Get out your boxing gloves – Paleo, Mediterranean, or Nutritarian?


There are so many ways to get high, and one of them is intellectual stimulation.  And that was what I experienced at the Institute for Functional Medicine annual conference in San Francisco May 29 – 31.  The topic was Food And Nutrition: The Ultimate Upstream Medicine.

And yes, I was in heaven!

My favorite part of the conference was a forum called Nutritional Controversies: What’s the Right Diet.  It included a presentation of the Paleolithic Diet by Loren Cordain, PhD, the Mediterranean Diet by Mimi Guarneri, MD , and a plant based diet called the Nutritarian Diet by Joel Fuhrman, MD.  It was moderated by Chris Gardner, PhD, a respected scientist currently conducting some fascinating nutrition studies at Stanford University.  We needed boxing gloves for this one! J

Do we eat a Paleolithic diet, consisting of organ meats, grass fed meats and wild game, pasture raised poultry, fish, eggs, vegetables, fruits, roots, nuts and seeds?  And eliminate foods introduced by agriculture about 10,000 years ago, including grains, legumes, and dairy? Or is the Mediterranean diet the right diet, with an emphasis on vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts/seeds, and olive oil daily? And a moderate amount of fish, poultry, eggs, and dairy, with limited amounts of red meat? Certainly many prospective studies have shown that the Mediterranean diet is cardio protective and lowers the risk of diabetes mellitus.  The contemporary Paleo diet has not been around long enough for large studies to assess its effect on chronic degenerative diseases.  What we know now is what has been analyzed in the fossils of our Paleolithic ancestors.

Or what about the Nutritarian diet that was presented to maximize health and longevity?  This diet is about low calorie/high nutrient intake.  Indeed, studies have shown this type of diet to increase longevity.  The Nutritatian diet includes unlimited vegetables, (especially  green veggies), fresh fruits, and beans/legumes.  One serving daily of cooked starchy veggies, whole grains, and raw nuts and seeds. Animal products such as fish, fowl, eggs, and fat free dairy are limited to 0 to 3 times per week. According to Dr Fuhrman, excess animal protein shortens lifespan. And red meat, refined grains, full fat dairy, and refined oils/sweets are rarely consumed.  The focus is on nutrient dense foods like mustard greens, kale, collard greens, spinach, arugula, and cabbage.  Although Dr. Mat Lalonde would argue that organ meats by far have the highest nutrient density!  (Watch video)

What did all the presenters agree upon? 

  • 30% of our diet should be colorful veggies!  Include fruits too (especially low glycemic load fruits like berries).
  • Stay away from processed foods, including all the whites (white grains, white flour, white sugar, white potatoes).
  • Restrict sugar.  There are way too many added sugars in American foods.

How do you decide which diet is ideal for you?  As Chris Gardner pointed out, many of the studies that support these diets are flawed and are based on following populations of people, which doesn’t necessarily equate to cause and effect.  One way to determine the best diet for you is to experiment with all three diets, and see which diet makes you feel best.  However, to really get a good feel for a particular type of diet and assess long term benefits, you need to be on the diet for awhile, at least 8 to 12 weeks.   So this could be a time consuming process!

My answer to which diet is ideal for you:  Work with a nutritionist who can evaluate your current diet, health history, nutrient deficiencies/excesses, and metabolism to put together a diet plan that is just right for you!  Who knows, you might need a combination of the above diets.  It is also important to look at your genes to help you determine if a higher protein or higher carbohydrate diet is going to get you the results you want.

Learn more about how your genes can direct you to your ideal diet here:

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