Maverick JASON KIM is slowly working through every topic on Earth to bring you things you’ll wish you knew a few years down the track. Thanks, Jase. In this issue, he looks at the often confusing subject of how to eat healthily – and discovers it’s a lot more straightforward than he thought.
In my teenage years I could throw down like Takeru Kobayashi, with absolutely no consequences. (For those of you not in the know, Kobayashi is the professional eater of Coney Island Hot Dog Eating Competition fame). Midnight snacks were the norm, as were second and third lunches.
But, now in my early 20s, I’ve started to notice some changes. Nowadays, a late night pizza comes with repercussions, including lethargy and the inability to complete physically demanding tasks without keeling over. So, what’s a food lover to do?
Well, for slackers like me, in 2014 there’s an easy answer: Google. And so began my descent into a rabbit hole of “broscience” and “miracle diets”, in a quest to find out how best to eat healthily.
With every new and exciting discovery however, came reservations: surely, it can’t be this easy to maintain a healthy body? What’s the catch?
These concerns were magnified by the fact that every few months, there would be some ground-breaking study which would directly contradict the ground-breaking study which came before it.
Against this backdrop, I decided to seek out the expertise of Sarah Hanrahan of the New Zealand Nutrition Foundation. Together, we waded through the deluge of information to try to separate fact from fiction.
Paleo was the first way of eating that really drew me into this world of fads and trends. As a meat lover, I’d forever ruled out healthy eating as being something that I’d be interested in. I mean, the food pyramid suggested I need to load up on carbs and veges at the expense of that sweet, juicy, bloody slab of heaven.
But what’s that? All you eat is meat and fat? And it’s good for you?
Of course, upon closer inspection, Paleo isn’t as simple as that. The basic premise is to eat like our caveman ancestors once did: meat, vegetables, nuts, some fruit, and no wheat, sugar or processed foods.
Is any of this backed up by hard science? I put the question to Sarah, who says: “It’s never good to eliminate whole food groups. People need a variety of nutrients to live.”
It’s certainly possible for people to survive by eating Paleo, but, as Sarah says, good health comes from eating a wide variety of food, and being mindful of “the energy density of the food that you eat.” In that respect, Paleo is helpful in avoiding energy-dense processed foods such as bacon, potato chips, or candy.
Whereas the logic behind Paleo sounds fun and intuitive, another recent fad sounds, quite frankly, unpleasant and even a little dangerous. Intermittent fasting is where you don’t eat anything for a certain period of time and eat as much as you want the rest of the time.
The problem, according to Sarah, is that this way of eating is nigh on impossible. “When you [continue to eat normally] you’ll bounce back to where you were before,” she says.
What’s more, such a restrictive plan can lead to dangerous habits and eating disorders. Let’s file this one in the ‘Do Not Try This At Home’ pile until there’s a bit more scientific research done on the topic.
The biggest quiver in the arrow of anti-veganism from a nutritional standpoint is the fact that meat is a good source of protein and iron. Vegans – and vegetarians – need to ensure they eat a wide variety of foods such as lentils, chickpeas, nuts and seeds to ensure they get all the nutrients they need.
From a practical point of view, it may be difficult to adhere to a strict vegan diet as a student; it’s time consuming and can seem quite costly to get all your nutrients. However, that’s not to say it’s impossible. For students who want to stick to plant-based eating, Sarah suggests loading up on frozen or tinned veges and legumes, which are cheap but essentially the same as regular, fresh produce.
Stuff like frozen peas and canned tomatoes are cheap, nutritious and generally don’t involve killing any cute, fuzzy animals.
Despite what the mainstream media might tell you with every publication of a new trend, what I’ve found after talking to Sarah from the New Zealand Nutrition Foundation is that there’s really no substitute for a balanced diet.
Being mindful of what you eat (eg. remembering to not have toast for every meal) is good, but try not to stress and obsess over food. Keep it simple: just enjoy a healthy balance.
The most important piece of advice I took away from talking to Sarah was to make sure I fill my plate up with a lot of colourful vegetables. You know, the same thing my mum’s been telling me for going
on 20 years.
Want to know more? nutritionfoundation.org.nz
SHARE THIS POST...