When I was in college, I ate a lot of Club crackers and Oreos. My roommate at the time, Jon Oldham, was studying to be a dietitian and would say things like, "Carbs and sugar are the reason you have a perpetual stuffy nose." And I thought his advice was crazy. Made no sense to tie those two things together.
Six years later, I read Dr. Permutter's Grain Brain and Brain Maker and saw him making similar arguments. So I tried it out, cut out carbs and sugar for two weeks and could breathe better. Didn't crash at 3 in the afternoon either. I called Jon and his response was mixed. First: "I told you that six years ago." Second: "Don't get carried away, because there really is no one magic diet."
December is the perfect time of year to pass the keyboard to Jon Oldham. It's a month where Christmas cookies and brownies and peanut brittle are everywhere. It's the least healthy eating month of the year (kicked off with Thanksgiving just days before) followed by January 1st which is the hard-stop, ok, New Year's Resolutions, let's start working out, go on a diet. Jon finds the right balance of giving helpful advice without trying to sell you some type of, "This diet will change your life" propaganda.
This makes him the perfect next guest post for the Medium Rare Healthcare series.
So, am I allowed to eat anything anymore?
By: Jon Oldham
While Chris and I were in college, we had very different interests. I majored in Biology and wanted nothing to do with Chris’ obsession with creative fiction. I was the Smeagol of the science center, and Chris was the Don Draper of the library.
My love of science led me to the field of nutrition – I eventually became a Registered Dietitian with two Master’s Degrees from the University of Michigan. Chris asked me to write a post about sugar and its impact on health. I laughed when he asked me this because the month before he had sent me a picture of his pantry: club crackers, double stuffed Oreos, a bottle of overpriced sauerkraut, and a dozen Luna bars. My friend is trying to eat healthily, but like so many people out there, he doesn’t know where to go for the correct advice.
Should you eat Paleo? Keto? Atkins? Vegan? Vegetarian? Grapefruit diet? What’s the deal with Weight Watchers points? Why does one nutrition study say coffee is good for you while another nutrition study says it's a heart attack waiting to happen? These are tough questions to answer but stick with me – by the end of this post, you will know my patented nutrition advice.
First, though, I want you to look outdoors; notice the beautiful trees, the green grass, the animals, the nosy neighbors. Now imagine that you lived in a tent outside and there was no grocery store or electricity. There is no refrigerator, no fast food. No annoying dietitians telling you what to eat. All you have is a clan of friends, rudimentary spears, and excessive body hair. Your stomach starts to growl, and you really want some food. What food can you find? Let’s say you are the leader of the group and you tell half the people to gather and the other half to hunt. After a day of searching for sustenance, you consolidate everyone’s catch: a scary looking mushroom, a dead bird, pine needles, and a giant snake. The whole day you haven’t eaten, so you dig into the snake.
You may know where I’m going with this post, “Oh, this dude is a Paleo frick and I heard that Paleo is stupid because we can’t replicate a caveman’s diet.” Bingo. You are right on both fronts. I have eaten Paleo for the past five years, and it is by far the best eating lifestyle.
We can’t eat exactly like cavemen, but we can try our best. The critical point here is that we know what cavemen didn’t eat: refined sugar, processed vegetable oils, and modern grains. No future archaeological dig will find a cave with Kentucky Fried Chicken, Little Debbie’s, or Chris’ favorite – the Club Cracker.
We evolved over millions of years to eat meat, vegetables, and fruit. Maybe your ancestor got lucky with some wild barley or honey, but for 99 percent of calories, it was meat, vegetables, and fruit.
The worst offender in our modern-day diet is processed sugar. The average American eats 66 pounds of added sugar a year. When a person eats added sugar, their pancreas releases insulin. Insulin is a hormone and, in excess, can cause inflammation and metabolic disorders: Heart disease, diabetes, and obesity are in large part due to the hyper-insulin state of our modern day diet. Our microbiome (which is a fancy way of saying "our gut”) is made up of bacteria responsible for our digestive health, brain health, and immune health. When our gut bacteria are exposed to a high carbohydrate diet, they do not have the proper fuel to function and hence cannot protect our bodies from harm. The ratio of good bacteria to bad bacteria is disrupted through this improper fuel (sugar and processed foods), kind of like how a salad is disrupted by too much blue cheese dressing – too much and you're left with a sloppy mess. Think of our microbiome as a shield against illness and disease – sugar imbalances that shield like Rebel Fighters attacking the Death Star.
Remember that nice image from earlier about being outside with clean air, beautiful trees, and wild animals? Well, now picture the office in the heart of December and January. It's the exact opposite. Everyone is coughing, sniffling, sneezing right onto every possible doorknob. The reaction during "flu season" is always to run for the Lysol wipes or passive-aggressively suggest to co-workers that they should go home to keep the germs away. And, to be fair, keeping germs away is an important piece. But poor diet is a surprising reason for the common cold and it's something you can implement before you find yourself sniffling in the Walgreens' pharmacy aisle.
Is it just a coincidence that cold season coincides with the winter months of cookie parties, failed diets, and buttons popping off jeans? The common cold, stomach ailments, and even depression can be prevented by strengthening your ratio of good bacteria. In fact, I'm pretty sure Chris asked me to write this post because after finally following my advice, his decade-long sinus infection finally abated.
So, what is my patented nutrition advice? I’ll give you one better… here's my patented advice for a healthy life. Eat meat, vegetables, and fruit when you are hungry – you don’t have to eat every hour. You don't have to set an alarm for 3 a.m. either. Go outside for a walk a few times a week and avoid exercise machines. Don’t sacrifice sleep for anything. Read a good book each day. If this stuff sounds simple…it is. I’m not trying to sell you anything. I want you to know the truth and to help you avoid not only an annoying head cold but also a detrimental disease.
An Oreo and a Club cracker aren't going to kill you. But, Chris, they probably shouldn't replace fruits and vegetables.
I'm not sure I know anyone who reads more than Jon Oldham. You can follow his blog here where he writes about all types of topics, from nutrition to his wife's pregnancy to summaries of a book that he read during the week. He's also launched a cool series called "Tackle the Library" where he takes a big topic, does a bunch of research, then writes 50-75 pages on it so you can get the main story without checking out a 1,000 page book. He's done one on Plato, the French Revolution, and an upcoming one on Indian Independence.
Medium Rare Healthcare goes up the first Monday of every month. Dave Chase kicked things off last month with some insights on why expensive hospitals aren't always the best choice.
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Filed under: Health
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