Some of the books currently available on the subject of dieting are very good indeed. Books written by paleo dieters and also by committed vegans deserve praise, in my opinion. Of course, if books on low carb and on low fat dieting are both of a high standard, reading them could be confusing for someone who just wants to be healthy and a little lighter.
So, to start with, here is some simple guidance. The right diet for you is
- One you can stick with
- Promotes big, easy poos
Not so difficult after all, is it! Recent research from Belgium, which was corroborated by Dutch scientists, found that big, easy poos are a characteristic of a rich and varied community of gut microorganisms. You probably want a healthy community of gut bugs if even half of the claims currently being made on their behalf is true.
My own preference is for a whole food diet similar to the Mediterranean diet recommended by the NHS. However, I have enjoyed reading both of these.
- The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living by Jeff Volek and Stephen Phinney
- How Not to Die by Michael Greger
They come from opposing viewpoints and both manage swipes at the other while promoting their own preferred diet.
As a neutral, I can’t help noticing that the vegans use the latest research when explaining the benefits of a plant-based diet but then use older research when discussing the opposition. That older research lumps grass-fed meat and beef broth enthusiasts in with the pie and chips brigade, which has the effect of making saturated fats look bad.
But the paleo and primal enthusiasts are equally guilty. They, too, use the latest findings for justifying their own choices but use ancient research which groups cake, biscuit and fizzy drink guzzling in with the kind of diet for athletes described in Matt Fitzgerald’s book.
Bang their heads together and you might get some sense out of them. Crucially, both camps are down on refined foods, which is why both kinds of diet, vegan and paleo, can work for the people who adopt them.
Despite all of the claims of bad advice from the medical community, damning saturated fats, the average person has not cut back on fats. Modern diets are high energy diets, rich in both fats and carbs. If we worked the way Superhod used to work or if we tried to backpack over all of the Munros, we could get away with eating a high energy diet, but we don’t and that is why so many of us now have Type 2 diabetes.
For sitting, whether in a car, at a desk or in front of the TV, we need a low energy diet which fills us up and that is where whole foods come in. Sugars, starches and fats are OK when encased in cellulose cell walls. We can’t digest the cellulose but our gut bugs can. They love the stuff and, at least until they digest it, the cellulose makes us feel full.
There is no end to the cake or pie, both sweet and savoury, that I can eat but apples and baked potatoes soon fill me up. Meaty diets also tend to promote satiety but the best diet ever measured for quelling hunger pangs was a super high fibre diet, which involved eating 3kg of vegetables, berries and nuts a day. Five hundred grams of cabbage as part of lunch is a little more than I could manage.
One other benefit of eating dietary fibre lies in the slowing down of absorption of glucose into the blood. If glucose levels stay within homeostatic limits, no new insulin needs producing. As insulin promotes weight gain, keeping its level constant is good for those of us who are already big enough.
Our taste buds can soon get used to a diet which contains very little refined sugar. When I was 14, nearly half a century ago, my mother announced that we were all giving up sugar in our tea. Getting used to tea without sugar took roughly ten days. Now, I cannot stand tea with sugar in it.
Life without sweets or cakes is also achievable and results in the discovery of sweetness in all sorts of natural foods, for example, ordinary potatoes. Taste buds recalibrate fairly quickly, although discipline is needed during the transition.
If you can make that breakthrough, whichever diet you opt for will work. Saturated fats may not be the danger still claimed by some and gluten definitely isn’t for the vast majority of the population but John Yudkin was right. Refined sugar is pure, white and deadly. Avoid!