There is so much vitriolic disagreement on twitter (my favourite social media platform) about what foods are good for us, that I frankly switched off long ago. If the experts couldn’t agree – in fact far from agreeing, experts often take polar opposite positions – then it was too much for me to figure out. I just carried on eating what I loved. What I love eating is a mix of things that most people would call healthy, and things that most people would call unhealthy. I justify what I eat to myself (heaven knows why anyone needs to justify what they eat to themselves, but I do) on the basis of balance, and the life-enhancing pursuit of pleasure.
But I have this nagging feeling that maybe I should improve my diet, for the benefit of my health in the years ahead. I’ll turn 60 this year and I wonder if my luck on the health front might run out before long. So when I saw that Dr David Katz had published “The Truth About Food” I ordered it from my local bookshop and have to admit, went pale when I went to pick it up only to find that it’s 700 pages long. But I must say, I was relieved to find as I started reading that it is so well structured and organised that it’s nothing like reading 700 pages.
Dr Katz has done the rest of us the phenomenal favour of looking at patterns in the findings from thousands of research studies and boiling down the consistencies for us. Not just that, but he shows us how to read the results of studies. Perhaps he thinks we’ll go and read them too, which is rather touching.
Dr Katz says repeatedly that there is just one fundamental way to eat well, which is to have wholesome foods in some sensible combination. He favours Michael Pollan’s wonderfully succinct “Eat food, mostly plants, not too much”.
Each of us might take different things from the book, but what stood out for me were:
- What we know reliably about diet can come from sources other than randomised trials (I’m so relieved to see someone of David Katz’ standing say this)
- Excess calories from any source, no matter its quality or macronutrient denomination, leads to weight gain
- When we advise people to stop eating X we generally fail to ask “What is the Y they will wind up eating instead?” (exactly!!)
- The only way to manage weight and health over the timelines that truly matter is to master permanent lifestyle changes. (Yes!!)
- Habitual intake of whole fruit is clearly and consistently associated with health benefit, including defence against obesity and diabetes. (again, thank you David Katz for busting the ludicrous notion that eating whole fruit is a weight-gain hazard)
There is so much in this book, that you might have different favourites from mine. But you’ll perhaps feel similarly looked-after to be fed thoughtful, questioning spoonfuls of sense and research.
Dr Katz is in the process of developing DietID, a system to help us all quickly and simply make and monitor positive changes to our eating habits. What’s revolutionary about it is that rather than tediously recording what food passes your lips, DietID will prompt you to respond to different photos of types of diets that will help home in on your current eating pattern, and the programme will then suggest what specific steps to take to move towards a healthier balance. It’s still in development, but what is already available for free is the Foodstand App, which allows you to choose a particular dietary/lifestyle change you want to make, and helps you achieve your goal. DietID is an exciting prospect and I’m looking forward to seeing it roll out. If you’re a provider of dietary advice, you can get a free demo of how it works by visiting the DietID website.
The upshot of reading and digesting The Truth About Food is that I have two plans for the next few weeks. First, to try switching milk chocolate (which I absolutely love) to dark chocolate (which I currently don’t really like). I’m going to trust Dr Katz’s assurance that in time I’ll come to prefer dark, and see how I go. Given that I now prefer tea without sugar (I gave that up during the sugar shortage of 1974) I can see this might work.
And second, I’ll aim to eat more wholegrains. Because Dr Katz makes them sound appealing and a health no-brainer. If dark chocolate or wholegrains leave me cold I can always go back to my old ways.
If you don’t already follow me on twitter, please do @appetite_doctor
If you’d like to receive my free weekly newsletter on all aspects of the psychology of eating, appetite and weight loss, sign up here
If you don’t already follow David Katz, you’ll learn a lot if you do, on all subjects to do with diet, science and the environment @DrDavidKatz.