FOODS CONSUMED BY THE HEALTHIEST PEOPLE
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
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
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.