• Contact BSLM

  • The BSLM Blog

    Random thoughts, some science, and the latest research.

    ‘Dietary Pidgeon Holes’ and what they’re worth.

    It’s hard these days to dine in a group without declaring your dietary orientation.

    You might be:

    • a carnivore,
    • a simple vegetarian (and who’s that basic these days?),
    • a lacto, ovo-lacto, or pesco vegetarian,
    • a flexitarian, or
    • (a vanishing species), an omnivore

    But now there’s a new kid on the block: the CRONE or Calorie Restricted, Optimal Nutrition Eater.

    CRONEs and their variants (including aficionados of the popular 2:5 diet that we’ll get to below)– are supported by evidence originally found in many species of animals that goes back some time. Those animals (we don’t yet know for sure about humans) that, for one reason or another, eat up to 30% less total energy, tend to live longer than those allowed ad libitum food intake.

    The original Calorie Restricted (CR) diet, was tested by famous French-American nutritionist Jean Mayer during the war years, and more latterly in the Dome experiment in Texas, under which people were asked to live on sparse, self-grown food for up to two years.

    In the past (as under the Dome), it wouldn’t have been difficult to be a CR eater (there just wasn’t the food around), and it wouldn’t have been that difficult for those foods (and drinks) consumed to be relatively healthy (the bulk being ‘natural,’ whole foods).

    Today, of course, you can be a Calorie Restricted Eater of Rubbish Food, or CREORF (try explaining that at dinner parties!), which pretty much defeats the purpose. So, enter the CRONE. Not only does the CRONE restrict energy intake, but s/he ensures that what is eaten is worth eating.

    But this is a bit too simplistic for the modern health/diet sophisticate. It needs to be bound into a ‘diet plan’ that makes the user feel like they’re something special.

    Dr Michael Mosley’s popular 2:5 diet plan is one way of doing this: restrict how much you take in to around 800 kcals on 2 days of the week, and just be a little more careful with what you eat on the other days. Trouble is, like all ‘weight maintenance diets’ in a modern obesogenic environment, this is difficult to maintain over a lifetime – which is the only way it’s likely to work.

    Going back to the defined eating types discussed at the outset, is there any real reason (with the possible exception of an allergy to certain categories of foods) why a vegetarian should NEVER partake of even a sliver of beef or kangaroo? Or a vegan should live by the dictum that ‘lips that taste egg will never taste mine’?

    There’s little doubt that vegan eating is one of the healthiest forms of eating patterns.1 But would this advantage be annulled by slipping in a prawn, or even a morsel of chicken or fish once in a blue moon?

    Looked at this way, it seems the main reason for such a strict dietary classification of oneself is status, not health.

    Traditional diets – Mediterranean, Nordic, Aboriginal – typically contain about 20% animal and 80% vegetable, and are regarded by experts as nutritionally ideal. Admittedly, modern animal husbandry has ‘unnatural’ rearing and environmental questions to answer. But this is surely a question of financial avarice and population pressures.

    In any case, if we fall back on Michael Pollan’s2 well-worn advice to ‘…eat food, not too much, mainly plants’, we can’t go too wrong.

    In the manner of good epidemiology, we just need a catchy acronym for this type of eater to make ourselves feel we have worth at dinner parties.

    References

    1. The health advantage of a vegan diet: exploring the gut microbiota connection. Nutrients, 2014;6(11):4822-38.
    2. Pollan M. The Omnivore’s Dilemma. NY, Penguin Books, 2006.