Thursday, November 12, 2015

Trotsky's Common Sense Diet

The conceit is that Americans have unhealthy diets. I don't think that's is true--we eat better food than anybody ever has in the history of humanity. We can eat poorly if we so choose, but for the most part the modern American diet is perfectly fine. The main problem is we eat too much.

The typical adult male needs about 2000 Calories per day, split between carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. While the precise proportion of those nutrients is probably not that important, it is essential that you get a sufficient quantity of each. For that reason I am not a fan of the extremist low-fat or low-carb diets. Common sense should rule.

Carbs (aka, sugars) are something of a special case. Unlike fats and proteins, these need to be metabolized right away. The body cannot easily store carbs for future use. Eating too many carbs at one time pegs out the system. And especially as one gets older this can lead to diabetes (something I have recently become familiar with).

So while carbs are a necessary nutrient, we should consume them in complex, slowly-digestible forms. Refined sugars should be avoided, and high-fructose corn syrup should not be eaten at all. If possible, one should eat whole grains--healthier mainly because it takes the body longer to digest them.

In addition to the nutrients, there are selected chemicals that the body needs in order to function properly. Your body can't make those so they have to come in your food. They include things like retinol, niacinamide, pyridoxine, cyanocobalamin, and ascorbic acid. Collectively they are known as vitamins, and the common names for the ones I've listed are A, B3, B6, B12, and C. These are all small molecules that can be readily manufactured in a chemistry lab. You can consume them in a pill.
The structure of some vitamins
       (taken from

Here are some common myths about the American diet:
  • People who worry a lot about their diet are healthier.
Many religions, e.g., Judaism, have dietary laws. I do not believe these confer any health benefits. Indeed, my anecdotal impression is that orthodox Jews are disproportionately obese and unhealthy. Whether that's because of kosher or despite kosher I don't know, but obviously kosher isn't helping any.

Even worse off are the vegans. The vegan students I've encountered have pasty, unhealthy complexions, seem to be frequently sick, and look terrible. This is not a good diet, certainly lacking in fats and proteins, and probably missing some vitamins as well.

Likewise, the Atkins diet is low-carb extremist. I tried it at one point and found it completely unworkable. Reducing carbs is fine, but an ideological crusade to eliminate them is nuts.
  •  Some essential ingredient is missing from your diet.
Just take the magic pill--so the story goes--and you'll be much healthier. That's what they tell you in the nutrition shops or on late-night TV. Not true. As long as you get your vitamins you're fine. There is no magic ingredient missing from the food you eat.

As I've already said, our biggest problem is that we eat too much. It is simply not true that despite all that food we're all on the verge of malnutrition because we lack some essential nutraceutical. It's nonsense. I never visit those "nutrition" shops.
  • Fast food is unhealthy food.
A Big Mac has about 550 Calories. If you ate three of them a day you'd get all the carbs, fats, and proteins you need, along with 1650 Cal. If the remaining Calories were consumed as fresh fruits and vegetables you'd have a perfectly balanced diet. Nobody on the Big Mac diet will die of malnutrition.

Of course that diet is boring. So people augment it with fries, a soft drink, and an apple pie. Then you've got too many Calories and way too many carbs. But there is nothing intrinsically wrong with fast food. All it is is good food served quickly.

  • Pesticides and food additives are bad for you.
Pesticides are clearly non-toxic to humans. Were it otherwise we'd have long since been killed off--they've been used ubiquitously for decades if not centuries. To the contrary, pesticides make food better by keeping insects out of it. I live right next to an apple orchard, and if the farmer didn't use pesticides the apples wouldn't be near as good.

I used to buy bread that didn't contain preservatives. Of course it goes stale and moldy within a few days. I always ended up throwing half the loaf away. There is no measurable damage to human health from preservatives. Indeed, there is enormous cost savings because much less food has to be discarded.

Likewise, food additives add taste and texture to food. The alternative is a lot more sugar or a lot more fat. Food shouldn't just be healthy, but also tasty and attractive. Food additives allow that to happen cheaply and with no significant ill effects.
  • "Health food" is healthy.
My daughter buys something called "almond milk" in lieu of the real thing--she thinks it's healthier. But it's just sugar water with a little almond extract and a few vitamins mixed in. It's overpriced, carb-loaded crap. Much better to buy real milk, which comes not only with vitamins and proteins, but necessary fatty acids. (My wife is lactose-intolerant, so that is not an option for her.)

Likewise, I see no advantage to so-called "organic" food. It confers no health benefits that I can see. But the Madison Avenue guys have y'all bamboozled into buying the stuff at inflated prices. I never touch it.

So that's Trotsky's common sense diet. Eat recognizable foods. Don't worry about additives or pesticides. Avoid excess carbohydrates. Control your calorie intake. As Aristotle said, all things in moderation. Enjoy your food. Don't let the Greenies, the ad men, the fanatics, or the scolds get to you.

Bon Appetit!

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