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.

Comments

comments

Comments

  1. Gary Gill

    Been on a ketogenic diet for a couple of years now and haven’t been sick once while all my life, I’m 67 now, I’ve been sick with bronchitis, flu and pneumonia 6-12 times a year. My allergies are gone and so are most of my food cravings. What I thought was hunger was actually a craving for carbs. When I ran on carbs, my body needed a resupply every few hours. When I run on fat, I have food with me all the time. My body didn’t want to burn fat as long as it could get carbs. It would store excess carbs as fat but not want to draw on my fat when it needed more fuel. Instead it would demand, aka crave, more carbs. Now I can go as long as I want without eating without distress or loss of energy. It’s an amazing diet and well worth any adjustment discomfort that transitioning entails. I did have one big advantage over most people though. I started growing micro greens about the same time as I started the keto diet. Actually when I started using micro greens is when I went into ketosis without knowing what it was or what was happening. The micro greens made it really easy and actually deeply rewarding to make the transition. So I drink micro green drinks all day and only eat solid food at night now. I have a great life.

  2. 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.

  3. Bernard Littlejohn

    I am an 89 year old limey, born in London and brought up on the WWII diet. I have lived in Canada since 1953. This latest Mercola diet you speak of in which I have never worried much about natural animal fat has worked for me I think. And so far am not appearing to need joint replacements of any kind. I do get sciatica down both legs from L5. I have tended to eat less meat protein, but always have eggs, beans, and a small amount of fruit and juice. I supplement with COQ10, Vit E, D, CalMag etc. This is for your info, not asking for advice.
    I am a a believer in “What the bleep” and the law of intention.

  4. Science isn’t always common sense or obvious. The idea that animal fat is bad for you came from fiddling the figures blatantly. Could the sugar industry, or the vegetable oil and margarine industry have paid for them to be fiddled? There must have been some motivation, and if animal fat doesn’t make food palatable, people are likely to turn to vegetable fats or sugar. Again, the lectins in whole grains makes them much more likely to cause ill health than refined grains. Sometimes foods need to be processed. I agree with you about avoiding sugar, but the sugar in milk is even worse. What about a positive piece of advice, like eating lots of vegetables?

  5. Lorraine Lister

    There is no perfect diet because everyone is different. The removal of all processed foods is obviously the first logical step but then it depends upon the genetic makeup of the individual. Some thrive on dairy whilst others are lactose intolerant. The Weston Price Foundation advocates animal protein and fermented foods again, some thrive on this and others not. A vegetarian diet suits some but not others. The point is that aside from a diet devoid of processed foods and full of wholefoods (including plenty of fresh vegetables and a reasonable amount of fruit) each person must find out what foods suit them and what foods don’t, preferably with the help of a natural health practitioner to guide them. Mercola is not a great example as he frequently changes his views and also promotes his own supplements as the only ones to buy.

  6. Gigi Christensen

    I am a holistic nutritionist and am frustrated with all the diet crazes (including this one). Everyone has their angle on this like the Medical Medium who recommends the polar opposite of this diet. Getting in touch with our own bodies and needs is my goal. We are all different and there is not a one size fits all with food.

  7. Gabriel Mills

    Thanks for this article on a subject rife with disagreement and confusion, and for indicating where Dr Mercola stands on diet, in his new book. However, I am a bit confused by your statement that (a lot of evidence shows that) “a high-fat low-carb diet mitigates against all the processes that lead to inflammation…”.

    Do you mean that a high-fat low-carb diet mitigates these processes — so they still continue, but are offset by other processes initiated by the diet; or that this diet militates against these processes: eg turning them off?

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