We have reached an era filled with innovations and technological advancements. A media based generation surrounded by knowledge accessibility yet it struggles to agree in many important topics one of these being diet and nutrition. One of the reasons for such debate is because just as the human body is such a complex organism, so is nutrition and diet and its effects on the body, In addition, humans response to food is related to their DNA platform, therefore diets will have different effects based of the individual. Cross-cultural and geographical variations will also play a role on diet diversity due to food accessibility and belief systems.
Humans have gone to great lengths to test dietary boundaries and its effects on the body, and in recent times there is great debate as to what is right and what is wrong when it comes to the ultimate meal plan for optimal health. So here lies the question: what to eat or not to eat?
From the keto diet, to the raw food diet, we have seen it all…, furthermore, in recent years we have seen a drastic shift in how we value diet in North America, and movements such as veganism have gone through great lengths to remind us how flawed an animal based diet is for us and the environment.
Even the Canada food guide has been majorly altered clouding over animal based products such as dairy, and welcoming grains, fruits, vegetables, and whole foods as our primary source of nourishment. In addition to all these mayor changes one must wonder if our dietary choices are becoming breathing grounds for chronic conditions such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Chrohn`s disease, and even cancer.
Food seems to evolve as trends do. We have seen mayor shifts in the food industry as to what is categorized as “good” and then “evil”. A perfect example of this is an “egg”. Yes you heard right! Our friend the egg is worshiped by some and trashed by others. Eggs have been available for human consumption as early at 1400 B.C.E, with evidence dating back to the Neolithic age.
We have even witnessed what some call the “Rocky Trend” in the eighties, where eggs where ingested raw to increase muscle mass. Some people have even attributed their longevity to an egg rich diet, as is the case of Emma Morano who was once considered the world’s oldest person passing at the age of 117. She would consume an average of 3 eggs daily, two raw, one cooked, but in all fairness to seeking empirical truth, she did added to her longevity having good genes and ridding of her husband in early years.
Yet in recent years eggs have been narrowed down to “one a day” by the American Heart Association due to their supposedly high cholesterol levels. According to the American Heart Association, eggs do possess great benefits, among them, they hold 6 grams of protein, vitamin D, and Choline a nutrient that assist in metabolism, liver function and fetal brain development. They also suggest that the amount of daily consumption is “lifestyle dependent”, for example, a vegetarian may be able to afford a larger amount per week than a person with high cholesterol. Vegan movements have also gone to great lengths to deter us from egg consumption such as the company by the name of “Back to the Garden”, Puerto Rico, who recently published a video stream where they claim that an egg is simply just the ovulatory phase of a chicken filled with hormones that are ill health and completely unnecessary for humans.
But not all experts agree with such claims. According to renowned and trusted Florida based cardiologist Dr. Juan Rivera, the egg yolk possess “free cholesterol” not “bad cholesterol” also known as LDL, therefore egg yolk consumption does not increase the bad cholesterol in humans unlike saturated fats or overconsumption of red meat. He narrows it down to “moderation is key”, and to having a balance diet that includes fiber rich nutrients in addition to protein to allow for a healthy intestinal flora so crucial to overall health.
Animal consumption has also received extreme backlash with claims that not only are they bad for humans but also for the environment. Researchers attribute a dangerous increase in gas emissions and the sixth mass extinction we are presently witnessing to meat consumption. This increase in green gas emissions is primarily with Beef and Lamb in comparison to poultry, pigs or other agricultural practices, that are not as what has been defined as “ resource intensive”. Despite beef being considered “resource intensive”, complete avoidance is not necessarily recommended in order to reverse environmental damage, instead, it is advised that if each household consumed – 50 calories per person daily we could see a huge environmental improvement by 2050 that would eliminate the need of agricultural land expansion. In addition to this, it is recommended that strategies are put into action to raise livestock more sustainably. Among recommended practices is rotational grazing, improving feed quality and veterinary care, and by integrating trees and grasses into pasturelands.
With regards to meat as a dietary source, the Canadian Cancer Association reports an increase of certain cancers with the over consumption of processed and red meats. However, a balanced omnivorous diet is not observed to pose adverse proven effects on health, provided that is done in moderation and while selectively choosing healthier meats that are ethically raised. Ethically raised livestock involves meats that are grain fed, free ranged and properly treated, instead of hormone fed, caged up, and treated inhumanely. In addition, the Canadian Cancer Association recommends cooking methods with a preference towards steaming and baking, and eliminating techniques such as curing, salting, and adding preservatives.
How About Cancer Prevention and Diet?
When it comes to cancer prevention and recommended diets after cancer treatment 4 diets are evaluated:
. The Alkaline Diet: the alkaline diets suggests that cancer cannot live in an alkaline environment. This diets encourages that 80% of human consumption should come from vegetable, fruits and grains, and that animal products should be consume in moderation with avoidance of red and processed meats.
. The Paleolithic Diets: this diet replicates the eating habits of the Stone Age, and claims that cancer is a side effect of the industrial revolution. This diet favours natural occurring foods such as vegetables, nuts, meats and eggs and excludes food items such as legumes, dairy products and processed foods.
. The Ketogenic Diet: The Ketogenic diet is a high fat low carbohydrate diet that encourages individuals to consume 65% of their calories from fat.
. The Vegan Diet: Is a diet that eliminates all animal products and by-products, encouraging “cancer fighting” foods such as berries, greens, whole grains, nuts and seeds.
In analyzing these diets we seem to observe a common pattern of “restriction” and “exclusion”, and it can be argued that the potential problem with these types of diets is that they require much discipline to be done correctly, and they might not be as manageable or accessible due to environmental, financial, and cultural diversity.
In the end both advantages and disadvantages are observed in an omnivorous diet, as well as a vegan diet, with the latter requiring much discipline to be done properly to meet all the nutritional needs. The claims are that there are important nutrients that tend to be more lacking in a vegan diet than an omnivorous diet, such as calcium and vitamin B12. These claims however are denied by the vegan movement, including vegan athletes that testify that their diet have improved their performance and overall health and that all important nutrients can be found in a plant based diet.
The question then remains how disciplined is the American culture and is veganism truly a realistic goal for them. Any real change involves careful transition, adaptability, consistency, and discipline. A total vegan society may not be realistic; however a society that is willing to become more educated about their health and environment and make gradual adjustments might be a more realistic goal.
An Assessment in Cross-cultural Diet Variations and Longevity:
There has been observations with certain cultures living longer, and we wonder if diet plays a role in their lifespan. Among them the Okinawas from Japan, who tend to favour a plant based diet as 96% of their primary source of nutrition with the remaining being distributed between meat, fish and dairy. Another culture that is known for their longevity is the Ikarians from Greece who follow a Mediterranean diet predominantly based on fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, whole grains, fresh herbs and seafood. They tend to consume animal products in moderation, and avoid processed and refined foods. They also tend to consume a wide array of fresh herbs such as sage, mint, rosemary, and dandelion in the form of tea.
In addition to these two cultures they also found that Sardinians form the Neuro Province in Italy tend to have a long history of centurions. Their diets are rich in calcium and protein that stems from their long history of shepherding goats and sheep. Another culture closer to home has also been analyzed since they tend to live 10 years over the average Americans. These are known as the Adventists from Lima Linda California; a community of around 9,000 inhabitants who tend to follow a vegetarian diet allowing little or no meat in their diet.
Once again we observe a commonality among a plant based diet with little or no meat to achieve the optimal diet. But science has also taught us that correlation does not prove causation, and there could be other variables involved that account for why these societies tend to live longer.
For example, they tend to have active lifestyles, favour community togetherness, and they tend to be more connected to their land by growing their own foods and promoting local farming. All these variables have proven to be extremely beneficial for longevity.
In addition to this, Vegans do not necessarily outlive Individuals that tend to follow an omnivorous diet but maintain a healthy active lifestyle. In fact there are presently many centurions around the globe that tend to follow an omnivorous diet. These centurions however tend to live active lifestyles, engage in socially rewarding activities, and adopt healthy lifestyles such as avoiding smoking, drinking in moderation, and eating primarily home cooked and locally grown meals.
All this controversial information often leaves people wondering and self-doubting how they should be eating. This can be particularity stressful for parents that want to ensure their children’s diet is meeting their developmental needs. The one thing that these diets tend to have in common is that they are welcoming a balanced diet that includes fresh fruits, grain, legumes, and vegetables and often times a sensible amount of meat and dairy products. They also tend to move away from processed foods and are most often than not preparing their own home cooked meals instead of eating in fast food restaurants.
In the light of so much controversy here are some guidelines that perhaps will help you in making healthier choices for you and your family from information we do know.