|There is a dizzying array of titles on the subject of diet & nutrition.
I'm of the opinion that ad hominem attacks aren't the way to go. I don't want to single out a single diet guru and vilify him or her. But, I admit to getting VERY frustrated with those who make big bucks off of selling diet plans that make people sick or even shorten their lives.
I believe a mostly-Vegan, whole foods diet is best for health. Why? There's a long human history of it working well for people. There's a huge amount of modern scientific evidence for it (see links at the bottom of this post). It is consistent with the historical teachings of the Christian Church on the Spiritual role of food - that we should avoid excessive consumption of rich food, and that we should live simply & frugally most of the time. It's something that everyone can do without a lot of extra work or special treatment. I can eat a substantially vegan diet almost anywhere, anytime without special work (I do not worry about trace ingredients- I look at the big picture). And, it works well for me!
|How do you know which diets are good?
Here are a list of common diet guru red flags I have observed. When I see one of these - or several of them, I know I'm being "sold a bill of goods."
1. You catch them in ONE lie or they misrepresent studies done by others. My dear Grandmother, of Blessed Memory taught me this one. "If you catch someone lying once, don't trust them in the future." Simple. But how often I've seen a diet guru lie - by misrepresenting someone else's work to pretend it supports their own work, for example. And their readers think, "Well, it was just one - I'm sure the rest of his or her advice is fine!" If they tell you about the work of another author, and the results of studies done by others, do a little research to make sure that's what the other person actually said before accepting their arguments hook, line & sinker. One tremendously popular diet & health guru claims to be a disciple of the work of a certain researcher & author of previous times. But when you read the guru's book, and then read the book of the researcher it purports to follow, you find that the researcher's work is often misrepresented. In fact, the researcher endorsed a vegetarian diet, while the guru presents his life's work as saying the exact opposite. All this while using the original researcher's name to promote the guru's work.
2. Their comments are over-the-top. If they promise you'll lose 10 pounds per week, or that this diet fixes every health problem ever known to man, or you can just take a magic pill - be suspicious. But, more than that, if they say (as I've seen) something like, "You're better off not to eat at all than to eat [this food]!" or "Eating [this good food] is worse than eating a [candy bar/bacon cheeseburger]." Be very suspicious. This is "sales puffery" and not very honest (see #1.)
3. They endorse greed & gluttony, and vilify simple food. This one goes back to the Garden of Eden. Overindulgence, gluttony, greed and laziness have never been the key to good health - Spiritually or physically. If someone tells you that you should indulge in rich, heavy food constantly, and avoid simple, straight-from-the-earth whole foods, be suspicious.
4. Their advice hasn't worked for them. If they're selling weight loss, look at their picture and see if they appear to be normal weight. Make sure you check the internet for a recent picture - some gurus put publicity photos of themselves on their books that look so unlike them that their own mother wouldn't recognize them. If they're selling health, their own health records should be an open book. There's an online video that shows a bunch of popular gurus and what they really look like. It's a little too caustic for my tastes, but it does make a good point. (full disclosure: I'm the first to admit that I'm not as thin as I'd like to be on a vegan diet - but I'm wayyy thinner than I used to be. And, my cholesterol numbers are down, too : ) I also readily admit that I don't always stick to the plant based, whole foods model. As if the cookie recipes didn't give that away! And, I'm not making any money off this stuff, anyway.)
5. There's a huge money trail or they promote their own products - or affiliates - as the key to success . Or, you need to spend a lot of money. When you read their favorite studies, find out how those studies were funded (usually a quick internet search will tell you). If they're selling diet products, foods or supplements, that only they make or sell (or that are available from only one supplier), be suspicious. Especially if those products are much pricier than what you already spend.
6. They tell you "you're special." Or, "I'm special and you'll be special too if you follow me!" This is one of the ones I find most annoying. Whenever someone says "Everyone is different" or "You have to do this for your health because [your uniqueness]." What I hear is, "My program doesn't work for anyone else, but I want you to still believe it will work for YOU!" It's true that God made us each unique and we're each special, but the "you're special" sales pitch is too often an appeal to pride. Similarly, the pitch of "I have secrets the rest of the world doesn't know -and I'll share them with JUST you - so you'll be special!" is older than the Gnostic Heresy. It's true that everyone is special. But I wouldn't put sugar in my car's gas tank just because it's unique, and I also believe that (with the exception of rare illnesses like PKU) eating a certain diet isn't good for just me when it's not good for others.
7. Their advice is making people sick. I remember some years ago when a certain high protein diet was the rage, an acquaintance (who was ON that diet!) said, "I have a friend who lost 80 pounds on this diet! And a KIDNEY!"
8. Their advice has a short track record. Human history is about 6 or 7 thousand years old. If their diet has not been followed by anyone until the last 50 years, be suspicious.
9. Their food advice violates your values, or is only sustainable for a short period of time . If their goal seems to be making food a more important factor in your life than relationships with God or others, or frugality, or stewardship of your time, or other goals YOU think are important, be suspicious. Not only could this diet be hard to sustain for the long term, but you might also find that it takes you somewhere in life you didn't want to go.
10. Their scientific support is old and sparse or their research breaks with reputable scientific method. I know one trendy plan that has (as far as I can discover) TWO studies to support it. And, those two are old studies from roughly the 1950s, that were poorly designed and have not be replicated since then. I know of one wildly-popular current health & diet guru who admits that rather than conduct a scientifically designed study with a control group, that was peer-reviewed and published in a reputable journal, his information was gained through using his own patients as research subjects with no control, no peer review, and no publication - and unfavorable results were simply discarded from his data pool! One study that was widely reported a while back (besides being underwritten by a big industry) compared people who were literally starving with the subjects on their food. Gee, guess who had the better health data? Oh, then there are those diets that claim they have evolution on their side - the earliest humans ate the way they recommend - without providing a single scrap of evidence, or verifiability. Or, perhaps they cite the stomach contents of ONE mummified corpse to imply that the entire world ate a certain diet. (I recognize that many scientists believe in Evolutionary Theory and mention it as a support, but when it is their MAIN argument, and they provide no evidence for their assertions about various ancient diets, be suspicious) If nutritional advice is solid, there should be an abundance of scientific support, lots of duplication of studies (repeatability) with lots of new studies rolling off the press! Here is a site for a steady flow of good research on the vegan diet http://www.pcrm.org/health/medNews/
11. They continually cite themselves and their own supporters as "authority." I recently perused a popular book on diet & health. The end notes were ample, and took many pages at the back of the book. But, on closer examination, I discovered that the author had established a "foundation" that provided these studies. And the author's own followers were the authors of the huge majority of the studies in the end of the book. Those from outside sources were misrepresented as being supportive of the author's arguments when they were not (see #1).
12. They ignore the elephant in the room. People are constantly trying to find some obscure ingredient that has the "secret" to long life and good health. But, it seems to me that the "big picture" is what makes or breaks our health. The constant (and not always easy) effort of a disciplined life will take us much further than finding an exotic supplement to add a trace and heretofore unknown "nutrient" to our diet.
13. Footnotes for minor points, while making their big points with no support at all. This is one I see A LOT in diet books. The author scrupulously footnotes all of the basic information that everyone knows and agrees with, then when they make their central points - those points that break with the scientific majority - there's no support at all. I especially see this with evolution-based arguments ("Cavemen ate this way!" - Interestingly, the various evolution-based diets contradict EACH OTHER!), and "traditional" ("Primitive people all ate this. . . and NEVER got sick!" ) arguments (which also contradict each other).
14. Me, myself & I - they're the only one with their opinion. If you're reading about a diet or health program that is associated largely or exclusively with a single author & researcher, that should send up a huge red flag! If you tell friends "I'm eating this way" and they ALL reply "I love that author! Her book is great!" - well, that tells you you're following a lone wolf. If the guru claims, "I'm all right, and it's the world that's all wrong!" be suspicious. (See #6)
15. They appeal to Rebellion. "You don't have to listen to the diet dictocrats!" "You don't have to deprive yourself!" or similar appeals to rebellion are an appeal to unhealthy emotions like rebelliousness and anger, not on science & health. And, they're more often a bid for the writer to have power over you rather than a bid for your good health. (If you're a Christian, the Bible teaches that rebellion is a sin 1 Samuel 15:23 - think of that when you see someone appealing to your rebellious tendencies)
15. They overemphasize weight loss, and under-emphasize health. As my dear Mom used to say, "That diet will make the work of your pall-bearers a lot easier - they won't have to lift so much!" Weight loss is worse than useless if you lose your health along with the pounds!
Finally, if you're checking out a new diet, look at the one, two and three "star" ratings on the various sites that offer reviews (such as Amazon). Read what the raters have to say, and see if there are any red flags being discussed. EVERY book will have some bad reviews- and often lots of them - but if you read carefully, you can see when a reviewer has spotted red flags for you & points them out. It can save a lot of time. And it can save your health!
Here's a list of JUST A FEW of the respected researchers supporting a vegan or nearly vegan diet. It's especially interesting that most of these experts came to the same conclusion independent of each other - and many were strong supporters of meat & dairy consumption when they started out:
Dean Ornish, M.D.
Caldwell Esselstyn, M.D.
T. Colin Campbell, PhD
John McDougall, M.D.
Neal Barnard, M.D.
Here are some materials I feel are Red-Flag Free : )
WebsitesBrief answers to common questions about protein, calcium, etc.
Health issues & Nutrition site - Dr. T. Colin Campbell
Health Issues & Nutrition Site - Dr. John McDougall
Article on Getting enough Protein
Books about Benefits of VeganismThe China Study: My Favorite book on the topic that I wish EVERYONE would read
Reversing Diabetes - book by Dr. Neal Barnard
Reversing Heart Disease - book by Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn
Overcoming addictive eating - book by Dr. Neal Barnard
Movies & VideosFeature Documentary on Benefits of Plant-Based Diet - Forks Over Knives
Nuts & Diabetes, ten minute video
Olive Oil and the Mediterranean Diet, 10 minute video by Jeff Novick
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