During the past 40 years, I’ve read 100’s of books on diet and nutrition. If you include all the information I have consumed on the internet, it’s probably the equivalent of 1000’s of books. And yet, I am still enticed by a catchy title on the latest fad diet book.
I can’t help myself from peeking inside to see whether it might contain something new. It never does. There’s “nothing new under the sun,” as King Solomon wrote. Every fad diet is the same old information, packaged in a slightly new way.
This week, I read “The Healthiest Diet on the Planet” by Dr John McDougall. It’s Dr McDougall’s latest book. He recommends a diet based on starchy carbohydrates, vegetables and fruit. No animal products. No fats or oils.
I’ve read several of Dr McDougall’s books and watched many of his videos on Youtube. He seems like a sincere person. His diet does get amazing results for some people. But what he doesn’t mention, is that many other people feel terrible on his diet and their health suffers.
So, despite Dr McDougall’s apparent sincerity, I have to call his diet a fad. No traditional society avoids animal products, fats and oils. It’s true they base their diets around starchy carbohydrates. But they also eat meat, eggs, dairy products, fats and oils. Every single traditional society around the world throughout recorded human history.
A couple of days after reading Dr McDougall’s book, I watched a video by Dr Tim Noakes. He wrote a best-selling book in the 1970’s called “The Lore of Running”. In it, he recommended a high-carbohydrate, low-fat diet.
But a few years ago, Dr Noakes developed type 2 diabetes. He realised his high-carb diet was not as healthy as he once thought. He switched to a very low carb diet, higher in protein and fat. Within a short space of time, he had reversed his diabetes, lost a lot of weight and his running times dramatically improved.
Dr Noakes recommends eating only 25 grams of carbohydrate a day. This is for people who are overweight or have health issues. He does allow a bit more carbohydrate for healthy, active younger people. But not much.
If I didn’t have the benefit of 40 years’ wisdom, I would have been totally confused after listening to the contradictory advice of these two respected medical doctors.
Should I eat lots of starchy carbohydrates and become a vegan? Or should I cut my carbs to a bare minimum and eat my fill of grass-fed meat, eggs, butter and cheese?
Mmm…. you might be wondering the same thing. It’s so confusing! If there really is a perfect diet for humans, surely we would have found it by now.
So, what is the truth? Well, I can only give my opinion, based on all the research I’ve done and all the different diets I’ve tested on myself. The truth is, that we are all different. So the perfect diet for you, is not necessarily the perfect diet for me or anyone else.
A fascinating study was done by by Prof. Eran Segal and Dr. Eran Elinav at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel. They studied 1000 people for a week and monitored their blood sugar continuously.
The 1000 participants wrote down everything they ate during the seven day period and the time they ate it. So the doctors could see how their blood sugar went up and down after various foods.
They hoped to find the “perfect” diet for humans, based on this information. What they found, in fact, is that everyone is different.
There were a couple of trends that appeared consistent over all 1000 people. Carbohydrates tended to raise the blood sugar the most. Fats raised blood sugar the least. And protein was somewhere in between.
But beyond that, everyone was different. Some people could eat ice cream and have hardly any increase in their blood sugar. Others ate ice cream and their blood sugar went sky high.
Even “healthy” carbohydrates, such as brown rice and whole grain bread affected people differently. Some people got more of a spike in blood sugar from eating brown rice than they did from ice cream. For others, it was the opposite.
The conclusion from the study was, we are all an “experiment of one” i.e. we have to figure out for ourselves exactly what the is the perfect diet for us.
You can watch a video of Dr Segal explaining the study on Youtube:
This is why there is so much confusion about diet. I had to figure out the best diet for me, through trial and error. You have to figure out what is the best diet for you.
This is where we need to follow our intuition. Listen to our body and give it the food it needs. The reason this is so difficult, is that we have read so many diet books. So, if our intuition tells us to eat butter, our rational mind will object. “No, that can’t be right, it has too much saturated fat!”
Likewise if we want to eat bread, but we’ve read that carbs are “bad”. We resist our intuition and go with our fears instead.
The only way out of the diet confusion is to learn to eat intuitively. I’m convinced of that after 40 years of reading all the conflicting diet advice.
There are certain fundamental principles, of course. Eat whole, natural foods. Avoid refined white sugar, refined oils and processed food that is full of chemicals. But beyond that, when it comes to the ratio of protein, carbs and fat, there is no absolute right or wrong.
The truth, for most people, is somewhere between Dr McDougall’s low fat vegan dogma and Dr Noakes’ low-carb, high fat extreme. Find the happy medium for yourself and watch your health steadily improve.
And stop reading so many diet books!