I’ve worked in sports nutrition for nearly a decade and coach a squad of top athletes, but you don’t want to know what I think people should eat, what you want to know is what the best available evidence suggests we should eat. Therefore, everything that follows comes straight from research and reflects the opinion of many leading nutrition experts.
The Global Burden of Disease Study:
Conducted by over 1800 researchers in over 125 counties and funded by Bill and Melina Gates, the GBDS is that largest ever piece of research examining why we die and what makes us ill. Its scope is huge, but part of the work highlights the importance of diet as highlighted by the data presented below:
Essentially, the top graph shows what lifestyle factors kill us and the second graph shows which lifestyle factors cause disabling illness. You can see that top for both are ‘Dietary Risks’, causing more death and disability than tobacco smoking. Now I need to point out that these graphs show findings from the US and in the UK the top two are reversed. However, given lifestyle trends in the UK, Britain will soon follow suit and our diet will soon have a greater health impact than smoking. Also, pause to read the list of factors to the left on the graph and notice that many of the factors listed are also controllable through diet, but are listed separately to the ‘dietary risks’ that tops the chart. This leads even more weight to the argument that poor dietary choices have a huge impact.
But what food groups are important?
Given this data, diet is clearly key, but what componants of diet seem to make the difference. The following graph, also from the GBDS helps paint more of the picture:
Again, take a look at the graph above which shows how certain factors will increase the number of years we might spend less able than we should be. We see that 13 factors are related to diet, specifically, low fruit & vegetable, nuts, seeds, fibre, whole grains and health oils as well as a diet high in salt, cholesterol, sugar and processed meat. The take home point thought is that ALL of these factors are within our control!
What goes on the death certificate?
By examining the biggest killers, we can look at this another way. No one ever lists the reason for death on a death certificate as ‘low fruit consumption’, so what terminal conditions do these lifestyle factors lead to and can these be helped through diet?
The 15 biggest killers are:
- Heart Disease
- Lung Disease
- Brain Disease
- Digestive cancers
- High Blood Pressure
- Liver Disease
- Blood Cancer
- Kidney Disease
- Breast Cancer
- Suicidal Depression
- Prostate Cancer
- Parkinson’s Disease
- Iatrogenic Causes (death caused by intervention from medical practitioners)
With the exeption of the last one on the list, diet has been show to aid, halt or reverse ALL of the factors on this list. And if this is the case, then you won’t need to go to the doctor for the first 14, so stand a much better chance of surviving the third biggest killer in the US – Doctors!
So what foods do we need to eat?
Much of this shouldn’t be a surpirse, after all we are only really made of sunlight, the water we drink and the food we eat, but despite easy access to this knowledge, we seem to have forgotten this simple fact and have instead been blinded by the ever incresing array of processsed, cheap, accessable and poor quality foods availbe to us 24/7, 365 days a year. What then does the reseach suggest that we eat? Well, taking the findings of the GBDS and landmark studies such as ‘Can lifestyle changes reverse coronary heart disease?’ published in 1990 together and we see that we should eat a diet high in:
- Whole Grains
- Herbs and spices
We should also look to reduce our intake of the following foods:
- Processed food
Obviously, when you think of processed food you think of take-aways, porkpies and sweet treats, but look at the picture to the left, is this basket full of health choices, or processed food?
Everything in Moderation right?
Well, maybe. The question is what is moderation? If moderation is a little every day then I’d point you towards a comment made by Dr Michael Greger, founder of Nutritionfacts.org who equates few treats every day to banging you shin on a coffee table; You might only get a bruise, but do this day after day and the body doesn’t get time to heal and so the brise will turn to a cut, then a gash, then a shore and then an open wound. Instead, we should think about moderation as occasional treats, making them part of celebrations, or even just keeping them to the weekend and eating in a manner than allows our body to heal and repair inbetween. Our challenge is to redifine modertion.
In early 2018 the term veganuary has been coined to describe the diet that many take up to ‘cleanse’ after an indulgent Christmas. While this might hold many benefits, we aren’t talking here about veganisum per-se. The term vegan only desribes what isn’t eaten not what is and instead a ‘Whole-food, Plant-based diet’ is a better (if not succinct) description. In conclusion, we should aim to base our diet on the 8 food catagories listed above and the 100s if not 1000s of foods contained under their umbrella. Sure, it might be a little harder initially, but it’s less expesive, healthier, subjectivly I would say tastier, sustainable as a dietary choice, better for the plant, drives more creative meals, will help us live longer and crucially age better. The only question we need to ask is; if this is what the science say’s why would I not follow the evidence where it leads?
The Author: Joel Enoch. Is an award winning triathlon coach for the Hartree JETS, 9-time GB Age-group triathlete and CLIF Bar’s nutritional ambassador in the UK. @ClifBar #feedyouradventure @joel_enoch (twitter) @tricoachjoel (Instagram) @HartreeJetsTri https://www.facebook.com/hartreejetstri/