fad diets and eureka! studies, great taste and good nutrition only
requires a cup of good old-fashioned common sense and a dash of
We are painfully
aware that making healthy eating decisions in our modern, hurley-burley
world can be difficult. To add to the confusion, we live in an information
age and sometimes a little information is worse than none. Good
health is a result of sound food choices and lifestyle. Olive oil
is an amazingly healthy product with many attributes, but not a
cure-all. Drizzling olive oil on potato chips will not transform
them into a healthy snack. The ancient Greeks had a recipe for long,
happy life: "Pan Metron Ariston" roughly translated:
all good things in moderation.
With our obsession
with youth and thinness, our growing waistlines have made the diet
industry huge (oops, a pun) and quite lucrative, fattening many
wallets. It seems that every day there are new studies and diets
trumpeting the virtues of this or that, implying a particular product
is the ingredient to slim form and good health and we are
all too eager to believe. It's all misleading nonsense, no single
product is a magical elixir to attractiveness and longevity. Adding
to the uncertainty, many of these studies may be funded by interested
groups and their objectivity may be suspect. Or simply, the study
may be wrong. Be suspicious.
WAS BAD IS GOOD
In the '80s
there was a lot of concern about the dangers of fat. Reduce fat
intake, we were led to believe and all would be right in the world.
Unfortunately, this naïve and one-dimensional approach was
wrong and not without consequences. First of all, fat is not a four-letter
word and is a necessary part of a healthy diet. Secondly, fat adds
a lot of flavour and eliminating it results in food with all the
culinary delights of cardboard and sawdust. So the big challenge
was to produce "low-fat" or "lite" foods that
were palatable. The solution? Replace fat with sugar. Curiously,
this only added to our girth, not to mention fueling the skyrocketing
rate of diabetes. Two hits in one.
Not to worry,
because we were then told about the next big evil in nutrition:
carbohydrates. It wasn't the fat, but rather sugar (a carb) and
it was "miraculously" found that cutting sugars and other
carbs from one's diet was all that was needed to lose weight and
be healthy. So much for "low-fat" being the answer. Problem
solved. Go ahead, wolf down those bacon double cheeseburgers, just
toss the bread. Again, wrong nutrition choices based on an oversimplification.
Carbs and it must be stressed, complex carbs, also form the basis
of a healthy diet. They're a source of energy and a brain food.
Now who said
that carbs make you fat is a revelation? When I was young, my mother
always used to say "don't eat too much cake, you'll get fat,"
weight-lifters have long-known about "bulking up on carbs."
Nothing new here. Even the Brothers Grimm were ahead of their time,
nutritionally speaking. Have we forgotten the fable Hansel and
Gretel? The savvy wicked witch knew she could fatten up the
children with her gingerbread house. We were easy prey to splashy
headlines and frenetic morning programs spouting vapid information.
Symbolically, our information was as empty as the food we were gulping
Don't get too
caught up with new studies. There's always a new study that appears
five or so years down the line that refutes an earlier one. Fat
was evil, now it's virtuous; butter was naughty, now it's respectable;
alcohol was ruinous, now a little red wine is beneficial, coffee
was bad, now it's fine, etc., etc., etc. Like a scratched CD, we
would constantly hear same refrain, "Oh, we were wrong then,
but we're right now." It's very confusing. Why not use a 5000+
year-old study? That is, how people in the Mediterranean have been
Any diet that
proclaims being the solution to obesity by avoiding this or maximizing
that is inherently flawed. As long as humans are humans, this fact
will never change: good health is a result of a balance of sound
food choices and exercise. We need proteins to build and repair
muscle tissue, carbs to provide energy and fats store it. Ignore
what the latest diet hot seller says, stop trying to think for your
body, eat right and it will pick out the necessary nutrients all
on its own. We also need to stop taking the car to the corner store.
Heed the ancients'
sage advice, enjoy everything and be sensible.
need to eliminate) animal-based fats. Avoid, avoid, avoid, trans-fats.
Take "experts" with a grain of salt (pun intended.) Weren't
they telling us not too long ago to avoid butter (a perfectly good
natural food) and replace it with margarine (a trans-fat and not
a food)? Pass up refined oils, they're made with chemicals and heat,
don't believe "experts" who say there are no side effects.
Despite their condescending reassurances, they cannot be certain,
whereas unprocessed foods have thousands of years of history behind
them. As for carbs, go ahead and enjoy them, but not the empty carbs
such as chips and bleached white bread. Skip the supermarket cake
frosted with pastel coloured edible oils, but do delight in the
occasional cake made with real butter and real cream. Enjoy complex
carbs, (whole grain breads, beans) they're healthy and sate your
appetite. Try to wean yourself away from addictive "cheap"
flavours, that is (sugar, salt) and you will soon appreciate the
teasingly subtle nuances of delicate flavours. Taste your food before
salting. Does your coffee really need two heaping teaspoons of white
Carefully. You'd be surprised at how much misleading information
there is out there. I can think of one product that touted the fact,
right on the front label, that that it was made with extra virgin
olive oil. However, upon reading the ingredients (not surprisingly,
on the back), I noticed that the main oil ingredient was canola
oil, with olive oil far down the list. Look for sugars in encrypted
form (any ingredient that ends with "ose") and salt (sodium.)
If you have difficulty reading a polysyllabic ingredient, it probably
isn't a good thing.
We North Americans
also tend place too much weight (bad pun) on quantity rather than
quality. All we have to do is take note at the size of our chocolate
bars. They've gotten huge with absurd names like "Eat More"
or "Mr. Big." Why would anyone want to "supersize"
their fries and soft drink? Tackling these issues would go a long
way in winning the cliché "battle of the bulge"
much more than the dizzying array of dubious diets out there.
Here are some
good rules of thumb:
- Make extra
virgin olive oil your main fat. Erudite experts are finally appreciating
what "backward" village grannies have known for thousands
- Eat a wide
variety of foods that are as unprocessed as possible. Nature does
a better job than humans.
- Enjoy fresh,
in-season vegetables, not from a can (loaded with salt.)
- Avoid products
that say "ready in only X minutes." Most nutrients have
been conveniently removed.
- Eat meat
in moderate amounts. Too much of a good thing is not good.
- Limit refined
sugars and flours. They're just empty carbs leaving you feeling
- Crave something
sweet after dinner? Have fresh, in-season fruit, instead of the
sugar laden canned variety. Sprinkling cinnamon and drizzling
honey on slices of apple or pear turns them into a fancy dessert.
- Be vigilant
for fillers, ie strange usually soy-based concoctions intended
to replace meat and reduce costs. There's no place for soy in
- Eat heartily,
but don't be a glutton. Do you really have to eat that 100th
desserts (real cream and butter, please) are for special occasions,
not after every meal.
- Be physically
active. Walk or bike to work, take the stairs, use the diet books
as weights for exercise, etc.
that being thin does not necessarily equal healthy and a little
flab does not mean heart attack.
- Laugh as
much as possible, it's exercise and usually helps you feel good,
sage piece of motherly advice: never skimp on the food you buy.
We are what we eat, after all. Always buy the highest quality, which
does not necessarily mean the most expensive. Even if it may cost
a little more, think of the money saved by not buying the latest
fad diet book.
a sad fact: Greeks now have the highest rates of obesity growth
in Europe. This parallels the change in diet by Greeks to more fast
foods and processed foods. I would say this is no coincidence. What
would Homer think?
Eat well, be
active and enjoy life with gusto. All wholesome foods are good for
you, enjoy the taste and let your body divvy up the vitamins and
Evangelakos [send him mail]
is a small business owner from Montreal, Canada.