The perfect diet

There is a lot of research about the effects of what goes into our mouth. Today I’ll write about that.

Hopefully you are at least as fed up as I am with minutiae of my calories, so let’s talk about humans in general. This week a new study from NTNU, a Norwegian university, finally revealed what food is best for humans. Well, the moderate number of humans who were tested, at least. And rather than asking the test subjects, these researchers asked the genes: They checked the gene expressions after various types of diets, on the same people as they gradually changed their eating habits.  This way, the test subjects were their own control group.

This test was of the macronutrition, that is to say the main food groups, rather than vitamins, minerals etc. And the genes’ favorite diet turned out to be none of the current big names.

For a couple decades, the low-fat diet got the support of most of the scientific community. After all, the main cause of death was cardiovascular, and there was no doubt that the plaques on the arteries were made up largely from fat. Also the patients with these problems tended to have more cholesterol and triglycerids in their blood, both of these are fats. For good measure, fat people were far more likely to suffer from not only circulatory diseases but also diabetes and even some cancers. The obvious answer was to remove fat from the food. And this also worked, when you took it to the extreme, as with the Ornish diet and lifestyle change, which can actually remove plaque from the arteries and reverse pretty much all the so-called lifestyle diseases.

There is one small problem with this extreme low-fat diet, though: Few people manage to stay on it. The number is said to be less than 5%. You’d think people would do everything in their power to save their life and limb, but that is simply not true. Humans have a hard time resisting their instincts, and the instincts were not amused with eating beans and cauliflower.

Lately the low-carb diet has come into focus instead. It is easier to stick to, since fat really satisfies. It carries most of the flavor, the food stays longer in the stomach, and the brain also feels more fed. Protein is also more satisfying than carbs. And if you eat very little carbs, the body will switch to burning fat instead. Anyway, low-carb and no-carb diets have become gradually more accepted over the last few years.

So what was the message from the genes? None of the above. Of the combinations that were tested, they preferred to get about one third of the calories from each of the three main food groups: Carbohydrates, fat and protein.  (Since fat is twice as energy-dense as the other two, you would need half as much of it in weight to get the same calories.) But in the typical Norwegian diet, some 65% of the energy comes from carbs, in the form of bread, potatoes, pasta and cooked vegetables, sometimes rice.  This caused a mild inflammation-like state in the entire body, as if it was at the beginning of a flu or something. They called it “metabolic inflammation”. In addition, high-carb diet activated genes for cancer, heart disease, dementia and diabetes II. Or so they say.

Another discovery was that many small meals were better than few large, again if you wanted to keep this body-wide inflammation at a minimum. They recommend as much as 6 meals a day,  three main meals and two or three smaller. All of them with the mix of fat, protein and carbs.


Of course, there shouldn’t go too many days before some highly qualified experts find out that a completely different diet is even better for your genes. Or perhaps some other part of you.

If only there was this much research into the diet of the soul!