Nutrition

Nothing will make you focus on your health like feeling lousy. November was a pretty bad month for me, missed a bunch of time at work. I’m feeling better now and I think, maybe, that a change in diet might have helped.

Here’s the thing about nutrition, nobody has any idea what’s going on. You can read all you want, you’ll only find two constants. Sweets, candy, pastries, etc. are bad. If you eat them at all, you should only do it once in a while. The other thing that is constant is that vegetables are good, you should eat them. Everything else is up in the air, even with vegetables. How much should you eat? Should you eat anything else? Should they be cooked? Any given recommended diet can be argued against. An all meat diet is better than vegetarian, meat is a kind of poison, low fat is the way to go, no high fat is, avoid eggs, eggs are good for you, low salt diets are good for people with high blood pressure, low salt diets might kill you, it goes on and on.

Russ Roberts made the connection between nutrition and macroeconomics in this episode of econtalk, a podcast about economics. There are a lot of ideas out there in the nutrition world, many of them are contradictory. When there is any science involved at all, it isn’t overly convincing and doesn’t do much to counteract anyone’s previous beliefs. In both fields, there is a lot of wisdom being given by experts, but there isn’t a whole lot of results to go with their ideas.

Gary Taubes has done a lot of research on nutrition and diet and has found that there is precious little evidence for the conventional wisdom of a low fat diet being good for losing weight and being heart healthy. What he did find seemed to point towards the opposite. He espouses a low carb diet and promotes the idea that sugars are the real killer. In the podcast, he and Russ talk about the Atkins diet and how well it works. It really does allow you to drop pounds quickly, it is repeatable and is documented in many places. The only catch is that it isn’t clear if you’re killing yourself doing it. That is, we have conventional wisdom telling us that eating all that fat will clog up your arteries, but there isn’t much evidence either way. He has spent a lot of time finding out how that theory has gotten popular, turns out actual science wasn’t as involved as good old fashioned advocacy was.

I had been feeling really lightheaded, dizzy, and out of it for a while when I heard this podcast. I started to think about what I usually ate and things like white bread (bagels, French bread, white bread on my sandwiches), rice, and potatoes. All of these things were on Taubes’ list of do not eat list. The carbohydrates cause an insulin spike and then cause general mayhem in the body according to his theory. I figured, what the heck, and tried to follow his advice.

Well, no more dizziness, my head was clear, and I wasn’t so effing tired all the time. What bread I ate was multigrain, pretty hardy stuff. I ate veggies, meats, and a little bit of brown rice. It wasn’t a subtle difference. Of course, it was hardly a rigorous trial either. Think I’ll do two weeks on his diet and then go back to my regular fare and see if I notice a difference. His ideas make sense to me, but there are other sensible diets out there too. Because it is impossible to sort out the signal from the noise in the nutrition world, I am going to go with what makes me feel healthier and follow that up with checkups. What else can you do?

I remember writing in grad school about how certain macroeconomic theories seem to work for a while and then they fall apart. It seems completely reasonable to me that economies can change and need different solutions at different times. I am open to the possibility that different people have different genes, different hormone levels, and different metabolisms and so need different diets. Is it possible that lots of those diets are good ones, for the right people? I dunno, but if I can keep feeling like this last week, I’ll be happy changing my diet a bit.

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