Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Nutrition and Fruit

You really can't go wrong by adding more fruits and vegetables to your diet.

They are full of nutrients, and provide very little calories relative to their bulk.

But are they essential to a healthy diet?

Right now, the North American obsession with the idea that there is only one true 'perfect' way to eat is pretty consistent in stating that a healthy diet MUST consist of a combination of lean meats with ample fruits and green leafy vegetables.

Even my own guidelines run pretty close to this statement:

Eat less while enjoying the food you eat. Eat lots of fruits and vegetables and herbs and spices...

But the question remains, for OPTIMAL human health and performance...is there really one diet, and are fruits and green leafy vegetables truly essential?

To answer this question we can look at examples of extreme human performance on what we would classically consider to be 'poor nutrition"

Luckily I happen to know a fantastic researcher who does exactly this type of research.

The team at ICEARS (International Centre for East African Running Science) led by Dr. Yannis Pitsiladis (oddly enough, located in Scotland) has found that the diets of world champion long distance runners from Kenya consist largely of starchy vegetables (potatoes), porridge, ugali (a gruel made from corn) and considerable amounts of tea.

The analysis of these runners also showed that more than 75% of their calories came from carbohydrate sources, and they ate roughly 3,000 calories per day.

My guess is that if you were to take this exact diet to a Dietitian in North America he or she would tell you that this is a diet that would more than likely lead to obesity, diabetes and a host of other nutrition related diseases.

Dr. Pitsiladis also shared with me that many of these runners are in a slight caloric deficit for the months leading up to a major event.

So while fruits and green leafy vegetables are an important part of any one's diet, and play an important role in helping us eat great tasting foods that are low in calories, it should be pointed out that the human body is capable of performing at very high levels despite considerable variation in the way we choose to fuel it.

This research combined with a host of other studies just like it, leads even more evidence to that idea that there probably is no one single way to eat that is 'best' for human health, and that the human body is remarkably consistent in its ability to adapt to a whole host of different nutritional intakes.

Please don't take this as me being anti-fruits and vegetables (fruits and vegetables are your friend) but I do want you to consider that nutrition may not be as 'cut and dry' as many experts would lead you to believe.


PS - to learn more about the exciting research being conducted by ICEARS, visit http://www.icears.org/

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Redlefty said...

My roomate in college was as cross country runner from Kenya. Yeah, he pretty much ate bread, chipati and some other weird stuff I couldn't even identify.

Great runner, though.

Anonymous said...

Great posting, Brad. Thanks for the link, too! Very interesting article. My mind-set has been warped by low-carb and other science-based eating patterns, and that made me wonder/doubt if the Kenyan's eating habits would be optimal for non elite athletes....but that's not the point, is it? The point is there is no one right way of eating. Everyone has to figure it out for him- or herself, beyond the very basics of fresh, wholesome foods.

I'm doing my best to remind myself daily to follow the basic advice you mention frequently, Brad - just enjoy your food, but less of it (preferrably less frequently). Pretty easy when you break it down to the basics, huh?

Thanks for providing great sanity checks for us.


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Elisa said...

Of course.... fruits are the store house of all nutritional elements & are an indespensable part of my diet plan.

Drunken Pig Boxer said...

Of course fruits and vegetables aren't essential to good health. How else to explain the Native Americans who lived on the Plains who subsisted almost entirely on meat, or the Inuits, who live entirely on fatty seal?

Of course, if you want to know how they did it, it's simple: they ate the organs too. The kidneys, the eyeballs, the glands--all the things that we today think of as "gross" and use to make fertiliser and pet food--these were the parts that provided the essential vitamins and nutrients that we today get from plants.

The moral of the story? Forget the spinach, eat some pate instead!

Brad Pilon said...

Hey Red!

Good to hear from you again...

Just goes to show..you can be lean and eat bread.