This is something that’s often asked by concerned and caring loved ones…
“Is it safe?”
“Are you getting the nutrients you need on this diet?”
“How can you cut out a whole food group, effectively?!”
There is a lot to cover here, so we’ll try and take it step by step.
Let’s start with the easy bits…
Cutting out processed food, refined sugar and seed oils will probably be the healthiest thing you ever do
When it comes to the science, almost no one can argue against that.
No doctor, nutritionist or researcher believes that processed food or refined sugar is good for you. Seed oils are also fast becoming unpopular in scientific journals.
While humans are able to consume sugars (there’s reason why we are so addicted to it!) we’re not evolved to consume it in such vast an concentrated amounts. It simply wasn’t widely available in the environments we evolved in over millions of years.
Healthy consumption is in moderation usually via fruit, honey or other natural products containing sugars.
Refined sugar is not natural.
While it may in part come from a natural source (such as sugar cane) it’s been heavily processed. That’s what makes it so damaging.
We humans are now ingesting it in quantities and concentrations are bodies can’t handle and it’s killing us (and not slowly).
In 1980, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that around 108 million people had diabetes. By 2014, this number had risen to 422 million.
The International Diabetes Federation (IDF) projects that by 2045, over 700 million people would be living with diabetes if current trends continued.
There are numerous studies which link increased sugar consumption (due to increased sugar prevalence in soft drinks, snacks and processed) is causing this health criss.
For example, a systematic review and meta-analysis published in JAMA Internal Medicine in 2014 found that “Habitual consumption of sugar sweetened beverages was associated with a greater incidence of type 2 diabetes.
Think of the coca leaf which has been used for thousands of years, for medicinal uses, in the Andes.
It’s widely celebrated for a number of health benefits.
But process the coca leaf, refine it and mix it with a strong alkaline you get cocaine.
It might come from nature but in processed, concentrated powder form ingested up the nose it no longer resembles something that your body can safely tolerate.
All starches are carbs, but not all carbs are starches
One of the traps most people fall into when they first hear of this diet is that it’s a no carb diet.
Everyone’s heard of the Atkins Diet and how cutting out carbs can help you lose weight so they automatically connect the two.
(What normally follows is a raised eyebrow and a reminder that Dr Atkins diet of a heart attack).
But here’s the thing.
You can also find carbs in common ingredients like honey, berries, dark chocolate, almonds, mushrooms and more.
For many of these you’re going to want to consume in moderation (because ingredients like honey and fruits are high in sugar) but it’s worth bearing in mind that you can find food groups unexpected places.
That leads us onto the next point: food groups.
We’ve been told for a number of years now that there are 5 main food groups and that we need to consume a special (seemingly ever changing) amount of each every day.
The groups are:
Fruit and vegetables
Protein (such as beans, pulses, meat, fish and eggs)
Carbs and starch (such potatoes, bread, rice, pasta and more)
Dairy (and some alternatives such as soya)
Oils and fats (such as olive oil)
If you’re interested you can see the NHS’s guide on these food groups here.
Food group rules have only been around a few decades and are subject to frequent contradictions
Where did these rules come from?
In the United States, the idea of dividing foods into distinct groups dates back to the early 20th century however, the form we’re more familiar with comes from the Food Guide Pyramid (1992). In the UK, the Eatwell Guide was introduced in 1994.
In that time there have been some staggering contradictions regarding what is considered healthy and harmful in each food group.
In the latter half of the 20th century, dietary fats were the subject of a global witch hunt, and low-fat diets were are the rage.
However, recent research shows that not all fats are harmful. In fact healthy fats, such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, are essential for overall health.
For a long time carbohydrates, particularly complex carbohydrates, were promoted as the foundation of a healthy diet.
However, connections are now being made between carbohydrate consumption and the rise in obesity and diabetes. So we’re now seeing a shift towards limiting the consumption of refined carbohydrates in healthy diets.
But that’s not to skirt over an important issue:
It is important – essential – to maintain a diet that gives you the nutrients you need
Always talk to a medical professional if you are making drastic changes to your diet.
However, it’s worth looking at the wider picture when it comes to modern food consumption.
My own personal experience having changed my diet (and I wasn’t particularly unhealthy before) is that:
– My cholesterol is now in the super healthy range
– I never put on excess weight (and have a more athletic build)
– My heart rate is lower (it was previously on the high side)
– My ESR and CRP levels (blood inflammatory markers) are way down, showing my body is no longer in a constant fight
– I no longer have chronic pain (and haven’t take a single anti-inflammatory in over 2 years, at the time of writing)
– My mobility and range has improved dramatically
And it doesn’t stop there..
– I have way more energy
– I sleep better at night
– I have much better focus and my memory has improved (less brain fog)
– My moods are better (lack of pain will do that!)
So on the one side there is a ton of measurable data which shows that my key, biological markers are healthier than they have been in years.
On the other side is this dogmatic, often contradictory, assertion that all us we need to have X, Y and Z in our diet in certain uniform proportions no matter what – despite the fact we all have slightly different genetic makeups, microbiomes and environmental factors at play.