Back to the future

To eat or not to eat—that is the question. Or, to put it another way, what is the perfect diet for health, perfect weight and longevity?

In the close to three decades since Bryan and I have been publishing WDDTY, we’ve seen (and, in many cases, seen off) the Cambridge Diet (a very low-calorie diet), the F-Plan Diet (F is for fibre), the Atkins Diet (one of the first low-carb diets), the Hip and Thigh Diet (more very low-cal), the Zone and Montignac (two variations on a low-carb theme), the 5:2 Diet (intermittent fasting, or eating less food two days a week) and now the Paleo Diet (a grain-free, dairy-free, refined sugar- and carb-free diet of ‘traditional’ whole foods our ancestors presumably would have eaten).

Around in circles

Over the years, nutritionists have done a volte-face numerous times, first talking up the wonders of low-fat and complex carbs, then ditching that when new evidence emerged showing that high-fat and protein-based diets led to greater weight loss. They’ve swung from the importance of constant grazing and snacking to recommending that we leave at least five hours between meals.

Dr Robert Atkins, the first to recognise that a diet high in carbs led to weight gain, sparked off a diet revolution in the 1970s with his revolutionary Atkins Diet. However, at the time, Atkins didn’t fuss overly much about the quality of food, allowing highly processed oils, and poor-quality meat and seafood. Atkins-labelled highly processed ‘diet bars’ and shakes containing artificial sweeteners and other fake foods were another feature of his diet.

Atkins also focused so much on eating high-protein, low-carb that Americans trying to shed the pounds looked upon it as a license to tuck into a plateful of bacon, butter and steak, but pitifully little veg.

A year after the turn of the new millennium, the Paleo, or Stone Age, diet entered the public’s imagination, and many nutritionists and functional medicine practitioners have extolled its virtues for helping ill people regain their health.


A perfect diet

Like WDDTY, American nutrition pioneer Dr Joseph Mercola is always on the lookout for the perfect diet. Now age 62, during his many decades as a physician, he has been continuously refining what exactly constitutes the healthiest diet. And rather than looking for a weight-loss aid, he’s looking for a diet for a long and healthy life.

After a good deal of research for his latest book—Fat for Fuel (Hay House, May 2017)—Mercola has come up with what he terms Mitochondrial Metabolic Therapy, or MMT, which is essentially a Paleo diet, but with a number of important refinements.

One of his important concerns is that the current Paleo diet may be placing too much emphasis on protein—up to 38 percent of the diet—and allowing too many natural sugars in the form of sweet potato and fruit.

Mercola’s research suggests that such an amount of protein may be too much for optimal health and that too much natural sugar could inhibit the real point of his MMT diet—burning fuel for fat.

For this reason, the MMT diet limits protein even more and adds more fat, which his evidence suggests is the optimal balance to convert the body from a sugar-burning machine to a fat-burning one.


Rebooting cells

Dr. Mercola has amassed an impressive amount of evidence showing that burning fat as fuel reconstitutes the body’s mitochondria—the ‘energy packs’ of cells—and creates far fewer free radicals. He also claims that it provides far less sugar to feed cancer cells, and inhibits certain metabolic pathways that are usually overactive in many degenerative conditions.

Mercola makes big claims for this diet—as a preventative against cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s and more—but one fascinating aspect of the diet is its ability to turn off pain. A decent amount of evidence shows that a high-fat, low-carb diet mitigates against all the processes that lead to inflammation and, in turn, result in migraines, arthritis and other states of muscle or joint pain.

This is not a diet for the faint-hearted. To carry it out properly, you need to monitor your protein and fat intakes, and Dr Mercola even recommends monitoring blood glucose levels to ensure they are low enough for you to make the conversion from sugar-burning to fat-burning.

But as our ancestors couldn’t always bring home the Stone Age equivalent of a steak for every meal, this diet of the future may more closely resemble the one from our past.


  1. Dorothy

    I was recently reading a book by a Canadian man who had been living in a rural area of Thailand where the bulk of the people’s diet was plant, much of it wild and some of it homegrown, with leaves from various trees being daily fare. They also ate whatever they could catch for the day, including scorpions, red ants, frogs and fish. There was a hot pepper paste made daily with the braised or roasted critters added to it, which was served with every meal. He said it was the healthiest diet he knew of. I am not advocating this as a feasible diet for most of the world, but the point is that there is no one diet that will work for everyone. Personally I’m vegan-oriented, but not strict, and at 67 I’m in much better health than many people my age who have diabetes, are overweight and taking an array of presription drugs every day for various ailments. Cutting down on the obvious culprit foods like animal fats and refined flour and sugar, and getting a variety of produce every day combined with reasonable exercise and the occasional fast sounds like a Common Sense Diet that can be adapted by most people.

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