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May 2016

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Diet Cults by Matt Fitzgerald

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Four Stars

diet cults

I’ve written on a few different health books during the Cannonball Read, and most of them are focused on what Matt Fitzgerald would call “Diet Cults.” It sounds more insulting than I think it actually is; the premise of the books is that many folks latch onto a way of eating that doesn’t just work for them, but that they insist is the only healthy way to eat. Think Paleo, or vegetarian, or Atkins. I know I’ve fallen into more than one of these ways of thinking (see: my Whole 30 book review).

Mr. Fitzgerald looks at many of these ideas about ways we must eat to be healthy and breaks them down not so much to disprove them as working for some people, but to disprove that they are the best way to eat for everyone. He doesn’t argue that these diets don’t work for some of their adherents; he just points out that for pretty much all of them, there is no science to support them as healthy for all people. Gluten isn’t likely to harm you unless you’re celiac; you can eat dairy and quality meat and not be a walking heart attack.

I think my favorite chapter was the one he used to illustrate that even sugar – something nearly everyone vilifies – has its place in some diets. Endurance athletes, for example, do benefit from the sugar added to sports drinks. They aren’t right for folks as an everyday beverage while sitting and reading a book, but they can be quick healthful for someone in the middle of a marathon.

The very last chapter gets at what he calls “Agnostic Healthy Eating.” His point is that you can make up whatever diet you want, but that there are things to keep in mind. His suggestions:
– Fruits and Vegetables (including beans) are essential, so eat the most of these
– Nuts/Seeds/Healthy Oils, High Quality Meats and Seafood, Whole Grains, and Dairy are recommended, so eat the next most of these
– Refined Grains, Low Quality Meats and Seafood, Sweets and Fried Foods are acceptable, but eat the least of these

It’s not rocket science, and Mr. Fitzgerald freely admits that it’s pretty similar to the ‘My Plate’ concept. But I found it pretty interesting. And hopefully it’s another motivation for me to do what I already know I should: eat more vegetables and fewer sweets.

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