sugar free, gluten free, paleo... what these diets are really all about

At first glance, the sugar-free diet is about not eating sugar, the gluten-free diet is about not eating gluten and the paleo diet is about not eating a heap of things. But all these diets, which to some might seem faddish, point to one shelf of the pantry in particular - the one will real food on it.

photo by Lourdes Von Kruss

The salient point of all these new-age 'diets' is to get people to eat how and what our ancestors used to eat, how and what we're designed to eat.

By way of example, the complex biological masterpiece that is the human body isn't designed to process derivatives of corn - corn starch and maltodextrin found in a lot of processed food. It's designed to process corn kernels. You get the picture.

Artificial flavours, emulsifiers, pesticides, fungicides, lecithin, colourings... these are a bunch of other things our bodies are not designed to eat.

When we assault the body with stuff it's not designed to eat (aka toxins), it goes into shock. In fact, on a physiological level, it reacts as if it's been poisoned and goes into a protective mode. Depositing toxins in fat is one way the body tries to protect organs and vital tissues. The more toxins we introduce, the bigger the fat cells get in an effort to dilute them. Like a car you drive with your foot constantly slammed on the accelerator and that you never take to the mechanic, when we assault our bodies for too long, the protective mechanisms fail. It all gets too much. You know the rest... heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes...

So, eating stuff our bodies are designed to eat, i.e. real food, is vital.

The challenging thing, these days, is to know what is real food and what isn't. There are lots of companies marketing their food as 'food', yet in reality what they're selling isn't food so much as "stuff we can eat and that makes them money".

What, then, is Real Food? And what isn't? I summed things up a while back in this post. To reiterate, real food is food without the crud. It's unprocessed, unrefined, grown in the ground (okay, or in the ocean), as nature intended, untouched by scientific intervention. By virtue of these things, it's also clean, nourishing, tasty and kind.

I listed off a few non-foods and their real-food alternative here and here, but here's a couple more I can think of right now:

  • Chocolate made with cacao, cocoa butter and a healthy sweetener is real food. Chocolate with more sugar than cocoa and additives like lecithin and flavour and milk solids, is not.
  • Stock you make at home with vegetables or bones is real food. Stock cubes are not.
  • Brown rice is real food. White rice is not.
  • A chicken fillet from a pastured (free range) chicken is real food. A fillet from a chicken raised indoors in a barn with 20,000 other chickens and fed manufactured chicken feed is not.
  • Unfiltered honey cold-extracted from the bee hive is real food. Honey sold in those squiggey tubes at the shops is not (it's been heated to buggery, destroying all the good stuff).

I could go on, but the point is that no matter what 'diet' you choose to follow, the crux is this:

If you eat Real Food - a good mixture of it and not too much ("eat food, mostly plants, not too much" as Michael Pollan famously says) - you will be fine. We'll. All. Be. Fine.


  1. Hey, nice article. We like the idea of looking for the common sense behind a fad. Would be interesting to know where accessible information as to what you are 'meant' to eat could be easily sourced!

    1. I guess that's the trick hey! So much of that knowledge came from my parents, I'm constantly reminded of how lucky I am for that. Health bodies sure don't provide a consistent message these days do they, although I have to say, the Aus Healthy Eating Guidelines are better this year than ever before...



Flickr Photostream

Twitter Updates

Meet The Author