Nutrition heuristic: Cycle healthy options

by aaq1 min read17th Jul 20191 comment


NutritionWorld Optimization
It also doesn't help that different people have contradictory theories, e.g. meat, eggs, and diary are either very important to eat, or very important to avoid. More precisely, the best form of meat is fish. Except you shouldn't eat fish, because they are full of deadly mercury.
Villiam, Nutrition is Satisficing

I really liked this comment, so I wanted to hone in on it.

Suppose we have 3 options for a protein source for dinner: Chicken, steak, or fish. They're all considered to be pretty good sources of protein, by most doctors, but they all have downsides:

  • Steak is linked to heart disease,
  • fish contains higher levels of heavy metals, and
  • chicken is just kind of bland.

What should you do?

A nutrition plan is a little bit like a stock portfolio, in that you can diversify away risk by investing a small amount in several different companies at once. However, many of the risks we talk about with nutrition are linked to the overconsumption of specific foods. That means that diversification is super effective!

So the smart satisficer's move is to have all three, but cycle them. If we're planning for the week, we might do chicken Monday-Wednesday-Friday, and then on the other 4 days alternate between steak and fish. This does require a bit of planning on your part, but if you stick to variations between just a handful of pretty-good sources, I think it's pretty feasible.

(Note that I'm considering "Grilled chicken breast is really healthy, but I had it every night for three weeks and I'm never touching it again" as a strong long term and short term risk of overconsumption. In fact, since this seems to happen often with the healthiest foods we eat, I would strongly advise you to update on this prior as well: Extremely healthy foods need to be cycled in and out with their only very healthy, but tasty, options.)


1 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 10:36 PM
New Comment

This works in the case of {steak,fish,chicken} because those options are pretty close to identical in their overall role in a diet. But there are also nutrition strategies for which cycling is worse than any of the options. A straightforward example of this is keto. Conventional wisdom is that these are highly nonlinear; a diet which is low-carb but not low-carb enough is substantially worse than either a low-carb or a full-carb diet. And there's a switchover period with some adverse effects, so cycling between keto-days and non-keto-days would be bad.