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What The Evidence Tells Us About Healthy Eating

In this photo illustration a cheeseburger and french fries are served up at a Shake Shack restaurant on in Chicago, Illinois.
In this photo illustration a cheeseburger and french fries are served up at a Shake Shack restaurant on in Chicago, Illinois.

Atkins. Whole 30. Paleo. South Beach. Diet names are etched into the American lexicon.

We’re a country with a focus on food and its effects. While we enjoy our barbecue and hamburgers, we also go to great lengths to make it appear as though we’ve never tried either.

Diets have always held a special place in the American psyche. Manipulating one’s food intake to slim down just in time for summer is as common a pop culture reference as the moonwalk or telling someone that you’re Batman.

But do diets actually work to create happier, healthier humans? Many critics of American diet culture say no. Short-term changes to how we eat rarely lead to changes in lifestyle overall that would create lasting change.

More from reporter Michael Hobbes:

The second big lesson the medical establishment has learned and rejected over and over again is that weight and health are not perfect synonyms. Yes, nearly every population-level study finds that fat people have worse cardiovascular health than thin people. But individuals are not averages: Studies have found that anywhere from one-third to three-quarters of people classified as obese are metabolically healthy. They show no signs of elevated blood pressure, insulin resistance or high cholesterol. Meanwhile, about a quarter of non-overweight people are what epidemiologists call “the lean unhealthy.” A 2016 study that followed participants for an average of 19 years found that unfit skinny people were twice as likely to get diabetes as fit fat people. Habits, no matter your size, are what really matter. Dozens of indicators, from vegetable consumption to regular exercise to grip strength, provide a better snapshot of someone’s health than looking at her from across a room.

What should “healthy eating” mean to us? And do Americans have a healthy relationship with the way we talk about food?

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