05 December 2012

One Upsmanship is Now a Health Concern

As if diet and nutrition wasn't convoluted enough, recently I have noticed a trend that what we eat has become just another quest for some kind superiority.  Much like the vicious cycle of attempting to break into an athletic endeavor, there are people out there for whom choosing a dietary philosophy is somehow a moral imperative.

With this in mind when Dr. Oz wrote what I thought was a really great article for TIME magazine, I was excited.  In his Give (Frozen) Peas a Chance- And Carrots Too he really walks you around the grocery store and points out the good choices.  Basically Dr. Oz levels with readers about where it is, and isn't worth investing you resources when trying to make healthy choices.

I should note here that I would not consider myself a fan of Dr. Oz.  I think he does a decent job of trying to make health-awareness accessible to all, but he is far too heavily rooted in narrow western doctrine.  I disagree with his basic tenet that BMI is the root of all evil.  Like most physicians in this country he seems far too invested in the idea that being at a healthy BMI is the cure-all for anything that ails. The dogma that being at a certain weight will inherently make you as healthy as "thin" people has been pretty well debunked*, yet Dr. Oz seems to base all his rhetoric on the idea.  Additionally he seems pretty invested in the idea that it is the components of food, and not the foods as holistic nutrition source that matter.  If food was only of piecemeal value based on its components then we should just be able to design a pill that meets all the requirements and never worry again.  This has not happened, so yeah, consider that.

All that aside, the article was still great.  It pointed out the classic facts that veggies are veggies and fruits are fruits.  If you need to buy frozen fruits and veggies, or even canned versions, not to worry.  These items, assuming they are prepared without added sugars or salts, are functionally as good a choice as the fresh farmer's market $6.00 per pound versions.   I think Dr. Oz did a really great job articulating the key point to healthy eating: the important choice is choosing the apple over the cupcake.  After that, you may only get incremental returns on your investment by choosing fresh over frozen or organic over commercial.

Of course, even as I felt the warm fuzzies washing over me I knew, just knew, that many people were going to have their tinsel in a twist.  The organic industrial complex (and there certainly is one) was going to lose its mind and the fact that Dr. Oz doesn't eat much meat will surely get the Paleo people in a full snit.  I know the human race far to well for anyone to just be complacent in the belief that anyone doing anything outside of what one knows is "right" would ever be OK.  Sure enough, I didn't have to wait long.  Michale Pollan (who I think generally has a lot of good things to say about what to eat and how to produce it) shared this gem on Facebook: How Dr. Oz Got It Wrong on Organics. And there it is.

Now we need to really evaluate what this is about.  Ignoring for a second that long-term cohort studies have failed to prove that organics are inherently better for you, and the wild conspiracy theories posed by the organic lunatic fringe (the comments are always the best part!), does anyone else feel like this is just one upmanship?  You eat vegetarian? Well we are vegan, leather is murder too.  You eat low-carb? Well, I have been eating Paleo and have not eaten a grain in 12 years.  You get the idea.  Honestly, I feel like this does way more harm than good.  Now people who maybe feel ready to make a healthy change are suddenly confronted with the constant reminder that it is not enough.  Oh, you are aiming for 5 servings of fruit/veg a day? Well, are they organic, hand-picked farmer's market products locally sourced by non-partisan farmers of a Buddhist persuasion? No. Well, then, why bother?

Here is the real deal.  Not everyone has the resources, be it time, money or availability, to invest in creating a perfect pantry. The idea that it only "counts" if it a certain type of healthy choice is pure elitism.  Like wanking about co-sleeping vs Ferberizing or Monetssori vs.Waldorf, implying that anything less than exclusive use of organics is poisoning your family is the folly of the moderately affluent.  By persisting on this "healthier than thou" crusade we are setting the cultural standard that only affluent families can be healthy and/or that only people who have "earned" it are worthy of being healthy. Maybe we should be spending less time using vegetables as the metaphor for our moral/ethical superiority and more time being grateful that we have the luxury of worrying about such things.  As for everyone else: you chose broccoli over Hamburger Helper. That really IS enough.

*Ironically it the very studies that health care providers use to back up the idea that weight loss is they key to all good health that prove otherwise.  For a great rundown on how it is holistic lifestyle changes/activity level and not severe caloric restriction/weight loss that make for longevity check out The Obesity Myth by Paul Campos.