Spoon fed – a few reflections

At some point 4 years or so ago, someone replied to a post about nutrition/wellness and strongly recommended “The Diet Myth” by Prof Tim Spector. I took 3 things away from that book –

(1) There is no such thing as the “perfect diet” for the “average person.” Our response to food is unique as a function of the gut bacteria that we have in our bodies. And we’re going to be better off eating food that helps us diversify the gut bacteria in our system by eating natural food and avoiding processed food which destroys our gut bacteria. (Prof Spector’s leadership on understanding the gut microbiome and its massive impact on our health has been game changing!)

(2) Fasting is a routine part of ancient cultures because it is good for our system. The idea that snacking has good health benefits is a result of heavy marketing by food companies that have made billions selling snacks.

This inspired me to try 16:8 intermittent fasting (eat during an 8 hour window and fast for 16 hours) – a practice I’ve stuck to since.

(3) Extreme views are rarely helpful as food diversity is helpful (again, gut bacteria!). And food research is really hard given ethical considerations. So, stay curious, keep experimenting, and do your best to make better choices.

So, it was helpful to read Spoon Fed – his next book. It was a reminder of the many lessons from “The Diet Myth” along with a few new ones.

Here’s a summary –

(a) Beware simple fixes to diet and health. Health and nutrition are complex and highly personal. The most important thing we can do is to remain curious about ourselves, our food, the science, and do our best to not be fooled by great marketing.

(b) Eat a diverse diet – with mostly plants and no added chemicals. Sustainably grown/caught meat and fish once a week, for example, work fine. However, the benefits of fish have recently been over-marketed relative to the growing number of health risks associated with the increase in microplastics.

(c) Food companies make billions of dollars marketing food that is either ultra-processed or unnecessary. Examples are processed cereals, health supplements, and multi-vitamin tablets – all of which have questionable health benefits.

The biggest of these head fakes is bottled water. The highest amounts of bottled water are sold in countries with the highest quality tap water. It is a lose-lose-lose.

(d) Understand you’re not average. Experiment with yourself – with meal timing, with different kinds of food, etc., to better understand what works for you. In time, you’ll have the support of apps and tools that help you do so.

(e) It isn’t easy to understand the sustainability of food. Tomatoes grown in season in another continent may be more sustainable than those grown in a greenhouse in the local grower. This is why absolutes don’t work.

(f) Fermented food – e.g., yogurt, cheese – and red wine help us diversify the gut bacteria in our system. Again, as natural as possible.

(g) There are a collection of lopsided incentives that lead to more money and research driven into curing diseases vs. preventing them. Food and nutrition are fundamental to living high quality lives. And it is worth staying curious and investing in understanding what works for you.

(h) In sum – eat a diverse diet – mostly plants, keep it natural and avoid ultra-processed foods, experiment with yourself to understand what works for you, and stay curious.