Diet and nutrition. Are there any two things in the world where there has been more conflicting information put out there than these?

I’ve heard it all. You have too. The Watermelon Diet. The Adkins Diet. Paleo. Low fat, low carb, high fiber, vegetarian, Mediterranean. The Purple Diet (really). It’s impossible to keep up with them all. And it’s just about as impossible to know which one is right for you.

Let’s start with the basics. Everybody is different. Everybody processes what we put into our body differently. Look at gluten. Twenty years ago we knew nothing about it. But a glutton of gluten (I had to go there) has pushed a lot of people into a nutritional crisis.

Genetically modified grains have increased the gluten content in much of our foods to immense levels. And that overload of gluten has resulted in a lot of folks who might have been a bit gluten sensitive into a full gluten overload. Maybe there is part of it that is that we are more aware of the potential for a problem but the amount of gluten in our foods is still, in my opinion, the reason for the current state of affairs.

Before you condemn the agriculture industry, please keep in mind that all this work in genetic modification was to make our farms more productive…if you will, to produce more food per acre. In light of the fact that nearly 800 million people are undernourished in the world today, that is an admirable pursuit.

My late friend Sam Beall, proprietor of Blackberry Farms, taught me a lot about good nutrition. Sam was known for taking simple foods, locally grown, and preparing them simply with spectacular results. Sam’s advice to me on the back of a bicycle one day was that when you go to the grocery store, everything in your basket should have a simple name. Asparagus. Apples. Butter. Milk. Eggs.

Simple stuff. Bread that would last on your shelf for a month because of preservatives is, by its nature, a bad idea. Long a label reader, I now focus just as much time on making sure that what is in my grocery basket is simple. And it’s important to know where it came from, when that is possible.

Shrimp from a farm in Vietnam? Really? Check into that one. Chicken from a mass production facility? Beef raised in a factory, fed grain-based feed, and injected with drugs to help them grow bigger? Think about it.

Let’s talk about red meat a bit. Much maligned, red meat can be a great source of a lot of good things. For much of my adult life, I avoided red meat, believing that the fat content would contribute to heart disease. Only after adding good red meat to my diet, grass-fed and farm raised, did I start to realize the benefits.

Red meat is loaded with nutrients, vitamins, and essential minerals. Personally, my energy levels increased considerably. Fish (wild caught) and chicken (not from factories) are still the staples of my diet but occasional red meat has a place too.

The biggest dietary change I’ve had was several years ago when I went to a low carb diet. It was difficult at first, as so much of my diet was carb loaded, but after a period of adjustment, I discovered huge health benefits. I no longer had bouts of hypoglycemia, where my blood sugar would drop and I would get shaky. And there’s lots of evidence that a low carb diet is better for your heart.

I will tell you this—a low carb diet is difficult for an endurance athlete. So when I’m going on a bike ride, I adjust my carb intake up a bit and then find that I’m not nearly as hungry on a long ride as I used to be.

The bottom line is still that everybody is different. Everybody has different nutritional needs. There is no single best diet. Nutritionists and dieticians are great resources to help you discover what is best for you with the ultimate goal being better health and a better life.

Joe Black, PT, DPT, SCS, ATC is a physical therapist and athletic trainer at Total Rehabilitation and is Manager of Outpatient Rehabilitation for Blount Memorial Hospital. Email joeblackdpt@gmail.com to write to him.

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