What We Learnt Today About Healthy Food at Harvard
by Farhana Rahman
Five Minutes of Food Fame
- Fat is bad.
- Eggs will kill you.
- Olive oil is good.
- Carbs are bad.
- Bread is poison.
- PROTEIN IS LIFE.
- Actually fat is good now.
- Sugar is bad.
- Avocado is king.
- Milk is the juice of Satan.
- (p.s eggs are ok)
This is concise yet relatively comprehensive breakdown of our evolving attitude to food in the last 20 years or so.
Isn’t it funny to imagine that in our parents’ generation, or at least when they were kids, people just cooked food and ate it? No hysteria, no drama. Just food on your plate, and then food in your belly.
Of course, science has moved on and with that comes increased understanding of what we put in our bodies.
But having found that within my own career in medicine, my advice to patients regarding food now (“yes, some ‘good’ fats are ok”) is wildly different to what I was taught in med school (“eat this low-fat spread”), I’m beginning to wonder what on earth I’m supposed to be saying.
So what is the best diet?
Well, the honest answer is – there probably is no right answer.
Different people have different bodies and require different things. But today, we heard the cutting edge, evidence-based and inspiring insights from world-renowned experts, so we wanted to share what seems like some pretty sensible advice that we can all apply in our daily lives.
Healthy eating for healthy living
We listened to a fantastic presentation by Dr Dean Ornish.
These were the top tips that he gave to eat for health. Some of them were a surprise but the information was backed up by powerful data. We're going to dive into some of these studies in future blog posts.
- It’s not low carb vs low fat, there's a place for a balance between the two.
- A good diet should be high in good carbs and enough good fats
- Aim to eat meals that are very low in animal protein
- Eat mostly plants
- Pick foods that are low in fat and low in sugar
- Reduce your intake of hydrogenated fat, saturated fat and trans fats.
The evidence showed that a mainly plant based diet in combination with support networks, exercise and meditation led to improved outcomes for cardiovascular disease, heart function, diabetes, prostate cancer and ageing (see references).
We’re not about to become vegetarian.
But we definitely could cut down our meat consumption. Like, a lot. Don’t get us wrong, we still think there’s benefit to be had from animal proteins, but not in the levels that tend to be normalized in day to day life.
Some food for thought.
- Can lifestyle changes reverse coronary heart disease? Ornish D, et al. Lancet 1990
- Intensive lifestyle changes for reversal of coronary heart disease. Ornish D et al. JAMA 1998
- Intensive lifestyle changes may affect the progression of prostate cancer. Ornish D, et al. Journal of Urology 2000
- Changes in prostate gene expression in men undergoing an intensive nutrition and lifestyle intervention. Ornish et al. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2008
- Genetic Risk, Adherence to a Healthy Lifestyle, and Coronary Disease Khera AV, Fuster V, et al. New England Journal of Medicine Nov 2016
- Genomic Counter-Stress Changes Induced by the Relaxation Response. Dusek JA et al., PLOS One 2008
- Increased telomerase activity and comprehensive lifestyle changes: a pilot study. Ornish D et al., Lancet Oncol 2008.
- Effect of comprehensive lifestyle changes on telomerase activity and telomere length in men with biopsy-proven low-risk prostate cancer: 5-year follow-up of a descriptive pilot study. Ornish D et al., Lancet Oncol. 2013
- Low protein intake is associated with a major reduction in IGF-1, cancer, and overall mortality in the 65 and younger but not older population. Levine ME et al., Cell Metabolism 2014.
- Primary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease with a Mediterranean Diet. Estruch et al., N Eng J Med 2013.