Many readers forwarded me a recent NYT blog post entitled, “Kale? Juicing? Trouble Ahead.” The author, Jennifer Berman, who used to juice kale daily, has been a self-proclaimed health fanatic since the 1980s, but she recently developed hypothyroidism—a common ailment for 40+ women. Research suggested that her condition required avoidance of cruciferous veggies such as kale and broccoli, as well as flax, almonds, strawberries, and a host of other nutritious plants with critical vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
After cutting out these foods and moving to daily carrot-celery juice, plus tons of lemon water, the author found herself with five cavities, diagnosed by a dentist who ridiculed her healthy ways and snidely remarked that she’d be “better off with chocolate and cola.” At that point, she started dabbling in Twinkies.
If this story makes you secretly gloat, “Aha, I knew it! These health fads are all bullshit! Off to Krispy Kreme I go!” please think again. Here’s a reality check.
1. Obsessively eating the exact same foods every day is bad. There is a reason for the ancient saying, “Nothing in excess.” Our bodies are built to eat seasonally, and to acquire needed nutrients from a wide variety of species. Overdoing certain foods will create imbalance no less than omitting them.
Kale, for example, is extremely high in Vitamin A. This is healthful in the correct doses, but excesses of A—or of any nutrient—will upset your system. Or take Berman’s overdoing the carrot juice and lemon water. Carrots are high in sugar for a vegetable, and lemon is very acidic. Though they are both very nutritious in moderation, overdoing them is harmful.
3. Finally, as Joshua Rosenthal, the head of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, is fond of proclaiming, “One person’s food is another person’s poison.” We are all built differently with different nutritional needs. Although there are certain fundamental nutrients we all require, how and where these should be acquired will vary from individual to individual. If, for example, someone has genetically weak tooth enamel, the best way to get enough vitamin C will not be mega-dosing on highly acidic citrus fruit. There are many other good sources of C, such as peppers, guava, and Brussels sprouts.
In addition to proclaiming “Nothing in excess,” the ancient Oracle at Delphi also stressed: “Know thyself.” Socrates believed these ideas were the twin pillars of a successful life—in every respect. Don’t panic when you read an essay like Berman’s. She failed to apply both of these principles in her diet, with harmful results and imbalance. You can know, and do, better.