food. Besides, butter tastes tons better than margarine anyway.

  3. I’ve got a ton of food allergies, including chicken. They’ve gotten worse with each pregnancy (hormones really wreck havoc with the immune system) and chicken was something that had been iffy for a long time (but I could still eat it), but after my son came along, no more. I miss it. There are lots of good chicken alternatives, though. We like Gardein’s teriyaki chick’n strips (they work in a wide variety of dishes) and Better Than boullion’s no chicken base (tastes the same, I swear!) Don’t know how that works with your overall diet, but just thought I’d put it out there.

  4. I totally know where you’re coming from. Right now we are mostly following a whole foods plant-based diet with G and I also gluten free. This happened for me after reading The China Study. I don’t think I was prepared for the diet changes I would make before reading that book. I also dont think I will ever go back. Check out some of the reviews for it on Amazon and if you ever read the book I would love to know your thoughts.

  5. I have had to be on a gluten free diet since I was 7 yrs old (back before it was trendy and easily accessible) because I have celiac. My pediatrician always said me and my siblings never got sick/had good immune systems because the whole house ate mostly cooked from scratch, meats/fruits/veges/rice/potatoes and not a lot of wheat/processed (because my mom didn’t want me to feel left out and it was really hard and expensive to find gf pizza, pretzels, cookies etc). So anyway I can see why people think gluten free is healthier (like gluten is the culprit) but honestly I just try to focus with my kids/husband on home cooked real food and don’t keep them off wheat since its not medically necessary. But we do eat gf pasta as a family and gf chicken pot pie and gf fried rice – so they dont eat a ton of wheat flour mainly just breakfast and snacks. On another note I love ice cream and cheese so I could ever do the perfect health diet but I like the idea a lot and it seems really healthy!

  6. Yeah, I like the idea of Paleo/perfect health diet type of eating, but a) I really like carbs and sugars (who doesn’t?), b) I have 3 kids ages 3 and under, so there’s only so much from scratch cooking I feel up to at any given time and c) we’ve never had any major problems.

    I find the science behind them compelling, but the point you mention about studies always seeming to contradict each other is an important one. Also, are there any long-term studies that show that people who follow these diets are better off long term than those who follow more conventional diets? It seems the trendiness of them is relatively new (10-15 years at most) so it’d be difficult to say that if you start this diet at 25, you’re so much better off at 65 or 75 (does that make sense?).

    Also, these types of diets may be difficult to follow in many other parts of the world, given their expense and logistics of agriculture and trade and whatnot, but are those people any worse off because of their possibly inferior diets? Anecdotal evidence is helpful and important but doesn’t necessarily mean a particular diet is best for everyone. Regardless, it’s important to be deliberate as much as we can about what we eat and have the goal of it enriching our lives and health instead of harming them.

    • Hi. Just to address your point about other countries following these diets. It’s actually the opposite of what you say. The point of paleo/perfect health diets is that this is the way people ate for tens of thousands of years before the development of modern agriculture and industrial food production (50 to 100 years ago). The guy who developed the PHD argues that it is the same as traditional cuisines from most parts of the world — a traditional Thai, or French, or West African, or Pacific Islander or Japanese diet (without wheat) is essentially the PHD. Therefore, this way of eating is aligned more closely with the diets of “poorer” i.e. pre-industrial countries than “richer” countries and there’s lots of evidence that shows that when a country starts to eat like the West (i.e., adding processed cereal grains, industrial seed oils, and sugar — “convenience foods”), there are widespread health declines. Japan and South Korea are good examples of this, and countries that have kept their traditional food cultures (i.e. france, who despite the bread eating, still eschew “convenience” foods and place a premium on real whole food traditionally prepared at home).

      I also have to disagree (with Laura as well) that just because studies contradict each other it is impossible to decide who has the better argument. It’s simply not true. It is possible to educate yourself and figure out who is addressing the data better and who is just being dismissive. It’s difficult, esp. if you don’t have a science background, but it is not impossible.

      I personally think that when it comes to diet and health, personal experience trumps all. If you and your family have no problems with the way you eat, then that’s great. I’m not going to say you should change. But when I eat PHD/paleo I feel markedly better. So even though I struggle with it (I like sugar and bread, too) I think it’s a worthwhile struggle.

  7. Real quick because I’m on my annoying phone. Past three weeks, we have gone completely paleo, including my 4 year old who is the pickiest eater. I thought he would wither away, because he had barely gained 3 pounds in the past year and has sensory issues with smells and tastes.
    I was beyond shocked that after three days he began to accept and try foods he’d previously rejected. After a few weeks, I’ve lost 4 pounds without reducing calories. I think all the weight’s come of my midsection and reduced bloat. 4 year old has gained 2 pounds! His behavior had improved and his sleeping has improved. Only bummer is the wallet, and my kids eczema is worse (but that could be from the suddenly cold weather).
    Anyway, my point is, after that trial run, I’m sold on perfect health/ paleo/ clean eating!

  8. I liked your post, Laura. At my age, I am thinking the world puts too much emphasis on food altogether. I’m doing weight watchers – where we eat what we want, just limit our intake (not of calories, either) – and I’ve lost 13.2# in 9 weeks. I think if you eat just “real” food (no margarine or synthetic cheese for instance or tostitos and such) your body would eventually work properly for you. Look at how long Meme lived and she sucked on cigarettes for how many years? And think of what she ate! Not that she was the greatest example of good health, of course, but she lived until she was 81. Imagine if she had just taken modest care of her bod?! I think the stress we put on ourselves concerning out diets is probably cancelling out any benefits we may be getting from following current trends. Moderation is the key to everything.

    • Congrats on the WW success! I think Meme also is an example of how much genetics influence health and longevity. Another example would be my dad’s uncles, who were heavy smokers but lived into their 90s (albeit with emphysema)!

  9. the huge surge in modern gluten issues is tied to the fact that modern wheat has 42 chromosomes in it (GM in the ’60s), compared to traditional wheats, which has 14. my dad is so very, very steeped in mainstream, being a doctor and coming from a family of doctors and western scientists, and even he says at this point that he firmly believes that the processed and modern foods are responsible for the health issues. I never before realized how much what I ate affected my mood, decision-making, sleep, emotional well-being, mental clarity, etc., until I was forced to pay attention b/c of my oldest’s severe food sensitivites (NONE of which, by the by, showed up on his allergy tests, even the ones that gave him severe rashes, because food sensitivities, when the body cannot digest, are not the same as allergies, when the body actually attacks). Anyway, this is the girl who ate ice cream with sprinkles every day–literally–during college. It is so, so hard to get a clear handle in the food issues, but basically I trust any source more than mainstream, which (objectively and verifiably) is controlled by the drug companies and Monsanto. No thanks.

  10. These comments are all so interesting, and I look forward to reading the books and articles mentioned here. At this point, I don’t think I’ll be able to respond to each comment individually, but I have read them all and appreciate them very much!

  11. Hey Girl,
    We did whole30 for Lent and it was mostly amazing, but really I just don’t have the will-power at this point to get back on it. It was great for all of us mostly, except I would never sleep soundly. It wasn’t until I added grains back into my diet that I was able to enjoy a full, deep, restful night of sleep.
    My one year old gets this rash around his mouth when he eats Greek or regular, organic and not-organic yogurt…I just know that a cleansing phase of Paleo would probably help us pinpoint what the heck is going on. But at 17 (or am I 18?!) weeks pregnant I am just so tired. So, for now, goldfish and oreos remain.
    But I love love love your fervor and commitment.

    • Hi Suzette, Have you tried Perfect Health Diet? It’s paleo with safe starches (rice and potatoes and sweet potatoes, i.e.). A lot of people who comment there report having their sleep problems end. Sleep issues can be a result of going too low carb, which is a problem with traditional paleo diets (and the whole30). I could not tolerate a diet with no carbs (and I’ve tried many times) I just feel all around awful. But PHD is really very easy to do once you kick the sugar habit (which I have not until now, I am giving it another go).

      Laura I’m sorry to hijack your comments section. I just read so much about this stuff and I am constantly struggling with my sugar issues.

      • That’s fine. I’m enjoying the discussion. . . . When I re-read PHD recently I realized I was often skipping the safe starches. I often would eat just meat and veggies at meals, figuring I was getting enough carbs from fruits and dairy and misc. snacks. Wrong. I notice I feel better if I make sure to have some starch with every meal.

  12. Wow. I think there is so much talking going on here that I’m just popping in to say I enjoyed your post, Lou. Shared frustration. xxoo

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