The strange world of diets.
Fad or fantasy.
Blog time : it’s almost November 2020 so in just over a month’s time i will have been ‘dieting’ for a year , in my case following a low carbohydrate/ketogenic approach plus/minus some periods of intermittent fasting and moderate term fasts. During that time i have lost a lot of weight, around 17 Kg at the last count, cured myself of hypertension and arthritic pain and all of that makes me happier and healthier. Somewhere along the way i started a social media page which i called ‘Totally Open Minded Keto’ to try and connect with and discuss dietary/nutritional approaches with other people : i chose the ‘Open Minded’ label because i didn’t want to back myself into a corner of only discussing one approach at a time when i knew next to nothing and where i thought there might be other viable approaches. As it is i started out with a simple foodstuff exclusion approach, then went more towards the low carbohydrate approach and now i’m not sure which dietary group defines me as what i have been experimenting with is a more normal diet except for the fasts : as i write iv’e just finished an 80 hour fast with a break-fast that included a couple of slices of toast so…….yeah.
For this post i thought i would do a very quick and bullet pointed review of the major diets and then do a bit of a compare and contrast to try and show what the problems and pitfalls with each one is….so i started a list, thought about it overnight and doubled that list and then thought about it for another night and then re-wrote the whole section in a kind of ‘what i knew (or at least was taught) at various times starting with my student nurse days.
In those days, and i’m talking about the 1980’s here, student nurses weren’t considered to be smart enough to go and read a scientific paper, rather we were ‘spoon fed’ whatever dietary dogma filtered down from the hospital dietitian : my memory of her teaching at the time was that fibre was the big thing as it definitely reduced heart attacks and bowel cancer…….and she really impressed us by feeding us all on high sugar and very high fibre flapjacks. The way i recall it is that later the same day the hospital plumber was drafted in to clear the outcome of that lecture from the girls loo in the school of nursing !. I think we did better than doctors though who i don’t think were taught anything about food and diet except for the location of the ward fridge and where sister’s biscuit tin was hidden.
Thus in the dietititan-dogma of the time we had the diabetic diet, which might actually have been a viable way of treating type 2 diabetes, the heart diet based on Dr Ancel Keys diet-heart hypothesis, then there was the ‘renal’ diet, low salt i think, the ‘lupus’ diet…low protein and then later on we had things like the coeliac diet and IBD diet, the various anti-cancer diets, and i guess several other anti this, that or other niche fads.
This was the 1980’s though and seemingly the beginning of a time when any fading celebrity finished their 15 minutes of fame with their own ‘diet’ book or cookbook…..most of them instantly forgettable although the way i remember the period would best be described as somewhere between vegetarian and vegan with a side order of champagne and cocaine.
At the same time we had a actual explosion in the new national obsession with diets and diet books : that now makes sense because it does match the kink in the curve when obesity and diet related diseases started their inexorable increase. Thus we had the beginning of the franchise diets : Weightwatchers, Slimming world and suchlike….basically calorie restriction diets. There were also a steady stream of ‘latest thing’ diets usually coming out of California : thus the South Beach diet, ditto the North Beach, Long Beach and so on….over here of course we had the Blackpool beach diet, essentially a see-food and eat it diet but slightly better than the Glasgow beach diet which is see-food and deep fry it diet.*
Amongst the absolute dross and fad period there was some serious work on diet and nutrition, some of which became very hip, trendy and then mainstream….such as vegetarianism , and the other side such as Dr Atkins diet which had adherents but was darkly dismissed by most of the medical profession as being risky or downright dangerous. While clearly not a vegetarian myself i can see why it was taken up by so many people especially when there was a concurrent push to say that meat is bad and equals bowel cancer, equally that saturated fats were bad and an open invitation to heart disease. At some time i want to explore the roots of vegetarian-ism and then vegan-ism more closely because they seem less about diet and nutrition and more about a quasi-religious or new age ideological ‘ism’. If you think that i have a bias here then yes i have but neither vegetarianism or veganism make full sense from a purely nutritional point of view and neither do the associated moral grandstanding that goes with them.
In my opinion we then started to see the dark side of dietary changes in the form of government policy, and here i’m mostly talking about the USA, but where most of the ‘advice’ became a set of dietary guidelines based on intense lobbying by big agri-business in the US and supported by spurious research and in the case of Ancel Keys….sheer arrogance and ego. It was also deeply political, just go and look at the Nixon presidency where he for one had to win the grain farmers vote and where that time saw the beginning of the bottomless purse subsidies to the grain, corn, rice and soy growers in the US. The now infamous ‘diet pyramid’ came out of that period and which was directly driven, not by even medicine, but by the US department of agriculture. As a historical note….the dietitian that taught our group used the food pyramid in her lectures.
To bring this right up to date i had a quick look to see what diets have become either mainstream or at least well known enough to have products on supermarket shelves….thus the ‘free from’ shelves in my local supermarket and anything labelled ‘healthy’ : everything in the local ‘health’ food shop for example. Well, the vegetarians and vegans are clearly mainstream at the supermarket as that’s just about the entirety of the first 2 aisles and in that we could usefully add the aisles that contain the ‘healthy’ grains and cereals and the many examples of processed foodstuffs which have taken out the fat while hiding the extra sugar as newly named versions of ‘natural’ ingredients.
The low fat dieters seem to be well catered for even in the carnivore aisle with many meat products being marketed as low fat ‘healthy’ options, in the UK fish eating carnivores and even the odd vegetarians who toy with the occasional fish farmed Salmon are but poorly represented : go over the channel for a shock at how well the average French supermarket presents it’s fresh fish counter. So the carnivores are generally well catered for except for the strange mixed message of ‘healthier’ low fat options.
Look around carefully enough and you will find the ‘real food’ options and the wholefood options although the sale of whole grains has become more of a specialty health-food store or internet phenomenon. Today even the low-carbers and keto dieters can find enough to eat, just recently i even saw keto-diet products for the first time : very expensive and not exactly ‘keto’ either but hey….a trend is a dollar right !. Of course the local ‘bloke’ diets are well represented with a whole double aisle of beer, wine and spirits and conveniently next to the similar double aisle of crisps, snack foods, biscuits and chocolate……and yes, i have to say regarded as essential items for sale where in one example basic clothing and tampons were not !.
The frightening thing about the supermarket is how much the modern actual western diet is represented, to put it bluntly : sugar (often hidden behind euphamisms) grains but mostly wheat and white rice, and then vegetable oils . Look at it all a bit more closely and most of that is broken down into it’s core ingredients and then processed together with enough flavourings and more sugar to make it extremely immediately palatable and if i may say…..addictive.
For the record here is my original playlist.
Banting, fasting, USDA food pyramid, US and UK diabetic association diets,……Atkins, Paleo, Zone…..Vegetarian , Lacto-ovo vegetarian and Vegan diets…..Fishitarian (i made that one up) Carnivore and Ketovore, LCHF and Keto diets, South Beach, North Beach and Blackpool beach (basically see-food and eat it) oh, and lets not forget the real food-ers and the wholefood-ers. Then i think there are the slightly oddball diets : the carrot juice/cabbage juice diet , the 5 eggs a day diet, the low fat-ers and no fat-ers , the calorie restrictors and so on and so forth…….finally there is the modern western supermarket diet which is basically sugar, grains and seed oils…oh and more sugar !
What are we to make of all this and who is right, wrong or just plain barking mad ?, well, Veganism is clearly a cult which makes no nutritional sense whatsoever but to stay with the conventional western supermarket diet is to accept getting sick early and dying of at least one of the diseases which we ourselves have created out of…..sugar, grains and seed oils (mostly).
Where to begin then and is there such a thing as best diet or proper diet, or healthy diet for humans (i don’t regard vegans as human by the way !)