Monday, September 17, 2012

The Perfect Diet

I have both of these sites in a list of blogs I follow:

Perfect Formula Diet, by Janice Stanger, PhD

Perfect Health Diet, by Paul Jaminet, PhD

I often get them confused. I think my brain just sees "Perfect Diet." But once I'm there, it's easy to tell the difference.

Stanger advocates a plant-based diet that excludes animal foods. It concentrates on whole foods including grains, potatoes, legumes, vegetables, and fruits. She recommends avoiding animal foods which can "reduce your level of IGF-1, a cancer-promoting hormone," and lessen exposure to hazardous environments chemicals, claiming "animal foods are the source of 89%-99% of the persistent organic pollutants in your body."

Jaminet regards cereal grains such as wheat, barley, oats, and corn, or foods made from them such as bread, pasta, breakfast cereals, and oatmeal as "toxic." Legumes and beans should be avoided, soy and peanuts "absolutely excluded." His diet recommends up to a pound a day of "meat, fish, and eggs" with organ meats such as liver and kidney "exceptionally nourishing." He also recommends "safe starches" such as root vegetables and tubers.

Interesting that two well-educated and well-meaning students of nutrition can arrive at so dissimilar "perfect" diets. It makes me wonder if a perfect diet really exists. What do you think, is there a "perfect" diet?


caulfieldkid said...


I just feel fortunate that I have the luxury of pondering "what should I eat?"

And to take a stab at your question: I would guess for each person there is an ideal, though, not a perfect diet. I would also guess the variance between individuals would, normally, be relatively small (although I wonder how people groups may differ).

The question behind your question is "how do we determine the ideal diet?" Frankly, I don't know. But I'll keep thinking about it with you.


Bix said...

The luxury .... Ohhh boy, so true.

I had a nutrition professor, smart and enthusiastic guy (and a hard marker). He used to say one thing he loved about the field of nutrition was its ever-changing state, that every day almost there would be some new data to have to fit into what was known. He said people in this field were like detectives, the best ones were the curious ones.

It's funny how you hold onto things people have said over the years. This prof was also the one who introduced me to the line, "Genetics loads the gun, environment fires it."

RB said...

There is no perfect diet. But some diets come closer to perfect than others. I don't think Dr. Jaminet animal product-centric diet even comes close to perfect. I think the diet that comes closes to perfect is the Michael Pollan diet: "Eat food, not too much, mostly plants."

Reijo Laatikainen said...

I don't think either there is anything like perfect diet. Even ideal diet is elusive definition. Ideal from whose perspective? Shall we focus on what we think is evidence based at population level, or shall we focus on special requirements of an individual, say IBS for example, or shall we focus on food safety and sustainability (etc)? Sometimes, what is considered very healthy at population level is not ideal for an individual. As a dietitian I stumble upon these contradictions quite often.

Ezer said...

I like the Perfect Health Diet book, but I don't recommend it. I think there is no evidence or reason to reject beans and legumes (except for peanuts; beans are a great source of folate and other minerals and vitamins); I think whole grains and milk products can be incorporated in a good diet (if the person doesn't have allergic reactions to it). I don't like some supplements recommended in the book (chromium, vitamin D - I favour sunlight as the source of vit D etc). But some recommendations are good, in general. I'd say I agree with 70% of the book.

Ezer said...

RB, the diet proposed by Jaminet is a plant-based diet by volume, so it's a diet like "eat food, not too much, mostly plants".

RB said...

Ezer, I think a pound a day of meat is excessive and violates the "mostly plants" part of the diet and root vegetables and tubers by volume probably don't represent the majority of calories. I think about 1/4 pound should be the upper limit on meat. The Jaminet diet also seems rather boring since it excludes most vegetables, and beans. Are nuts and fruits allowed? It seems most food from plants are excluded.

Anonymous said...

Why should peanuts be avoided?

Ezer said...

The diet is here:

They don't exclude most vegetables, quite the contrary. In the link above, they say "peas and green beans are fine. Soy and peanuts should be absolutely excluded. Beans might be acceptable with suitable preparation, but we recommend avoiding them." I disagree with the "avoiding them" part.

They suggest 0.5 - 1 pound of animal food per day (meat, eggs etc). Why do you think it's excessive?

Ezer said...

Peanuts might be contaminated with aflatoxins produced by mold. They are pro-allergenic too. But I think some high-quality peanut, roasted and tested by mold, if you don't have allergy, is fine.

What about organ meats as liver? Is there a question about the high nutritional value in organ meats? I try to eat liver and onions once a week (and I love it :-))

RB said...

Ezer, I just seems to many reports where saturated fat from meat and meat protein are associated with increased heart disease and cancer. So over consumption of meat is bad. Most recommendations I have seen is no more than 4 ounces meat per day. Also, as one eats more meat one typically reduces the amount of vegetables. Vegetables are a good source of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. I also tend to agree with Dr. Campbell as per this WSJ article Bix pointed to on her twitter post.

Bix said...

I saw this comment on Tim Ferriss' blog where he introduced Gary Taubes' new project, NuSI (Nutrition Science Initiative), and since we were talking about perfect diets, I thought it added to the discussion:

Author: Sean
It's a lofty sounding idea, but it's based on a flawed premise: That there is a "right" diet for everyone. In my practice, I see all kinds of people - some do great on a low-carb diet; others on a high-carb diet.

I have one patient who has a borderline alkalosis - very low respiration rate, high breath hold, low pulse, low BP. When he eats low carb, he metabolically produces even less CO2 and goes into metabolic shutdown and has a major sleep apnea crisis each night as his breathing shuts down. SO, i put him on a high carb, low fat diet and give him extra thiamin and some other tricks to get his CO2 up and his physiology shifts and he feels better and has no apnea.

Other patients get fat looking at carbs or go into hypoglycemic downward spirals when they dance with sugars and starches: for them, they do better on low carb, so-called paleo fare.

I know top athletes who thrive on a very low fat, high carb diet and they have great lab numbers to boot. Others, again, have great numbers and feel great eating tons of eggs and bacon.

The bottom line is: we all have unique metabolic and constitutional tendencies. This is just a given in the traditional medicines of China and India, where anyone promoting the "One Perfect Diet" would be looked at as an idiot.

The biggest problems with 'fad' diets is that they are all written by so-called experts who promote usually what works for them, as if it will work for everyone. Your "perfect" diet depends on your genetic ancestry, your current state of health, activity, and lifestyle; the season and environment in which you reside, and so on. You can't generalize about that.

The problem with so-called scientific approaches to diet is that they are based on massive generalizations and averages over large populations of people. These people have different genetic backgrounds, different upbringings, different lifestyles, different diets, and very different health statuses that they bring to the table.

I find most of these studies meaningless, clinically. Likewise how a rodent study on purified fructose consumption can be extrapolated to apply to a human drinking a glass or orange juice or two a day, also boggles my mind. The bottom line is: they can't.

What's a lot more interesting to me is understanding how macronutrients, vitamins, and electrolytes effect things like cellular respiration, metabolism, and the autonomic nervous system. When we understand the state of a person's oxidative capacity, autonomic system, etc AND we know how to alter those tendencies via diet and nutrients, that's where the gold is."

RB said...

Bix, I agree with Sean. There is not a perfect diet the is right for everyone. A diet has to vary by health, age, lifestyle, fitness needs, nutritional needs, diseases (e.g. diabetes), food allergies, and available foods so one can meet his/her weight, health and fitness goals. Another factor is choosing foods one can stick with for life. Fad diets of a diet that excludes certain foods (e.g. dairy so you can't have cheese) may be a setup failure.

With that said, there are categories of foods that can be used in a healthy diet including beans and lentils, whole grains, fruits, vegetable, nuts, lean meats and diary. The biggest thing is getting rid of the junk food and highly process foods from one's diet.

Ezer said...

RB, meat is a good source of vitamins and minerals too. For instance, liver is one of the most nutritional foods, along with collard greens, broccoli etc. One post comparing nutrition in liver to other foods:

I think processed foods are the main culprit in elevating the cals consumed and replacing more nutritional foods. I know it's obvious, but I wouldn't include meat in the junk food category (except processed meat)

The evidence supporting the claims that meat and saturated fat are harmful are at least weak. For instance,

Ellen Sanders said...
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