Dietary Rules and Regulations: Is There Really One “Right Diet” for Everyone?
Is the “Right Diet” Really the Wrong Diet for You?
My series on healthism and finding freedom from the “diet and fitness police” has gotten some feedback. I know for some it has been helpful, and, for others, it’s hit a nerve. That’s okay.
I know I’m taking a risk by “going against the grain” (pun intended) and not providing a list of “dietary to-dos,” “foods to-avoid,” and “movements for a thinner you” that match the latest food or wellness trend.
I believe that any “dietary rules” and “lifestyle must-dos” FOR EVERYONE is paved with good intentions but is causing more harm than good. I know, because I’ve gotten caught up in it myself.
Now, I’m convinced more than ever that taking the time to truly listen to an individual and incorporating the whole picture is a necessity. This includes their past experiences, history, current health concerns, and unique biochemistry, microbiome, and epigenome.
Sharing about tools that have been beneficial to my clients, such as cutting down on detrimental environmental exposures or using essential oils for stress, has become a primary focus for me. Food generalizations may be helpful, but must be kept in context. Educating my readers and clients on what could happen with consuming foods with GMOs and how some people could have certain dietary triggers that cause symptom aggravation, may be the missing piece to their healing during a certain critical period.
I now feel, however, these points should be taken more as “FYIs,” not as dietary dogmas or rules everyone should obsess about.
“Demonizing” certain foods, food groups, and food components will eventually backlash. For example, look at the changing Dietary Guidelines that provided vindication that certain foods that were once taboos are now okay.
Want some butter with that?
In this blog, I’ll provide evidence that anyone who feels one way is the “the” way to eat is over-generalizing.
Nutritional “Science” or Just Deceptive Manipulation
Nutritional researchers have always quarreled and have never agreed on what is the best diet for the individual. Very few will actually state that one’s diet should be based on the current needs of their clients. Unfortunately, they have their own specific agenda and try to fit each person into the diet they currently subscribe to.
In the 2014 review article, Can We Say What Diet is Best for Health?, the authors cover various experts’ viewpoints on veganism, low-carb, Paleolithic, and more. They provide an exquisite overview of the biases in nutritional science around these dietary patterns and theories. The summary states:
Diet is established among the most important influences on health in modern societies. Injudicious diet figures among the leading causes of premature death and chronic disease. Optimal eating is associated with increased life expectancy, dramatic reduction in lifetime risk of all chronic disease, and amelioration of gene expression. In this context, claims abound for the competitive merits of various diets relative to one another. Whereas such claims, particularly when attached to commercial interests, emphasize distinctions, the fundamentals of virtually all eating patterns associated with meaningful evidence of health benefit overlap substantially. There have been no rigorous, long-term studies comparing contenders for best diet laurels using methodology that precludes bias and confounding, and for many reasons such studies are unlikely. In the absence of such direct comparisons, claims for the established superiority of any one specific diet over others are exaggerated. The weight of evidence strongly supports a theme of healthful eating while allowing for variations on that theme. A diet of minimally processed foods close to nature, predominantly plants, is decisively associated with health promotion and disease prevention and is consistent with the salient components of seemingly distinct dietary approaches.
I must interject here, with my giddy excitement, at the eloquent way these various “dietary rules” is summarized. Here it is, bolded by me:
Efforts to improve public health through diet are forestalled not for want of knowledge about the optimal feeding of Homo sapiens but for distractions associated with exaggerated claims, and our failure to convert what we reliably know into what we routinely do. Knowledge in this case is not, as of yet, power; would that it were so.
In other words most people’s innate ability to determine what foods work best for them is drowned by scientific rhetoric and a manipulation of facts to support profit through unsubstantiated claims.
In an article on the review in Atlantic, the author states the ultimate dangers of these dietary tennis matches and battlegrounds:
The ultimate point of this diet review, which is framed like a tournament, is that there is no winner. More than that, antagonistic talk in pursuit of marketing a certain diet, emphasizing mutual exclusivity—similar to arguments against bipartisan political rhetoric—is damaging to the entire system and conversation. Exaggerated emphasis on a single nutrient or food is inadvisable. The result, Katz and Meller write, is a mire of perpetual confusion and doubt. Public health could benefit on a grand scale from a unified front in health media: Endorsement of the basic theme of what we do know to be healthful eating and candid acknowledgement of the many details we do not know.
“I think Bertrand Russell nailed it,” Katz told me, “when he said that the whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are so sure, and wise people always have doubts. Something like that.”
The Integrative Medicine Journal published it’s “Highlights From the Institute for Functional Medicine’s 2014 Annual Conference: Functional Perspectives on Food and Nutrition: The Ultimate Upstream Medicine,” which also brought attention this topic of contention and disagreement between some of the most brilliant minds in medicine. The introduction echoes an agreed theme to Katz and Meller’s article:
No one disagrees: Diet significantly affects health. And emerging research is clearly revealing that food is far more than calories delivered in the form of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Food is information with epigenetic effects that impact—for better or worse—the phenotype of not only the individual currently consuming it, but that of future generations of offspring.
Although all agree that a high-quality diet is essential for health, disagreement abounds regarding what type of diet is best. Proponents of each of the leading dietary approaches—the Mediterranean diet, Paleo diet, and vegetarian/vegan diet—can all cite abundant (and carefully selected) research support of their chosen diet’s health benefits. But as epigenetics firmly ushers us into the era of personalized medicine, it is becoming increasingly obvious that no single dietary approach is optimal for all.
The Bottom Line
Diet definitely impacts health, but no one can agree on what is healthy! In fact, there’s even evidence that eating more “healthy” vegetables could be hazardous to your health due to the “toxic” lectins they contain.
So, what should we put on our plates?
Nobody knows for sure.
Furthermore, our society’s obsession with thinness and placing a war on obesity is overemphasizing the role of food in our lives. Rather than promoting all aspects of health, it is causing preoccupation with finding this evasive “perfect diet” that guarantees our ultimate satisfactions.
No wonder so many suffer from disordered eating! If you want to get some eye-opening statistics on how this obsession of “eating right” is permeating to our youngsters. Skim down to the stats on disordered eating, such as “51% of girls 9 and 10 years old feel better about themselves when they are dieting (11).”
The Areas of Argument
Probably, the addition of animal foods to the diet is one of the most argued aspect of dietary rules. (1,2) Many studies point to longevity and decreased health risk by consuming plant-based diets (3,4,5), while others point to nutrient deficiencies and consequential individual detriment (6,7,8), including diabetes and weight gain. (9)
In a previous blog on the low-fat, high-fat debate I discussed the reason for such confusion. Any side of nutrition can sway the argument in their favor, find fault with “opposing theories,” and base association studies as causation.
PURELY a CASE of Association
Just recently, an association study (The PURE study) of 135,000 people worldwide from 18 countries revealed that high fat intake, including saturated fat was linked to a reduced risk of mortality.
- The researchers did not discriminate between processed and unprocessed carbohydrates.
- Increasing consumption of fruit, vegetables, and legumes was found to decrease risk of mortality; however, the maximum benefit was seen at three to four servings a day, not with more! Raw, rather than cooked veggies and fruits provided the highest benefit.
- Cardiovascular-disease events weren’t linked to either dietary fat or carbohydrates.
Many blogs got released that day claiming that fat had been vindicated and that carbs were evil.
But, that’s not what the could be extrapolated from this type of association.
In fact, in a very rare study, researchers did the unthinkable, the unattainable, the unbelievable…. they studied a healthy population who ate healthy food- vegans, vegetarians, and omnivores. What did they find…the healthy eaters lived the longest, regardless of dietary doctrine! What!?
What will the Paleo and some Keto proponents seem to “miss” or “not want to see” with the study conclusions?
Fruit was the factor linked to longevity!
To some vegans, no surprise there…they love bananas. To others, fruit is a fructose, weight-gaining, sugar-loaded, treat. Some doctors, including myself until recently, even advise everyone to combine any fruit with nuts, seeds, or fat, at risk or one’s delicate insulin or blood sugar dipping too low by this diabolical carb-heavy, insulin-pumping devil.
Of course, we could point to limitations in this study as well….
Food as medicine, food as poison, or “Just Eat Real Food (JERF)”?
How can we?
We still don’t know if we can eat a banana in peace.
Looking At the Individual
Interestingly another new study, with nowhere near the amount of press, explored diet for the individual based on differing needs, exposures, and metabolic health states.
Vital Nutrients’ blog stated:
These authors cite strong evidence that low-carb, high-fat diets put people in a mildly “ketonic” state that promotes fat-burning and may bring serious brain-protection and anti-cancer benefits.
We think they present persuasive cases that high-fat/low-carb diets offer the best choice — at least for people with healthy weights and blood sugar levels.
However, that describes a shrinking portion of the population, because rates of excess weight, obesity, prediabetes, diabetes rose sharply over the past few decades, and continue to climb (see “Positive implications for diabetes prevention”, below).
We all want simple solutions like “eat a low-carb, high-fat diet”, but nature — including human nature — doesn’t always cooperate.
The title is tricky in that it appears focused on weight loss, this has its pitfalls. The focus on using food as medicine based on different metabolic needs with different outcomes; however, is priceless.
A Sane Voice Sounding in the Dietary Screams of Shame
Medscape interviewed the senior author of the PURE study, and here’s what he had to say:
Senior author of the PURE study, Dr Salim Yusuf (McMaster University, Hamilton, ON), commented to theheart.org / Medscape Cardiology: “My hope is that our results will stop the whole population from feeling guilty if they eat fat in moderation. While very high fat intake—when it accounts for 40% or more of your dietary intake—may be bad, the average fat intake is about 30% and that’s okay. We’re all afraid of saturated fat, but actually we shouldn’t be. Saturated fat in moderation actually appears good for you.
“Also, you don’t need to stress out trying to eat five or more portions of fruit and vegetables, when three or four will probably have the same benefits. We’ve had enough evangelism in dietary guidelines. We need more moderation.”
He added: “My advice to the general population to lead a healthy lifestyle is don’t smoke and take exercise—those two things are very clearly beneficial. And then I would say maintain a reasonable weight. You don’t want to be too overweight but you also don’t want to be too skinny. Eat a balanced diet—a bit of meat, fish, several portions of fruit and vegetables, but you don’t have to be vegan or eat an excessive amount of plants to be healthy.
I like that.
May I add that if you are a vegan, Paleo-follower, and excessive plant eater and that works for you…hey, go for it, continue, and thrive!
Don’t let others tell you different.
If none of the extremes work for you, maybe a little moderation is in order or a little consideration of what may be best for you, versus following the latest trend.
Let Your Body Be Your Guide
Inevitably, out of an attempt to guide health by “eliminating the harm” through removal of the next demonized food, a new dietary deficiency and disease trajectory will ensue. And boy, have they.
People are now sicker, more weight-obsessed, and more nutrient deprived, yet more obsessed with what they put in their mouth.
Until we can jump out of this cycle of generalizing diets, we will be perpetuating the cycle of a very sick, confused, and unhealthy population.
I’ll continue to write more on this topic in the future and bring you information that I think you might find helpful in deciding what’s best for you.
The Challenge Continues
Regardless of what kinds of food you eat, many feel it’s important to support companies that value their employees, the earth, and the holistic health of the population. Click here to read my blog on the next “challenge” to purchase these type of products and dietary supplements. On my new blog on Saratoga.com, I explain more about why I am so passionate about this topic, including a personal story.
Thanks for the images pixabay!
Disclaimer: This information is applicable ONLY for therapeutic quality essential oils. This information DOES NOT apply to essential oils that have not been tested for purity and standardized constituents. There is no quality control in the United States, and oils labeled as “100% pure” need only to contain 5% of the actual oil. The rest of the bottle can be filled with fillers and sometimes toxic ingredients that can irritate the skin. The studies are not based solely on a specific brand of an essential oil, unless stated. Please read the full study for more information.
This material is for information purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, or prescribe for any illness. You should check with your doctor regarding implementing any new strategies into your wellness regime. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. (Affiliation link.)