They all tell us to avoid the same stuff
There are always two columns for every diet: One with what you should eat and one with what you should avoid. Now, looking back at our top three contenders, the paleo diet, the Mediterranean diet, and plant-based diet, we can see that despite their huge differences, there are some common items to be found. For example on the “should eat” side, they all promote vegetables and might even agree on some fruits and tubers. But when it comes to what to avoid they are in rare agreement on quite a lot. The list would look something like this:
- Refined sugar
- Refined flour
- Industrially highly processed oils and trans-fats
- Chemical preservatives, artificial flavorings, and basically anything made in a lab
- Processed and fast foods in general
I think the first lesson is pretty clear now. All of our top diets pretty much agree that modern, heavily processed foods are not the way to go. It doesn’t matter if you cook from refined ingredients at home or buy them in a shiny package at the mall or in a drive-thru, they just don’t belong to a healthy diet.
The second lesson is closely tied to the first. Even though they pretty much only agree on vegetables, all three diets strongly recommend focusing on wholesome foods. It is my suspicion that the shared pool of restricted foods and promotion of real foods is what makes them so popular, helps with the weight loss and brings the health benefits they all claim.
They are all just best guesses
None of the diets, as they are nowadays usually implemented, have been eaten by a traditionally living tribe or any other population for a significant amount of time, meaning many generations. Paleo is only an approximation of our ancestors’ habits; there is a lot we still don’t know about their way of life. The Mediterranean diet is missing many crucial aspects, compared to the original on which it was modeled. And as for the plant-based diets, no documented society has permanently eliminated all animal products and survived.
The final lesson is that we have to take all diets with a grain of salt. Even at their best, they can only be regarded as guidelines right now. We should learn what we can from each of them, choose the one that feels most natural to us, but most importantly, make them our own. The last article of this series will be all about how to do that.