“What should I eat?”
This is, without a doubt, the most common question that I hear as a college nutrition professor. It’s a wonderfully simple question with a surprisingly simple answer. In fact, over the years I’ve taken to offering students in my class an automatic “A” if they can answer this question in just two words or less. Think about it! Any takers?
The answer is… it depends. That’s it. No fancy jargon, no expensive advertising campaigns, and no proprietary formulas. Most importantly, no false assumptions that what works for a Hollywood celebrity or your best friend’s second cousin will work for you. “It depends” recognizes that everybody’s body and needs are different. There are of course good general nutrition guidelines to consider, like the food guide pyramid or ChooseMyPlate.gov, but ultimately what you should eat is unique to you.
What does it depend on?
For starters, it depends on who you are and what your needs are. Are you young or old, male or female, active or sedentary? For example, a young child’s needs are quite different from an older adult, just as an elite athlete’s needs are different from a couch potato.
What you should eat also depends somewhat on your family history. If your genes are prone to chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes, or cancer, you may want to consider how certain foods increase or decrease your risk. For example, alcohol in moderation may help decrease heart disease risk for some individuals, but it may increase cancer risk for others. It’s up to you (and your doctor) to weigh the pros and cons of various dietary interventions. And even then there is unlikely to be just one “right” diet.
Lastly (but certainly not least), be sure to factor in life factors like your financial status, religious and moral beliefs, geographical location, season, time of day, habits, personal desires, etc. What can you afford to eat? What do you have access to eat? What do you like to eat? How do school, work, and/or family responsibilities influence your eating decisions? No diet in the world will be successful long term if it’s not realistically aligned with these factors.
Sorry, it turns out that the answer to “What should I eat?” is not so simple after all! Take heart though, this blog isn’t meant to confuse you. Rather it’s meant to encourage and empower you. Encourage you to think critically about the latest nutrition fad or discovery, and empower you to make smart food choices based on your own needs and desires. Over the course of the next month/term/year I hope that you will learn a lot from this blog. I also hope that after each post you will pause and reflect about how the information relates directly to you… What does it depend on for you?