The older I get the more sensitive I am to maintaining my health. Proper diet and nutrition are high on the list. As a consequence I have spent some time reading articles and reports on the subject of healthy diet. One of the most prominent issues is that of the role of meat, red meat in particular, in our diets. I posted two positions—one from Dean Ornish, a well-respected strong advocate for a low fat vegetarian diet, and one from Scientific American debunking the need to avoid protein and fat. So it is difficult to put everything I have read into a single complete and consistent picture. In fact I don’t think a complete total picture exists. One reason is because good data is really difficult to acquire. Sometimes the data seems contradictory. A few times I have come away after reading some articles more confused than when I started. There are some things we just are not going to know, at least in my lifetime. It is time to move on. So that brings me to my current state, one of definitive ambiguity. Or maybe it is a definitive state of ambiguity.
I got to this point after reading a well-written Washington Post article (April 20, 2015) by Tamar Haspel (with informative links to supporting information). She noted the February issuance of the Federal Dietary Guidelines Council that include a recommendation to eat less meat (The council report is 571 pages and contains a great deal of data.) The Guidelines say, as quoted by an earlier Post article, that “consistent evidence indicates that, in general, a dietary pattern that is higher in plant-based foods, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds, and lower in animal-based foods is more health promoting and is associated with lesser environmental impact than is the current average U.S. diet.”
So I personally accept this as reasonable guidance, but it is far from precise or definitive. So a more important point for me was Haspel’s comment that “…all the research on meat, or on just about any other aspect of human nutrition, is necessarily limited.” She emphasizes that “…controlled trials, where we feed some people Diet X and some other people Diet Y, can go on for only so long. We can’t hold subjects hostage until they begin to die (or not) of heart disease. Nor can we kill them and autopsy their livers.”
Food and meals with friends and family are something we should enjoy. It is no fun to make a chore out of it. Things have to be in balance. Health should remain a consideration. We can use some simple dietary and nutritional rules. Many of our problems grow out of our abundance. We eat too much. And we have so many choices. We should try to make them healthy ones.
So I accept for now that the Guidelines are in accord with the best scientific data–that a “healthy dietary pattern is higher in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low- or non-fat dairy, seafood, legumes, and nuts; moderate in alcohol (among adults); lower in red and processed meat, and low in sugar-sweetened foods and drinks and refined grains.”
Thus have I arrived at my state of definitive ambiguity. The simple rules are: target a healthy weight and don’t eat too much; no red meat; stick to fish and poultry; eat more vegetables and fruit and whole grains; minimize refined grains and sugar. But just how little meat, or how much or what specific vegetables is up to me as an individual. For now this also offers a state of equilibrium and I can move on to other subjects.