When it comes to eating in general, and especially for beauty, it seems there is a ton of conflicting advice out there. Should you eat raw everything to slow breakdown or should you cook everything to so things are more easier digested? Is it better to go with the Atkins diet or the Mediterranean diet?
Recently, many FutureDerm readers have asked for more articles discussing the intricate relationship between eating, health, and beauty. One thing that some readers might be curious about is whether certain trendy diets, which often claim that they’re the “best” for “everyone,” are actually beneficial.
There Is No Single “Right” Diet
Ever tried something that claims, “One size fits all,” only to discover, much to your dismay, that it does not, in fact, fit all? In fact, it may not even fit “most.” It really seems to be the kind of thing that fits a surprisingly select group of people given the fact that it claims to work for the entire populace. Fad diets are often the same way. While they might fit a niche group of people, they can often be to the detriment of some other groups.
It’s tempting to buy into the idea that a book or a philosophy can teach us the right way to eat. And there are plenty of super specific diets that tell people exactly what they should be eating. Just the same way it would be easy if there were a single skin care routine that worked for every skin type. Unfortunately, the best answer to “What’s the healthiest diet?” is that the healthiest diet is the one that is the healthiest for you specifically.
Of course, there are certain principles of good eating that are pretty straightforward across the board. First and foremost, we all need to eat. It’s really the “what” that is the more difficult question to answer. Second, an excess of certain common things — saturated fats, sugars, etc. — can be harmful; but, in what proportions they can be considered “excessive” can vary from person to person. We also know that a diet should be supplemented with regular exercise.
Overall though, “fad” or “miracle” diets are something to be cautious of. Just as with many scientific advances, we learn things through scientific study at a slower rate and the information is often quite complicated.
Case in Point? Vegetarians Versus Meat Eaters
The idea that there is no “one size fits all” diet of exactly which foods you should be eating is most easily explained by turning certain ideas we hold as truths on their heads. For example, some research points to meat consumption as being strongly linked to cardiovascular problems (New York Times). It would seem, then, that in order to avoid cardiovascular illness, one should avoid meat.
In fact, it may seem like vegetarianism could be the best option. And there are some who would tout vegetarianism as the diet for avoiding heart disease (USA Today). Answers are never that simple, though.
“Less meat” is what researchers thought when they analyzed the 13 studies done on the diets of hunter gatherer groups, who are almost never affected by cardiovascular. The scientists hypothesized that their cardiovascular health could be linked to a vegetable-based diet and were surprised to discover that 229 different hunter-gatherer groups’ diets dependence on hunted and fished animal products ranged between 66 and 75% (European Journal of Clinical Nutrition). Fewer than 14% of hunter-gatherer groups’ diets contained less than 50% animal products. Those who ate more meat sometimes had an equal or greater fat intake than the average Western diet.
Where Meat Eating Gets Further Complicated
But don’t go ordering that double patty burger just yet; the story gets a bit more complicated from here.
One of the possible answers for this is that hunter-gatherer groups tend to consume meat with more monounsaturated fatty acids, as opposed to polyunsaturated fatty acids. And the rest of their diets contain more antioxidants, fiber, vitamins, and phytochemicals and has less salt.
This could also help explain why vegetarians have been found to have a 25% decrease in cardiovascular disease. While it could be that they don’t consume meat, it’s also possible that they consumer more unsaturated fat than saturated fats, and get a wider range of fruits and vegetables in their diets (Johns Hopkins). No studies have found that very low-fat vegan diets have lower mortality rate than vegetarian diets (though there aren’t quite as many studies).
So, in using just this very narrow example, it’s possible to see how both a vegetarian diet and a diet containing meat can have low incidence of cardiovascular disease, and how the type of fat consumed matters more. Beyond this, there are many examples of how a carefully constructed, healthy diet involves very complex interactions between foods.
Fad Diets’ Benefits Could Be Very Fleeting
Remember when everyone was excited about the Atkins diet?
Now that the fervor has died down and Krispy Kreme’s business is doing better (believe it or not, that particular diet really did a number on the donut purveyor), we’re removed enough to examine why this diet was a “fad” and not a lasting, general lifestyle that everyone is following now.
It’s true that studies have shown that those on the Atkins diet will lose weight. One study comparing a low-carbohydrate diet (Atkins) and a low-fat diet found that in the first six months, those on the low-carbohydrate diet lost more weight, but after 12 months, there was no difference in weight loss between the two diets (Skeptic Report).
And while the Atkins diet actually reduced some of cardiovascular issues initially — reduced triglyceride concentration, improved HDL cholesterol — a long-term study on the management of seizures in epileptic children while on the diet showed a negative effect on blood lipids over time. In addition to this, the lack of vegetables (and subsequently fiber!) caused constipation. So it’s not recommendable for long-term nutrition.
There are more downsides that just these though. While too much sugar can worsen acne, one study found that those on an Atkins diet (where sugar is restricted) had their collagen age faster than those not on the diet. This is because the lack of sugar triggered a rise in the advanced glycation endproduct (AGE) formation rate — which causes the hardening of collagen — that was double the rate of those who were not on the Atkin’s diet (The New York Academy of Sciences).
This example is to point out that often times, fad diets that are promising in the short term can be detrimental in the long-term.
So What Kinds of Diets Should People Have?
There isn’t a single right answer to “What should I eat?”
A diet that works for your best friend may not be compatible for your body. While there are things that are better across the board: eating fiber-rich foods, eating monounsaturated fats, getting plenty of antioxidants and vitamins; the vehicles you chose to do that with could vary based on several factors. These include the availability of the food around you, personal taste, and, possibly, your genetics (Why Some Like It Hot).
There are theories that our ancestors’ diets, based on their environment, helped to shape the way our bodies interact with food. While that doesn’t necessarily mean you should follow your great-great-great-grandparent’s diet exactly, it does give a possible answer to questions, such as “Why are some people lactose intolerant?”
As we learn more we have a better understanding of which kinds of foods are healthiest, which is different from exactly which foods you must eat. So, rather than following a fad diets, it’s better to aim for a diet that includes foods that are lower on the glycemic index and include the right kinds of fats and some sugars, but what those foods are depends on the person consuming them (Food Cures).
As much as we might want someone to hand us a list of foods and tell us, “eat these,” our diets are much more complex. That said, while there are some foods that will help some people be healthier or have better skin, that same diet might not be beneficial to everyone. There are several examples of how there are certain things the human body needs, but that different people are able to get those things in different ways.
As FutureDerm writes future articles on the complicated relationship between nutrition, health, and beauty, we will strive to be as precise as possible in explaining the research and facts behind popular diets and conventional notions of food. But that might mean that sometimes there isn’t a clear cut answer that will suit everyone.
Have a question about beauty and food? Tell us below in the comments!