It’s easy to make nutrition out to be a complex, overwhelming topic of science. And to be fair, the chemistry between food and the body is a very complex subject. But it’s important to remember that the active study of nutrition has only been around for a short while, perhaps a few hundred years and all this while, humans have been perfectly fine. Perhaps we have not set out to use science in the past, but nonetheless, we sought optimization through observation. We are powerful observers, and I argue that science should be secondary to personal observation and intuition when it comes to eating.
The science, for awhile, told us that eating complex carbohydrates was the healthiest way to eat. But from personal experience I generally feel lethargic after eating whole wheat bread. So do I keep eating them because the science says to or do I listen to my body? Listen to my body. There are many cases where science has told us one thing, often against our intuition, only to be later discovered that it was incorrect or oversimplified.
I find science to be fascinating and useful and a great starting point for nutrition, but I also find it to be the case that the more studies I read and the more theory I learn, the more I realize that the body is an incredibly powerful observation machine and that it has no problem telling you what it wants if you are willing to listen.
Humans have known how to eat for as long as they’ve been around. You don’t need to become a nutritionist to eat well, you just need common sense. I’m a geek and as such I began to teach myself the science behind nutrition, but after all this time of studying nutrition the biggest piece of advice I have for you is to simply pay attention to your body and do what feels good.
That said, I have to acknowledge that our bodies weren’t adapted for the 21st century where we have so much refined sugar and powerful flavor readily available. Yeah, a donut will always taste good. But the more important observation is not to just listen to what your body is telling you while you eat it but also after eating it and over the next few hours and days.
Science is an excellent starting point for experimentation. If the science says that eating a particular way is healthy, then I would trust the science, but I would also suggest experimenting. Take nuts for example: generally, they are considered healthy. So I tried eating lots and lots of nuts for a week. My bowel movements were totally off, I couldn’t think straight, and my skin was awful. I’ve tried this experiment on myself over and over and every time I eat too many nuts, the same reaction occurs. This is the type of observation that we must make in order to figure out what our bodies want. How things taste is important, but the most important outcome is what we feel afterwards. And often times we find that there is conflicting science on a food, as is the case with nuts. At first glance, they appear to be overall very healthy: lots of protein, good fats, omega-3, and minerals. But as you look into them further, they have many times more omega-6 than omega-3 and plenty of antinutrients. So even while there was science telling me they were healthy, there was plenty of science suggesting that they needed moderation too that I simply had not read yet. In the case of conflicting science, trust your body.
There is always more science to read and infinitely more science that simply has not been done yet. Science is great at understanding pinpoints of information, but understanding the overall essence of something and how it affects you in all of the many ways that a food has the power to affect you and over the course of your life is better understood by experience, observation, and intuition.