DIET CONFUSION: POPULAR FOOD PLANS EXPLAINED
We currently find ourselves bombarded by “advice” from various sources on the type of diet we should be following. This advice can be at times overwhelming and more often than not simply confusing to navigate.
Let us take a gentle stroll through some of the more popular diets currently doing the rounds and see if we can make some sense of all this.
We will then look at some basic rules that will hopefully help you navigate this minefield.
Low Fat/High Carbohydrate
This is where we have been for a good number of years now. Medical research advice dating from the 1980’s linked the consumption of dietary fats with high cholesterol levels, cardio vascular disease and obesity.
Unfortunately, the interests of the pharmaceutical and food industries became heavily involved and the low fat/high carb ideology was sold to us even though levels of heart disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes, cancers and a host of other metabolic diseases continued to increase at an alarming rate.
Finally, mainstream medicine and media sources are starting to wake up to the facts that many leading physiologists and nutritionists have been preaching for years:
- Dietary fats are not necessarily bad
- Dietary fats have very little bearing on cholesterol levels or cardio vascular disease
- Cholesterol is vital for brain health, the integrity of every cell in our bodies and just about every one of our hormones is formed from cholesterol.
- Refined carbohydrates, particularly in the form of simple sugars are the worst possible thing you could be putting in your body
Fortunately, I think we are now gradually seeing the last of this form of diet advice.
Low Carbohydrate/High Fat
Atkins, Banting, South Beach and Keto diet plans are all based on the high fat approach.
Without doubt these can be beneficial in certain circumstances, the Ketogenic diet for example was used a therapy for epilepsy in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Even prior to that fasting was first studied as a cure for this condition in France in 1911. It is currently being used therapeutically in a number of ways for various metabolic and neurological conditions and without doubt the restriction of excess carbs can be a very smart move. For more information check out some of the work being carried out by Russ Scala in the US of A (extensive You Tube posts).
The basic premise being that by severely restricting carb intake the body is forced to utilise fats as an energy source in the form of Ketone bodies resulting from the breakdown of fatty acids.
However, this is where we start getting to the crux of the whole diet issue. Some people will thrive on this style of diet whereas others will hardly remember their own name after the first week. It depends absolutely on our individual genetic makeup and our ability to, among other things, metabolise carbs and fats. Let me stress this point
NO ONE DIETARY APPROACH WILL SUIT EVERYONE, WE ARE ALL INDIVIUALS AND OUR INDIVIDUAL BIO CHEMISTRY DEMANDS A BESPOKE APPROACH.
Some of the negatives of the Keto style approach is the restriction on fruits and some vegetables, reliance on diary can be counterproductive and the consumption of processed foods - commercial sausages, burgers etc is simply madness.
Other problems can crop up such as an increased exposure to lipophilic toxins and a possible risk of metabolic endotoxemia which are basically very unfriendly substances which thrive in a high fat environment.
The Vegan approach has been gaining a lot of popularity recently. I do get the whole animal welfare thing BUT, any diet that cuts whole food groups from the choices available whereby requiring supplements to make good any possible deficiencies seem totally at odds with my own health-based approach.
The major deficiencies suffered by many vegans include:
- Vitamin B12
- Heme Iron
- Vitamin D
- Alpha-linolenic acid – Omega 3 fatty acids
I have often found that the Vegan approach represents a way of life rather than just a dietary regime.
A far less restricted, and in my view, health conscious approach, is the fundamental vegetarian diet but with the inclusion of some animal-based products such as fish, eggs or even the occasional piece of healthy meat.
This is the good old “caveman diet” and is based on the assumption that our genetics, digestion and metabolism is basically the same as it was some 10,000 years ago when we were all living in caves and were the classic hunter gatherers.
A strict following of this diet would allow meats, poultry, seafood, fresh fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds but would omit all grains, legumes (beans, lentils, peas etc), diary, refined sugars and processed foods.
I actually like the basic principles of what I would refer to as a “modified Paleo” to include items such as oat meal, potatoes and brown rice or quinoa. The idea of losing all sugars and processed foods is absolutely up there with my own thinking.
This is another approach which has a lot of appeal. It is not restricted in its food groups but majors on healthy meats, poultry, seafood, fruits, vegetables, fats with the exclusion of all processed, refined “fast” food and sugars. It also tries to link the way we eat our meals in relaxed family settings rather than grabbing a quick sandwich while multi-tasking on a variety of other duties that go to make up our busy days.
There is no insistence on high or low fats or carbs but asks you to think about the source of the food you eat which is very sensible advice.
Intermittent Fasting (IF)
Something of a catch all term to describe periods of Kcal restriction or complete fast. These periods may last for days, such as the 5:2 diet which gained a good deal of popularity, or a certain specified number of hours each day or on certain days of the week.
Many and various health benefits have been claimed for the IF approach including weight loss, increased insulin sensitivity, protection from various metabolic disease states and an increased life span. These have been backed up with published and unpublished research of varying quality and validity.
Handled properly the IF approach can be seen to be beneficial but as ever is not a universal panacea. Please take professional advice before undertaking periods of fasting.
Two of my main issues with the “average” person looking to use the IF protocol is that the quality of food consumed when the fast is broken can be extremely poor and if the period after an IF diet approach has been used is not controlled a large “re bound” effect may be experienced completely wasting any benefits obtained.
There are plenty of other diet regimes which have gone through various stages of popularity such as – Acid/Alkaline, Food Combining, Metabolic typing and, once again it’s possible to pick the good and bad points from them. The ones described above do however cover most of the bases of arguments that have gone around the food and nutrition industry.
Basic diet concepts:
By following some pretty straight forward rules I think we can address many of the dietary ills that plague western society.
- Lifestyle changes will always promote greater long-term results rather than short transformation periods adopting practices completely outside of usual behaviour which are ultimately doomed to failure.
- We are all individuals and one approach will not work with everyone
- Restrict all processed, ultra-processed, pre-packed, pre-prepared, refined foods as far as possible
- Eat foods not products
- Cut out or severely reduce refined carbohydrates/sugars
- Attempt to source as much food as possible from organic, free range sources within the limitations of your budget.
- Read food labels and try to avoid sweeteners, preservatives, colourants etc
- Stay well hydrated with pure water
- Keep alcohol consumption low “spend twice the amount on quality and drink half the quantity”
- Engage in moderate exercise/activity every day.
Thank-you to Paul Ehren Health, Exercise and Nutrition Consultant for Contributing to this week's blog. Check-out his website: https://www.paulkehren.co.uk/
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