This question of what comprises the optimum human diet is one that has been absolutely beaten to death in recent years. It is a puzzle that never seems to be quite solvable. In fact, it isn’t that the answers seem just out of reach, much research actively contradicts other established research. This is quite fortunate for the gigantic industry of people who want to make money by selling us their own branded approach, which likely enjoys *some* empirical support.
We’ve heard the litany of possibilities before: low fat, low carb, Mediterranean, Adkins, South Beach, Paleo, Ornish, yada yada yada.
Of course, while it is very far from clear what we should eat, there are a few things that we should very clearly not eat. For instance, it is at this point nearly perfectly evident that we should generally avoid added sugar. This is difficult for two reasons- 1) it is delicious and 2) nearly every processed food contains it in some degree. Also, trans fats, such as what we were fed en masse when we were advised to avoid saturated fat, are now viewed as irredeemable.
So, lets just leave it at this- one thing we know for sure about what to eat is that we know at least two things we should not eat- sugar and trans fat.
That doesn’t give us a lot to go on. But one interesting angle to consider is the possibility that what we eat might not be the most important variable in determining the link between food and health. How we eat, at what intervals and in what quantity might have a lot more to do with how our body reacts to food than does the precise nutritional makeup of the individual items we’re eating.
This is all a long prelude to linking to a very interesting study which was written up by the New York Times last week. From the article:
Researchers in Spain and Sweden had 15 healthy but overweight Swedish men restrict their calories to about 360 a day, a reduction of approximately 1,800 calories. What calories they did ingest came in liquid form: Some men drank mostly sugary carbohydrates, others a high-protein drink. The men also exercised — a lot. Their days began with 45 minutes of cranking an arm-pedaling machine for an upper-body workout. Then, as a group, the men strolled foreight hours across the Swedish countryside, with only a 10-minute break every hour. They were allowed as much of a low-calorie, sports-type beverage as they wanted during their walks.
After four days, the men had each lost almost 11 pounds, with nearly half of that coming from body fat; the rest of the loss came primarily from muscle mass. The researchers had anticipated that the high-protein drink would protect people against muscle-mass loss. In fact, the losses were the same, whether the men had been given sugar or protein.
More surprising, the men did not immediately put the weight back on after the study ended. “We thought they would overeat and regain the weight lost,” Dr. Calbet says. Instead, when the volunteers returned a month later, most had lost another two pounds of fat. And a year after the experiment, they were still down five pounds, mostly in lost body fat.
What is interesting here is that the variables that are being explored are not the ones that are normally tested in weight loss experiments. It does look at carbs vs protein for the minimal calories involved (and finds no difference), but it is really looking at variables such as frequency and volume of eating, and volume and intensity of exercise. There is not enough data here to make any sure conclusions, but it may indicate that we should be considering options beyond the “eat this, not that” mentality that has come to predominate discussions about weight loss. As long as we don’t eat much sugar or trans fat, of course.
Now, if you are still very concerned about what you should eat, check out this idea from The Atlantic: eat lots of ice. Your body will have to burn calories heating it up, and you won’t be simultaneously filling your mouth with something else. My big question is this: does this theory make ice cream calorie-neutral?