Are Some Whole Foods Unhealthy?

Are some whole foods unhealthy?

“Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from the outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled? (Thus he declared all foods clean.)

Mark 7:18b-19

In the Old Testament God decreed that some foods were unclean and therefore should not be eaten by faithful Israelites.  He did this as one means to keep them separate from the nations surrounding them.  Those dietary laws were no longer required for followers of Jesus in the New Testament.  Today there are many different diets that advocate eliminating one or more categories of whole foods.  I decided to examine whether scientists have discovered something new about healthy nutrition, or if science instead confirms God’s wisdom. 

The Longevity Diet

I just finished the book The Longevity Diet  by Valter Longo, PhD.  Longo is the director of the Longevity Institute at USC in California, which does research on nutrition, aging and disease.  I am learning more about healthy longevity, so I read this book with great interest.  Longo reviews both his own research as well as other research about healthy aging.  He states the two biggest factors in living a long time without disease are regular exercise and a healthy diet. Both the diet and exercise will assist individuals in maintaining a BMI in the normal range (under 25 and ideally around 22). This book includes his recommendations for a regular eating plan as well as a periodic five-day fasting-mimicking diet that can help spur cell renewal.  

Longo is from Italy and his “Longevity Diet” is a variant of the Mediterranean diet of his culture.  This diet has many good components, but like a number of specialty diets today, it entirely eliminates a number of whole foods.  His longevity diet is a low protein, almost vegan, version of an Italian diet. He eliminates eggs, all dairy, all meat except seafood and most fruit for those under 65.  In order to increase protein in the diet for those over age 65 he does allow them some eggs, and goat or sheep cheese.  The diet in this book won’t hurt, and will probably be beneficial for many, but is not the only way to eat for longevity and good health.

I learned in my nutrition program at Hawthorn University that all whole foods are nutritious and can be a part of a healthy diet.  The Longevity Diet eliminates all animal products but seafood.  The Paleo Diet eliminates legumes, grains and, often, dairy products.  A vegan diet eliminates all animal products.  A vegetarian diet eliminates meat. The Keto Diet eliminates all starches and sugars. The Carnivore Diet uses only animal foods and eliminates plant foods. 

It is clear that eating too much food, especially processed foods with high amounts of starchy and sugary carbohydrates is unhealthy. But are there certain whole foods that are also unhealthy?  Are there whole foods that no one should eat?  After reading The Longevity Diet I went back and reviewed a lot of the medical literature on nutrition and health to consider this topic.  

Are Some Whole Foods Unhealthy?

There is not a consensus that meat or dairy is harmful for either health or longevity.  Some studies show that, in the absence of lots of processed foods, moderate intakes of meat and fat, along with three to four servings of fruits and vegetables are associated with reduced mortality risk. Others showed that higher intakes of yoghurt and cheese (fermented milk products) were also associated with longevity.  There is some research to suggest that a low protein intake before age 65 may be associated with better health, but this is by no means an expert consensus.  

In my latest article in Bella Magazine, I consider “How to Live to 100”.  A major recommendation includes staying lean by eating less and exercising.  One way to eat less is by adopting some form of regular fasting, which could include Dr. Longo’s Fasting-Mimicking Diet.  Another way is to reduce calories by eating a whole foods diet that includes lots of plants, especially non-starchy vegetables.  

My best advice is to do as the New Testament told believers 2000 years ago. Eat moderate amounts of any and all whole foods you like.   Most of the current research confirms that whole foods are health promoting. It is the consumption of excessive amount of highly processed foods with their large amounts of refined vegetable oils, sugar and chemicals that are the problem.

For certain chronic health conditions it may be helpful to eliminate certain whole foods for a period of time. If you have chronic conditions I suggest you get personalized advice from your doctor or a nutritionist such as myself. 

Selected Research:

Low Protein Intake Is Associated with a Major Reduction in IGF-1, Cancer, and Overall Mortality in the 65 and Younger but Not Older Population

Milk vs. Fermented Milk Products in the Risk of Mortality and Fracture

Consumption of Dairy Products and All-Cause Mortality

Moderate Red Meat, Dairy Intake May Reduce Mortality, CV Disease RiskFive Studies on Saturated Fat: Time to Retire the Myth?

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