I want to maintain a healthy blood glucose level. I think I will go on a glucose-control diet such as the one described in The New Glucose Revolution by Jennie Brand-Miller.
Then again, perhaps maintaining a healthy level of alkalinity in my body would be more benefical. I think I will instead go on an alkalinizing diet such as the one described in The Alkaline Diet Plan by Connie Jeon.
Then again, I’ve been hearing a lot about the importance of maintaining a healthy balance of bacteria in my digestive tract. I think I will instead go on a diet for gut health such as the one described in The Microbiome Diet by Raphael Kellman.
Then again, I understand that inflammation is the underlying cause of most chronic diseases. I think I will instead go on an anti-inflammation diet such as the one described in Anti Inflammatory Diet by Victoria Lane.
Then again, what’s a little inflammation compared to the Big C? I think I will instead go on a cancer-prevention diet such as the one described in The Cancer Prevention Diet by Michio Kushi.
Then again, heart disease kills more people than cancer does. I think I will instead go on a heart-health diet such as the one described in Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease by Caldwell Esselstyn.
Then again, what I really want more than anything is to stay young as long as possible. I think I will instead go on an anti-aging diet such as the one described in The Longevity Diet by Brian Delaney.
It’s just too bad that by eating to maximize my lifespan I will have to forsake eating to maintain a healthy blood glucose level, maintain a healthy pH balance in my body, maintain a healthy microbiome, minimize inflammation, minimize my cancer risk, and prevent heart disease.
Or do I? On closer inspection it appears that the authors of all of the above-mentioned books recommend eating lots of vegetables and not a lot of sweets and other junk foods. Indeed, I’m tempted to conclude that just one broadly defined healthy diet will allow me to achieve all of my health objectives! (Agnostic healthy eating, anyone?)
Okay, I’ve removed my tongue from my cheek. The point of the forgoing exercise, as you may have guessed, was to highlight the absurdity of eating for single, specific objectives. The body is an integrated whole. A person has only one diet, and it affects every dimension of health simultaneously. What’s more, precisely because the body is an integrated whole, any food type that enhances one dimension of health is likely to enhance others and is unlikely to have a negative impact on any.
Take whole grains, for example. Consumption of whole grains has been shown to favorably impact gut health and to reduce insulin resistance and systemic inflammation as well as the risk for several cancer types and heart disease. Vegetables and fruits likewise boost all dimensions of human health while nuts and seeds have a wide range of healthful effects and no negative effects. Fish too has a handful of beneficial health effects and (mercury contamination not withstanding) no negative effects. So whichever dimension of overall health is most important to you, you should eat whole grains, vegetables, fruit, nuts and seeds, and probably fish as well.
By the same token, any food type that harms one dimension of health is likely to harm others and is unlikely to have a positive impact on any. This category includes soft drinks, processed meats, refined grains and fried foods. These foods should have a small place in the diet and may be eliminated entirely with no ill effects.
The only food type that is really a mixed bag in terms of its health effects is dairy, which has been shown to slightly increase the risk for certain cancers while slashing the risk for heart disease and diabetes and having no effect one way or the other on longevity. Yogurt specifically prevents weight gain and enhances gut health. If all you care about is minimizing your cancer risk, don’t eat dairy. If you’re more concerned about preventing diabetes, keep your milk and cereal.
The best stand-in for overall health, in my view, is longevity. Since dairy neither extends nor shortens life, it’s fair to label its overall effect on health as neutral. Health isn’t the only reason we eat, though, is it? Cheese is delicious. I include dairy in my diet because of the following calculation: neutral health effect + yummy = eat it!