This is going to be a short post.
Primarily, because it doesn’t take long to express what, to my mind, is the problem with nutrition advice.
But also because I would like this to be the starting point for a conversation. (I know, I tend to go on and on when I write, and that can give the impression that I don’t listen to what others have to say. But I promise it is not the case. So there.)
Here we go:
The problem with nutrition advice, and it permeates pretty much all advice on nutrition that I’ve come across, is the idea that good nutrition will make you healthy.
How often have you heard or read that a specific diet will make you healthy? That a supplement ensures health? That this food (or that food, the very next week), will prevent disease?
The truth is the reverse: Bad nutrition makes your body more susceptible to diseases.
In part, this is because it does not have what it needs to function optimally. For instance, to fight off infections; but one often reads that better nutrition will enhance your immune system, whereas the problem is that bad nutrition impedes the immune system from functioning optimally.
The other part is because, over time, bad (or simply excessive) nutrition leads to weight gain in the form of fatty deposits, primarily in the abdomen region, which is proven to lead to chronic diseases like diabetes and nasty stuff like cancers (to name only those main life shorteners).
In my estimation, the way nutrition advice is given, implying that eating right will make you healthy, leads perniciously to all sorts of damaging beliefs about nutrition and health. It points towards a constant search for a special diet, super food, secret ingredient, or other magic pill, to keep disease at bay.
But the truth is otherwise: Given what it needs, which is a lot of movement and good nutrition, the body is, naturally, healthy. The body does not become healthy by having plenty of exercise and good food; removing those things from your body, however, can (and often does) lead to chronic disease and problems coming from sub-optimal functioning.
You might be tempted to say that the difference is only semantics. My contention is that the difference has a big influence on how we think about food and nutrition. The way the advice usually goes (eat well to be healthy) leads to thinking some additional, external, and effortless solution can be applied. The advice focusing on the way the body works (eat well to allow your body to be healthy) hints, on the contrary, at changing habits, removing bad nutrition, and letting nature take its course.
Let’s use an example, albeit an extreme one, to illustrate the logic.
Does not smoking make you healthy? Can we say “if you don’t smoke, you will become healthy”? No, of course not. That would seem absurd. Smoking can, and does, cause you to be at risk for a whole lot of nasty things. Absence of smoking is how things should be for optimal health, but not smoking is not the cause of good health.
This is analogous to what I was saying earlier: If you stop eating bad food, you will not become healthy. The absence of bad food, or the presence of good food, is not the cause of health. The presence of bad food on a daily basis is an impediment to your body’s optimal functioning (a.k.a. health).
So eating “right” will help the body restore itself, and will reduce the likelihood of chronic diseases and the incidence of other problems. But it won’t make you healthy. Your body will do that all by itself, given half a chance.
And to give it more than half a chance, to give it a full chance (and a chance-and-a-half), it is not just a matter of eating right. In fact, a larger proportion of the solution resides in moving more.
But that will be a subject to be covered (again) in another post.