Navigating the Diet Industry: There are only 3 Diets

This is the final post in a three-post series on understanding the diet industry. The first post can be found here, and the second here.
I strongly suggest you read those first, as it will better equip you to understand the information below.

What is a “Diet”?

Until 45 years ago, a diet was, “the kinds of food that a person, animal, or community habitually eats”. With the publishing of Dr Atkins Diet Revolution in 1972, a diet became, “restrict oneself to small amounts or special kinds of food in order to lose weight”. The Atkins diet came at a time when the dangers of excess body fat were becoming more mainstream, and rightly so. However, it sparked the creation of a whole diet industry which has released products, books, and special foods backed by celebrity endorsements, to a €200 billion industry worldwide. The Diet Industry is in decline, as consumers grow skeptical of the constant flow of diets and related products, which do little to curb obesity or health problems. As a result, the diet industry has evolved to the “Health, Wellness and Lifestyle” industry in recent years.

Unfortunately, the sole obsession to lose weight is now viewed as the sole marker of health. This has spawned many methods of weight loss, but most involve the sacrifice of health in the process. The Atkins diet stumbled upon the dietary principle that, coupled with the obsession to quickly lose body-weight, underpins the entire diet industry: Eliminate a macro nutrient from a person’s diet, and generally speaking, they will lose weight in the short term. Unfortunately, this weight tends to be water weight, as healthy fat loss is a much slower process. This practice also tends to result in weight gain in the long term, as all 3 macro nutrients are equally important to human health. There are only 3 macro nutrients, and therefore only 3 nutrients to eliminate. Given the inaccurate widespread belief on protein as “the most important nutrient”, it is mainly carbohydrates which get cut in modern day re-branding of the same 3 diets (Animal products package protein & fat together, and therefore make it nearly impossible to eliminate one of these on a non-vegan or plant-based diet). These 3 diets are outlined below, with some examples of the brand names they appear under which you may have encountered:

High Protein Diet

  • Based On Animal Products
  • Eliminate Carbohydrates
  • Brand Names: Paleo, Bodybuilder, South Beach

High Fat Diet

  • Based On Animal Products
  • Eliminate Carbohydrates
  • Brand Names: Atkins, Ketogenic

High Carbohydrate Diet

  • Based On Plants
  • Minimizes Fat and Protein
  • Brand Names: Never been a popular version

High Carbohydrate for Human Health

The human species emerged in a tropical region of Africa, around 100,000-200,000 years ago. We as a species are Homo-sapiens. Our primate ancestors were Homo-erectus, now extinct, who lived & evolved in the same tropical African region. The diet of our species and our ancestors was that of fruits and vegetables. Thus, we consumed large amounts of carbohydrates, small amounts of both fat and protein. Our digestive systems have been crafted by millions of years of evolution to extract as much nutrition as possible from carbohydrate or plant sources. Even today, the World Health Organisation, the largest non-commercial health promoting entity in existence, advocates a diet of 55%-75% carbohydrates, with the remainder equal parts fat and protein. Our physiology is simply not equipped to extract nutrients on a high protein / fat based diet: We are heavily dependent on fiber and phyto-nutrients for optimal physiological function and health. Both of these nutrient classes are only found in plants. Other species are highly evolved to survive and thrive on a carnivorous or omnivorous diet; we did not.

It should be noted that Carbohydrate is a suitcase term, and you should not simply stuff yourself with bread, pasta, and white rice, and expect to be both skinny and healthy. These are refined carbohydrates. They are heavily processed, and thus have lost their fiber, vitamin, and phyto-nutrient content all of which are essential to human health. Fresh, whole, ripe, organic, seasonal fruits and vegetables are the gold standard carbohydrate source on which to base your diet around. Separate posts on Carbohydrates, Protein, and Fat are coming in the next week which increase your understanding of the macro-nutrients and help to structure your diet and make the correct, healthy carbohydrate choices.

Key Take Away

There are 3 dietary frameworks to follow: High Protein, High Fat, or High Carbohydrate. The human species evolved in an environment where carbohydrates were plentiful; fat and protein was present but in smaller quantities than what we consume today. Our physiology was crafted by evolution over millions of years to maximise nutrient intake on a high carbohydrate, plant-based diet, and even The World Health Organisation recommends this framework as optimal. High protein and high fat diets are built around animal product consumption, which packages both together. Combined with elimination or severe reduction of carbohydrates, these dietary frameworks cause serious health risks for Cardiovascular DiseaseAlzheimer’sDiabetes, and in general shorter lifespans. Do not seek to lose weight, seek to gain health; and you will lose body fat in the process.