Which Diet Is Best? Paleo, Fodmap, High Fat/Low Carb’s, Atkins? Confused? I bet.

January 2015


I’m so often asked my opinion on the different diets around today. Which one is BEST! I hesitate to comment on this, as there is rarely a more contentious or personal issue that pushes people buttons. It’s akin to discussing politics, planned parent hood, boat people, controlled crying versus attachment parenting, vaccinations, same sex marriage or surrogate mothers. Many people have strong opinions and feel that what works for them is the only way.


[private]When I’m asked in person, I’m happy to discuss it. In clinic with a client is one of these times. In that private space my client has the chance to ask anything and everything they want, and get my personal perspective or opinion on it. However, posting on social media is fraught with danger. You can’t please all the people all the time, nor am I trying to. I simply don’t believe there is one universal diet that is suitable for everyone. There are too many factors to consider in each of our lives for it to be so simple.

Some of you will remember a time when the only way to lose weight was to go to Weight Watchers, and then it was Gloria Marshall. (I suffered through both of these in my teens and let me tell you – they were anything but healthy.) Around the same time The Pritikin Diet was all the rage. Nathan Pritikin stressed that it was ‘fat’ that was making us fat. So out went fat. All of it. I remember many people looking very dry – skin, hair, eyes and mind. He also said ‘no salt’. Can you imagine how boring life would be without olive and coconut oil, avocado’s nuts and seeds and Himalayan salt? Yeah sure, it’s ok when you’re cleansing – but all the time. No thanks.

Not long after the low- fat disaster of a diet was the Fit For Life diet. This diet was into food combining, so that meant no protein and carb’s in the same meal, and only fruit before midday. (I did this one is my early 20’s, and I actually lost a bit of weight, and kept it off – but that was because this is when I stopped eating white rice.) The Atkins Diet followed and this was huge, as you’d probably remember. A bit like what is happening now with the Paleo Diet. Every celeb’ losing weight was doing it.  I never tried this one as they recommended eating more meat, meat, meat, and no carbohydrates. This of course meant no grains or high carb’ seeds like quinoa, but it also meant no high carb’ veggies and fruit – bananas, corn, peas, carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and beetroot. This is when many of us realised there were carbs in fruit and veg’, so out they went too. Devotes of the Atkins Diet were eating bacon and eggs daily for brekky.  I was so horrified by this diet, but of course dieters were so pleased as they were losing weight. They were losing weight because they cut bread and white rice out of their diet, and in many cases replaced it with clogged arteries and diabetes.

Atkins got it half right – loose the refined carbs. Then came Sandra Cabot with her Liver Cleansing Diet. At last someone was starting to make sense, and goodness knows we were in need of it after all of this yo-yoing and extra meat. We now knew what our liver was for (besides processing alcohol) and understood the importance of cleansing it. Detoxing was the new black.

Then along came the biggest thing since sliced bread – The Gluten Free Diet. I was the first ambassador for ‘The Gluten Free Show’ – it was a popular event. I remember being there for all of 5 minutes when I realized what was going on, and again – horrified. Food manufacturers had got on the bandwagon, of course. They realized if they called something ‘gluten-free’ then most people would think it was healthy. Sales skyrocketed. Everything from chicken to sausages to lollies were now healthy – because they were gluten free. Even things that would never have had gluten in them, like a whole chicken. The list of ingredients on some of these packaged foods was as long as the box, most with very long names and lots of numbers. Thank goodness we quickly caught on to this and realized that no, processed gluten free biscuits and ice cream were not in fact healthy. Yes gluten is very difficult to digest and yes-modern wheat is not the same as it once was, but gluten is not our biggest problem. (It’s one of them but not the only one. Folic acid is likely to be a much bigger problem than gluten ever was.) Not withstanding a few other trends along the way such as The Cabbage Soup (or any soup) diet, or the green smoothie craze  – here we are in present day. We’re now devotees of the Fodmap, Paleo, High fat/low carb diets, and a couple of others.

I do feel the need to comment on the increasing popularity of the Paleo diet. The suggestion we eat more animal protein and less plant protein is just so backward. I care for our planet and do whatever I can to help it thrive. I don’t use chemicals in my cosmetics or cleaning products, and I mostly buy recycled/vintage fashion if I need something new.  I watch my water usage; I eat mostly an organic or at least spray- free, GMO and palm oil-free, vegan diet, and try to be plastic-free. I use api-wraps https://www.facebook.com/apiwraps instead of glad wrap and I re-use bags (if I have them), bottles and gift-wrapping. I take empty egg cartons, seedling containers, kefir and jamu bottles back to the lovely folk who I got them from at the market each Friday. I compost, recycle, shop only if I need something (on line usually), I am conscious of not wasting anything, and I never go to a supermarket.  There’s no need. So why would anyone who cares about their health or the health of our planet start eating more animals and less plant food? I just don’t get it.

(At Christmas time my true eco-conscious personality is in full bloom – and this is different from being stingy. I am often accused of being over generous, so this is more about unnecessary waste being created by too many Christmas presents, brand new, coloured, wrapping paper getting used once then chucked out and too much food being wasted. One of the most fun things about Christmas leftovers for me is using them up in a creative way. Get the picture? Waste and other unsustainable practices really challenge my nature.)

As some of you would know from seeing my FB posts, I recently watched a new doco’ called ‘Cowspiracy’. In this wonderful film, an expert on agriculture suggests that one cannot truly call him or herself an environmentalist if they eat animals. I see his point and I agree, but I think it’s going to be a long time, (or a forced situation) if we ever see humans stop eating animals altogether. Sure, the planet can’t sustain the amount we eat now, let alone increase it. The chemicals used, the GMO crops grown for feed (mainly soy), the land clearing involved, the water-intensive grains grown for feed, the some 90% of antibiotics manufactured on this planet given to ‘feed’ animals, the 51% of green house gas emissions that result from agriculture  – we just cant sustain this practice.

As I said, I completely agree that we need to stop, or at least reduce eating animals, but I promise you, there is usually a greatly charged and divisive response to making that statement. Even Al Gore in ‘An Inconvenient truth’ didn’t touch on the fact that agriculture creates more green house gases than all forms of transportation combined – planes, trains, automobiles etc, which come to about 13-18%. So really what is the point of having short showers, eating locally grown food and being an ardent recycler when the most environmentally destructive practice on the planet is eating animals and their products?

If this is indeed true, I can’t help but wonder why it’s such a taboo subject. Why is no one talking about it, apart from Kip Anderson who made “Cowspiracy’? There was a time when we didn’t discuss the abuse of children either, and look how that turned out. The current hot topics in the media usually have something to do with food, sex, politicians, celebrities, corruption, terrorists or personal security – but not the environment. But isn’t climate- change potentially our biggest threat? A lot of highly respected scientists seem to think so. This is something that has the ability to wipe out the entire human race, and many other species sharing the earth.

It’s surprising just how often I’m asked about a particular diet trend in an interview. It never used to be like this. Weight loss was always a hot topic but now it’s getting out of control. I realise most people are confused and want to hear the opinion of a qualified and experienced nutritionist, and I’m happy to oblige, but honestly the barrage that follows makes me cautious, plus I know other ‘experts’ are being asked the same question, and I know will have wildly differing opinions, adding to the confusion. Plus, I’m not so sure about the opinion of some of the other ‘experts’ they are asking.

Which is better – for everyone? The ‘high fat/ low carb diet’, or Paleo, Fodmap, vego’, vegan, dairy free, gluten free, fruit-free, grain free, sugar free, or a special and unique combo of them all. Bulletproof coffee with the grass fed ghee? Really? Oh dear!

The airlines only let you choose one special meal option on long haul flights, so if you want gluten free/low carb/vegan, which would be my preference, you can forget about it. I choose vegan but then you’ll usually get pasta with tomato sauce. I mostly take my own food but on long haul return flights this is practically more difficult, so sometimes I just have to throw caution to the wind, and I pay for it for days afterwards.

I (usually) try to practice being a flexitarian once I’m out of the safety of my home, otherwise it’s just too hard, on everyone. Last night I went to a local Japanese restaurant. What was I to have? I don’t want to eat tofu in a restaurant as it would be GMO tofu; the seafood would be imported and/or farmed (they would say so on the menu if it was line and pole caught – locally or not), and the veggie tempura was out due to the oil it would be fried in – either palm or ‘vegetable’ (GMO) oil. Edamame you ask – GMO soybeans! There was no brown rice on offer and white rice isn’t my thing. So, I had to be open to letting go, (I don’t eat out very often which is sad because it used to be one of my favourite experiences.)

Luckily they had a buckwheat and tofu salad on the menu so we shared that (minus the tofu) and the tempura vegies. I know that some of you reading this Blog have sensitive guts like mine, or deal with patients who have – so you can empathize or sympathize when I tell you that I was so sick after dinner that I had to lie down until my gut let me go to bed. I guess it was the wheat flour on the tempura, and the refined oil it was cooked in, and perhaps there were preservatives, additives and MSG (remember when we thought this was the only issue in our food?) in the salad dressing and dipping sauce. Today I woke up like I was hung-over – plus a bit cranky. One unhappy liver.

I wish I wasn’t so sensitive to food. It’s a drag sometimes, but I am and I have been for my entire life. I recently blogged about discovering I had the MTHFR gene mutation, and knowing this has explained a lot about my health. (See previous Blog about what’s involved. Basically a liver that doesn’t detox efficiently) I have been treating this (correctly) for almost 3 months now and am feeling better, but my improved wellbeing has also coincided with a slower time and less demands over the Christmas break. I haven’t taken a flight for just over a month (until today) and I’ve been ocean swimming, gardening, being social and well – practicing stillness. I feel great. What a wonderful thing that is.

I have said this before but it needs to be repeated – food is but ONE part of wellbeing – not the only part. Our emotional bodies have a lot to do with it. Health plus happiness = Wellbeing.

Many celebrities are talking nutrition these days, and many of these have no or little formal education in natural therapies, nor have ever actually practiced natural health – in a clinic or at least a health food store. After over 15 years of practice, I am certain you can’t buy what experience gives you. No wonder we’re all so confused – everyone is claiming to be is an expert these days and know exactly what is right for each of us.

The thing is, and what I have seen over and over, is that we are all so very different. Plus, our nutritional needs change throughout our lives.  For example, as children we are in growth phase, so we require more nutrients especially protein for growth. Then, in our 20’s right through to our winter years we don’t require as much protein, as we’re not growing (hopefully). When out muscles begin to start wasting and breaking down in our much later years then we will require more protein. And not necessarily meat sources, actually preferably not as our digestive capabilities are drastically reduced then.

Furthermore, if something is consistently not agreeing with you, by all means take it out of your diet for a few days or weeks, do what’s necessary to strengthen your GUT, and then reintroduce it. It may be that you were eating too much of it and you’re body was screaming out for a break from it, or your gut was not happy for emotional reasons, or that particular food was simply not real food. There are situations when you won’t be able to reintroduce a particular food, and that’s when there is an allergy present, (or it’s not real food) but in the majority of cases once you have healed your gut you’ll be able to eat anything – sometimes.

FebFast is a good example of the result of overdoing it. FebFast is about abstaining from alcohol throughout February. This is probably such a popular campaign as many people over-indulge in alcohol over the festive season, and yes the poor old body (and liver) needs a break. So, take one, then in most cases – drink in moderation after that. It goes for sugar, meat, dairy, coffee and grains also – eat les of them and you’ll likely not have a problem when you do. As I’ve blogged about before – if you deprive yourself you will binge. Moderation is usually the key.

There are also times in one’s life when there are a lot more demands on us – sometimes on many levels. The end of a relationship is a common one, miscarriage, death of a loved one, birth, financial worries, pregnancy, grief, exam time, being a teenager, deciding to live a 100% authentic life, heightened concern for your children, anger and so on. During these times you will find that your digestion won’t be functioning as well as it could.  These are times when you will need to adjust your diet accordingly as the more difficult to digest foods will need to be reduced or even eliminated. The likely culprits are grains, especially whole grains, cow’s dairy, red meat and legumes and lentils. Stick to a diet of cooked or pureed plant food. Use hemp seeds and nut meals or butters as an easy to digest and sustainable source of protein and other good oils like olive, coconut, macadamia and avocado will help you to digest your food. Remember you’re in the fight or flight response during times of stress so you GIT will constrict or tighten making it very difficult for food to go down let alone to assimilate. So give your body a hand during these times and include food that is either pre-digested, in the form of fermented or sprouted foods, and/or cook or puree it well.

Also try to be very aware of practicing ‘mindful eating’ when you’re digestion has decreased function. Chew lots! This is going to be extra difficult now, as you’ll likely be anxious and worried so you’ll tend to rush your food. This is going to make everything worse. If this were the case, then you’d be better off deciding to have only veggie juices, broths, purees and well cooked veggies now. You can supplement your diet with a green protein powder like Lifestream’s ‘Essential Greens’, or spirulina (Lifestream do a nice spirulina that actually tastes ok – ‘Lifestream Blue’). You’ll also need to take a good ‘practitioner-only’ probiotic, as your good gut bacteria will likely be struggling.

Generally we want to be eating a mostly plant based diet – mostly veggies, with some fruit and protein. Plant protein can come in the form of nuts, seeds, quinoa, legumes, lentils, hemp, spirulina and organic tofu and tempeh. If you have trouble digesting some of these things then sprout and/or ferment them first.  This removes the phytic acid present in these foods that make them hard to digest. ‘Quasi’ grains are ok also. These are quinoa (please buy it sustainably grown), amaranth and buckwheat. Brown rice, spelt, oats and other grains are good sources of nutrients also provided you’re not under excess stress, (otherwise they won’t digest and then they’ll ferment in your gut creating myriad of problems.) Again, soaking or sprouting them first will increase their bioavailability and digestibility.

Many of us will never give up eating some meat, some of the time; when it comes to environmental and health issues – that’s ok. Less is better than more. Just be sure to buy the best quality you can afford – which will likely mean you’ll eat it less. Avoid listening to everybody’s 2 cents worth; opinions on what’s right for you. Listen to what others are saying then try it for yourself. And remember that sometimes a certain way of eating will be right for a day, week, month, or a year – and then it won’t be. We are changing all the time, so listen to your own body, as it is speaking to you very loudly. If you’re not listening then your symptoms will get worse until you do.

A quote by David Henry Thoreau seems relevant here.  One of my favourites, and on the inside cover of my 3rd book Janella’s Wholefood Kitchen


Live each season as it passes

Breathe the air

Drink the drink

Taste the fruit, and

And resign yourself to the influences of each


In love and continued wellbeing,


Leave a Comment


Start typing and press Enter to search


Signup to receive seasonal health tips, the latest in health news and more...