Part 1 - Introduction

G. Douglas Andersen, D.C., C.C.N.

After reading a lot of criticism after the United States Department of Agriculture replaced their food pyramid guide for healthy eating with a plate divided into fruits, vegetables, grains and protein, (see Andersen, G. D. A Pyramid is Replaced by a Plate Dynamic Chiropractic. 2011; V__N__)it made me wonder what the healthiest people around the world eat.
Anyone who spends any time researching nutrition knows you can find a critic for almost everything, including (in my opinion) some of the healthiest things man can consume. Currently, carbohydrates are taking the same type of beating today as fats did in the 1980's. For the few who find nutrition minutia interesting, if you look up what the biggest voices in the anti-carb movement were saying in the 1980's, you'll find a number of them were carb backers. The same example works for fats. That is, yesterdays critics are today's supporters. Point being, vilifying a single macronutrient was wrong back then and it's wrong today. The carb backlash has helped to generate ridiculous statements like too much fruit is fattening (not fruit juice—whole fruit!) Those of you who have swallowed this nonsense should take this little test before you fire off your angry email: How many people do you know who are 20 pounds overweight because of those late night binges of apples, oranges, strawberries or melons?
Some of the carbohydrate criticism is justified, but a large percentage is misplaced. Think about how often we hear about the evils of bread, pasta and bagels. Too often, the ‘white’ adjective is dropped meaning the problem is no longer because it’s ‘white,’ it's because it’s bread. But whole grain bread or pasta should not be lumped in with white. Conversely, other foods that deserve to be called out aren't. For example, how often do you read about the evils of cookies? In case you don't think they're a problem, check out the amount of shelf space those little bombs of refined flour, saturated fats and simple sugars command in the local supermarket. And those are the good ones! Most of the biggest sellers are full of ingredients we can't even pronounce! It reminds me of all the people who won't drink tap water because it's unhealthy, yet don't think twice sausage at breakfast, fries at lunch and a double scoup of ice cream after dinner.

Once something begins to be considered 'bad,' the vilification is often out-of-proportion because many tend to jump on all or nothing bandwagons. Those of you who are old enough will remember when beverage companies replaced sugar with fructose (because it was healthier) may have noticed companies are advertising that their liquid candy (my words, not theirs) contains 'real sugar' or lacks high fructose corn syrup. Of course, the reason sugar was removed in the first place was because of the problems it caused! The all-or-nothing approach leads to advise like "avoid eating too much fruit because you'll get too much fructose." That advice is not only incorrect, it is unhealthy. This is not to imply that guzzling fruit juice as if it was water is healthy. Its not. In fact, a quart of fruit juice usually contains more sugars than the same amount of soda. But, when there are so many foods we should worry about, adding fresh fruit to that list is ludicrous. I have written about how US consumption of high fructose corn syrup rose from 0.4 pounds per person per year in 1970 to over 44 pounds per person per year in 2000. That is a 10,000% increase in 30 years! (see Andersen, GD. US Food Consumption Data is Now More Accurate-Part 2 Dynamic Chiropractic 2005:V23;N25. But that is NOT from eating too many fresh grapes. (FYI - you have to eat almost 30 grapes to equal the amount of calories in a single, popular sandwich cookie.)

We have critics of diets that are too high in fat and critics of diets too low in fat. We have critics of vegetarian diets. We have critics for eating animal protein. We have critics of commercial produce. And non-fat dairy. And full fat dairy. And all dairy. Eggs? Still hated by many, although the pendulum has been swinging back. Then there are good carbs, bad carbs, good fats and bad fats. And, like everything else, what one person calls bad, the next person calls good. Confusing? VERY. And if health care professionals are confused, plumbers, receptionists, clerks and programmers don't even try to keep up with the ping-pong of good and bad.

Once I began to research the topic of what the healthiest people around the world eat, I discovered it is very difficult to find exact answers. Different articles on the same cultures omit certain foods and feature others. I noticed when authors who advocate a given dietary approach analyze what people eat in longevity hot spots, they tended emphasize foods that fit best their personal philosophy. Call it conscious or unconscious, but either way I call it researcher bias. And it added to the difficulty of obtaining accurate data that's already tricky to determine because individuals in longevity hot spots are like individuals everywhere else. They have food preferences that differ.

With these limitations in mind, hard work did pay-off and I did come up with some interesting information. Next time, we will look at the foods people consume in areas where extreme longevity has been confirmed.

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