Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Retrospective #39: Fad Diet or Diet Trend?

Edgy diet plans are often described as fads, and they usually are. The Stillman Diet, 50 years ago, was high protein, 8 glasses of water, and amphetamines (!), as I recall. I was on it, and I lost 65 pounds. After a while, fortunately, I tired of it and switched to ‘the grapefruit diet.’ That too was a fad diet, and today there are many such examples that do not deserve consideration or even mention here.
Recent diet trends are a lot healthier. They are rooted in “real food.” This began, I think, with the concept of organic foods. This trend evolved to include another dimension besides health: to try to do the “right thing,” take the high road, adopt a moral and ethical way of eating and living. To illustrate, responding on the Oprah program to a question about eliminating meat from the diet, Michael Pollan said, “That’s a personal choice. I could eat meat in …(a) very limited way, from farmers who were growing it in a way [grass fed and finished] that I could feel good about how the animal lived – and that we’re not taking that grain [corn] away from people who need that food.”
Michael Pollan publicized the grass-fed movement in his best-selling, compelling book, “The Omnivore’s Dilemma.”  It was followed by other derivative books by him and others urging that we eat “real food.” This was a back-to-the-future moment for me. It advocates that we eat only the “real food” that is found on the perimeter in the side or rear of the modern supermarket. The idea is to avoid processed and manufactured food sold in boxes and bags.
“Grass fed” is different from “grass fed – grass finished”. The latter means 100% grass fed. Grain fed for just a few weeks in the “finishing” period will change the critical Omega 6/Omega 3 ratio. Thus, “the devil is in the details.”  The best practice is to ask the grower, and that means buying meat from the grower. And grass finished is difficult in winter in northern climes, a New York grower told me. See eatwild.com for a list of grass-fed/finished producers.
Eggs are another matter. Eggs are inexpensive and a complete source of protein and fat. I eat a lot of eggs, but I see them often advertised as laid by hens fed a vegetarian diet. Chickens are omnivores, so I want hens that eat insects naturally, in a pastured setting. “Free range” and “cage free” don’t do it for me. That means they spend their entire lives confined under a roof, eating a mostly corn meal diet, with soy. A hen that eats such a vegetarian diet is going to produce eggs that have too many Omega 6’s and not enough Omega 3’s. “Pastured eggs” are worth it to me.
I buy eggs at farmers’ markets where I know the purveyors. I’ve been to their farms, and I know their hens are pastured. That means they are moved weekly from pasture to pasture (with their portable coop) to places where cows, sheep or pigs have recently grazed. And I also know the eggs I buy are fresh (AA) – only a few days old.
The latest, big trend in dieting (in 2012) is Paleo, based on anthropologic and ethnographic antecedents. One of my favorite blogs, since lost to the ether, was Archevore, by Kurt Harris, MD. His basic premise: avoid the Neolithic Agents of Disease (NAD). NAD is his phrase to describe changes in the human diet that were introduced with the advent of the Neolithic Age 10,000 years ago. They are 1) wheat (and the closely related gluten grains barley and rye); 2) excess amounts of fructose; and 3) polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA’s) from processed vegetable oils.
The Paleo trend has generated considerable discussion online. Controversy centering on “safe starches” emerged at the 1st Ancestral Health Symposium in Los Angeles. This was a debate between the ‘establishment’ low-carb community, many of whom are Type 2 diabetics or Pre-diabetics, and the emergent Paleo crowd that tended to be younger, healthier and interested in a program that may prevent and even heal “middle age and chronic health problems through diet.”
In 2012 Paleo was newly popular as a modern diet trend and was still evolving (pardon the pun). It also had a broader potential application, as it is not intended solely for those who have a diagnosed metabolic disorder (e.g. Type 2 diabetes), or Insulin Resistance or symptoms of Metabolic Syndrome, evidenced by obesity. In that sense, it was a debate between the Prophylactic and the Therapeutic dieters: how to stay healthy vs. how to regain your health. For more on that, scroll down for Retrospectives #36 and #37. For “safe starches,” see the next post.

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