This is the next installment in a series of essays I'm writing for Primal Outreach. If you could, please give some feedback on it. Also, this series is marked as "copypasta," which means that you are free to copy and paste it on other forums if you find it useful to do so.
BS Detector: Health foods and supplements only do so much
Submitted by labmike on Tue, 10/04/2011 - 00:50
BS Detector: Health foods and supplements only do so much | Primal Tribes
BS Detector - blog series
Misusing Healthy foods and Supplements: how to spot it
A mistake in thinking that appears in fitness, health, politics, economics, and many other aspects of life is a problem I like to call "something for nothing." Another big mistake is a misinterpretation of good and evil; namely that by doing a little good, you can cover up some evil you did. In diet, this means thinking that eating a little salad will cancel out that pizza and pop you just ate. When you put these two forms of fallacious thinking into the context of diet, you get a garden variety of diet "tricks" that claim to let you improve your health, without making a lot of substantial changes.
What you get instead of a real change (i.e. cutting grains, legumes, and dairy, along with getting enough sleep and exercise), is a suggestion to take a lot of fish oil, or acai berries, or multivitamins. Perhaps the suggestion is a slight step better by recommending that one take tea, or by eating or deleting just one food (Blueberries are superfoods! Eggs are great! Oh wait, maybe they aren't!). But, there's a problem. Instead of getting the big picture, you are sold on the idea that just one small adjustment with no other significant assessment of your lifestyle. This is how you spot the misuse of healthy foods and supplements.
The effects of "good" and "bad" foods and lifestyle choices
To understand the effects of "good" and "bad" foods, we need to understand what it is that makes them good and bad. Our research team has started searching PubMed so that we can give the definitions ourselves, but for now, we will use Dr. Loren Cordain's Paleo Diet Website for our definitions.
The idea of good and bad food is this: Bad foods damage the body in one way or another, with most damage being aimed at gut health. Good foods do not do any damage, and supply nutrients. This is key: good foods do not "cancel" bad foods. Bad foods do damage, and the body has to heal that damage independent of whether you eat some good food or not. Supplements will not undo the damage either. The damage may take the form of low energy, weight gain, or physical pain, but regardless of the form, if you continually damage your body with Backwards Bizarro foods, you are going to have to heal the damage and there's nothing to get out of it except to eat and live right, and let the body heal.
The same idea applies to exercise. If you are eating antinutrient-laden foods like grains or soy, the best route to a good-looking body or better fitness is going to be cutting those foods as opposed to just exercising more. However, some of us may have an addiction to those foods. In my case, I'm battling sugar addiction, and while I make it a point to bike everyday I also know that biking isn't going to cancel a trip to Caribou. I know this in part because my weight and size numbers bear it out, and if you are "stuck" in your weight loss plans, I think an honest assessment might show the same problem for you too.
In other words, there is no "something for nothing" pill!
What are health foods and supplements for, then?
Here we need a good definition of what nutrition is. On PrimalTribes we use the nutrient breakdown: you want to eat macronutrients (protein/fat/carbs), mesonutrients (fat and carb quality), and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). You want to avoid nonnutrients, antinutrients, and toxins. Sometimes it's hard to get all of the necessary meso/micro-nutrients due to budget reasons or travel, and in such cases we use supplements to make up the difference. The same might also be true for herbal teas or special foods that do the same as supplements.
Once again, let's not confuse supplements and special health foods as magic things that take away the effects of a bad diet or lifestyle. Instead, they are something you use to make up for a lack of nutrients in certain key areas, after you take the time to make an honest assessment of your diet. In other words, supplements, herbal teas, "superfoods," and other such things are good for Primal Living and in the right context, I would encourage using all of them. But, they are not all-powerful, and we simply need to understand that they complement and do not complete a healthy diet.
What isn't BS
The most important thing you can ever do for your health is to take some time, find and learn good fundamentals, and then refine your understanding of those fundamentals on a regular basis. In all reality, this is the formula for success in absolutely everything. A good place to get started is in a sensible Paleo/Primal community: check out the People We Like page for links to some good ones.
Laboratory Mike - laboratorymike.com
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