Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Diet Cults - Matt Fitzgerald

If like me you are a) Fed up of all these different diets that we should be following or b) Confused at what is now considered good or bad foods; then you should definitely have a read of Diet Cults by Matt Fitzgerald.

Matt is an endurance sports writer, coach, nutritionist, and athlete so he knows his stuff. In fact I have read a lot of Matt's articles over the years on the Internet and always find his work, knowledgeable, accurate and mostly common sense!

Once you've read the book and considered all the main diet cults that are out there it does make you question how can one diet be the correct diet, how can one diet allow grains and another not. Its similar to religion, whose right because not everyone can be.

Matt almost sums it up in one example; with the odd exceptions, no elite athlete follows any of these diet cults but rather follows what science teaches us after years and years of practice of what is right. Now what does that tell you straight away.

"We saw, through the example of Paleo dieters, that people don’t choose diets by reason; rather, diets choose people by appealing to identity-based dispositions such as masculine self-image."

The Paleo diet is probably one of the most popular diets around today, but Matt refers to archeological evidence that "with new methods of extracting DNA from dental plaque revealed both Neanderthals and Paleolithic people ate barley, beans and tubers". Hominids living two and a half million years ago ate more grasses and grains than fruit and leaves and "that virtually every food humans eat today is different from those eaten by our Paleolithic ancestors"....and people are making money and living their lives based on diet that doesn't and has never existed!

All these various diets miss out on key nutrients between them and there is not a 'bad' nutrient out there, even sugar which has had more bad press than normal in recent years, if used correctly has a benefit ie. for sport and energy. It's when it gets abused by people consuming it in processed foods like sweets and cakes that it becomes a problem.

Energy drinks are loaded with sugars and have a place if you're running a marathon but not guzzled daily by kids as a 'cool' drink and that's where sports drinks manufacturers are to be held responsible. They are quite happy for it to be sold in newsagents, supermarkets and vending machines the world round knowing full well that people are consuming them as a soft drink and not what they were intended for!....OK I digress, back to the book!

Gluten intolerance is on the rise or is it? As Matt experienced with his own Mother, stress can cause similar symptoms and the world we live in is becoming increasingly stressful affecting more and more people in many ways.

You dont have to be a nutritionist to understand the book, the author's writing does not leave you baffled with scientific spill but an understanding of ...well how basically, when you put all these diets next to each other how bizarre they really sound. 

To sum up these chapters, it is that there is no such thing as one true way to eat for health.

In the last chapter of the book Matt explains his own way of Agnostic healthy eating. By no means is this the author hitting on us with another diet cult but putting all foods into a diet quality hierarchy. Ten categories of foods to eat in order of quality, sticking mainly to the foods at the top of the list but not ruling out anything. The order is as you would expect: vegetables,fruits,nuts&seeds,high quality meat and seafood,whole grains,dairy,refined grains,low quality meat and seafood,sweets,fried foods. The lower you go down the list the less you eat of, in other words, a healthy balanced diet. 

It sounds simple, but with all these diet cults existing, it's getting harder to see the wood for the trees.


  1. Excellent post! Thanks Ian -B&E

  2. First, I have experienced great success with overcoming persistent IBS and the dreaded "runners trots” on the Paleo diet with, so I guess that makes me a cult member. Second, you say that science supports Matt’s views, but there is complete absence of evidence for his low-fat guideline. This doesn't mean that we must eat lots of fat, but if one chooses to fuel their body this way, it isn't necessarily going to be detrimental. I see the range of healthful human diets as much broader and more expansive than Matt does; science just doesn’t support his narrow recommendations at this point. I see the range of ancient paleo-style diets as much more expansive than the “agnostic” healthy guidelines. Furthermore, Matt seems to conflates low-carb and paleo, but there is evidence that ancient humans were consuming significant starch from underground tubers. But the starch we now get from grain is much higher things like anti-nutrients. Ancient people discovered methods of preparing these foods that made them less likely to do harm to the human GI tract, this includes; soaking sprouting and fermenting as a way to neutralize many of these anti-nutrients which robb vitamins from our body.

    To the point that no high-class athletes follows a particular diet, Ryan Hall: gluten free, Erin Cafaro two time gold medalist: paleo, Zach Bitter American record holder 100 miles: low-carb paleo, Dean Karnazes: paleo, Joe Friel: paleo, Stephanie Rothstien: gluten free to name a few.

    Part of what made the book so enervating is the tone and smugness of his arguments. He also outright contradicts himself in places, he actually uses some of the paleo principles in a few of his guidelines. For example when recommending meat, he says we should choose meat from grass-fed animals that eat a “natural” diet. Yet earlier in the book he says the concept of “natural” is bogus and says that just because something is natural doesn’t make it healthy. So eating a natural diet, makes sense for animals, but not for humans? He says there is no such thing as a “natural” human diet, does this mean we could choose to eat grass and our body would adapt?

    While their may have been many types of ancestral diets, most were low in grains, and higher in fresh fruits, veggies, and healthful animals products, yes even the dreaded animals fats! Just because there is some evidence that ancient people consumed some grains, it doesn’t mean that they were consuming 50-60% of their diets as grain, like modern man, and the grain they did consume was often prepared with great care such as soaking, sprouting or fermenting.