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Food Wars

At a recent dinner the debate got heated over the various diets whirling out there now. One of my friends, a devout Paleo, said “I would bet on the Paleos in a fight. Vegans are wimps.” Is this the new Bloods versus Crips, I thought? Are feuding eating philosophies the new gang wars? People are getting so heated over which nutritional regimen they’ve chosen to follow that they will take it to the mat. The competition is the movement of the moment and people are taking sides.

So, which diet is best? Let’s start by looking at a few of the most popular current eating philosophies.

Otherwise known as the Caveman Diet. Paleo dieters eat no grains, beans, soy, vegetable oil or dairy. The main foods are meat, vegetables and healthy fats. The idea is that our bodies have been programmed for millions of years to eat like this. It’s only in humankinds’ (relatively) recent history that grains have been introduced, so our bodies don’t process them well.

This movement has been gaining a lot of ground in recent years, largely among people who are concerned about the environment and animal welfare. Vegans eat nothing that comes from or is produced by an animal. No meat, eggs, dairy, or honey. The main foods are beans, nuts, grains, fruits and vegetables. The idea is that our bodies don’t need animal protein to survive and that the environment is being damaged by the large numbers of cattle and poultry farms.

This is really the diet of the moment. Even Weight Watchers is blaming it for their poor sales. A proper Ketogenic diet is one that is high in fat, moderate protein and low in carbs. This diet is based on the fact that our body uses glucose as its preferred fuel source. The Ketogenic macronutrient ratio forces your body to convert fat into fuel which makes your body use up stored glucose and then begins to burn fatty acids, called ketones, as an alternate fuel source. When this happens, your body is considered to be in ketosis. A word of caution with this diet: This kind of metabolic shift should be done under a nutritionist’s or a doctor’s supervision. It is very easy to become hyper acidic and get into a state of ketoacidosis. It is my observation that many people are doing this diet part way. They are eating high levels of fat, high levels of protein and still providing enough ready carbs for glucose. This can be dangerous and create the opposite effect of what they were aspiring to.

Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent fasting is not a diet as much as it is an eating style. Waiting anywhere from 12-48 hours (sometimes even more!) between meals with the purpose of getting your body into a fasting state. This is favorable because when the body is fasting it uses up stored glucose. Additionally, being in a fasting state can initiate molecular changes in the body that can improve cellular repair and gene expression.

Plant Paradox Diet
Promoted by Dr. Steven Gundry, the Plant Paradox says that lectins in certain foods create inflammation which promotes pain and weight gain. The bad guys here are lectins which are found in beans, grains, and nightshade vegetables. According to his research lectins are inflammatory and cause damage to the gut which can lead to systemic inflammation.

The funny thing is that each of these diets has a large group of followers who swear by it, saying that they have never felt better. Proponents of each claim to have scientific proof that their diet is ideal, and yet many of the diets directly contradict each other. High fat, versus low fat. Meat versus no meat or low meat. Consistent food consumption versus restricted food consumption. It’s very confusing. You can understand why the debates get so heated.

At the end of the day, who is right? The answer is no one – and everyone. The point we all can agree on is that a diet rich in vegetables and fruits and low in processed foods is good for everyone. It all comes down to individual choices. Grains might work for one person while some animal protein might work for someone else. Tomatoes might make one person feel achy while they are fine for someone else. There is no universal ‘right’ when it comes to food. Michael Pollen says it best “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.”

Let’s calm the wars and throw out the titles. Put down your weapons and pick up your forks. Let us all – Paleo, Vegan, Keto, and Plant Paradoxers – sit down to feast, in peace and good health – except for the Intermittent Fasters who can’t eat until tomorrow.

Tapp Francke Ingolia holds a Master’s Degree in Nutrition and Integrative Health. She founded STANDwellness in Water Mill 9 years ago as a way to help people optimize their health.