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I’m often asked by patients about whether or not I endorse various restrictive diets as a lifestyle. Some of them are “fad” diets, meant to help with weight loss or inflammation or overall health. These include the carnivore diet, the vegetarian or vegan diet, the low lectin diet, the ketogenic diet, the paleo diet, the Mediterranean diet, the alkaline diet, the Blood Type Diet, and the raw food diet—just to name a few, off the top of my head.

Others are diets designed to treat either a particular condition, or a particular type of sensitivity—but, there are those die-hard adherents who think everyone should be on a few of them, too. These include the gluten free diet, the GAPS Diet, the dairy free diet, the AIP Diet, the Low Oxalate Diet, Specific Carbohydrate Diet, the low FODMAP diet, the low sulfur diet, the low salicylate diet, the low tyramine diet, the low histamine diet

And we haven’t even brought up the timing of eating yet. Should we skip breakfast, or is it the most important meal of the day? Should we do intermittent fasting? For how long? Should we not eat after 5 pm? Should we eat frequent small meals, or space our meals out (so that the Migrating Motor Complex can do its job)?

Feel overwhelmed yet? If you do, you’re certainly not alone.

Taking A Step Back (Waaaay Back)

Obviously, not all of these diets can simultaneously be optimal for all people. There would literally be nothing left. But what about all the research that shows this or that is healthiest, and the adherents who swear by them—some almost religiously? How to we determine what’s true?

In order to know what to do with any new piece of information, no matter what it is and no matter how good it sounds, we have to have a context in which to place it. That way, we can tell whether it fits or not—like adding a puzzle piece to a particular spot in a jigsaw puzzle.

So I’m going to zoom way, way out for a moment—beyond nutrition as a subject, and even beyond health.

My overall worldview determines the way I look at the world, and I filter every piece of new information I receive through that lens. So do you, though your worldview might not be the same as mine. The foundation of my worldview is that I believe in the God of the Bible (and yes, this is quite relevant, bear with me a minute. If you’d like to know, at least in part, how I arrived at that conclusion, check out my series on apologetics on my podcast: Anthropic Fine Tuning, Irreducible Complexity, Information Theory, The Missing Links, The Miller-Urey Experiment, and The Age of the Earth.)

If we skip past the how and why and just start with that presupposition, in the context of nutrition, here’s what we know.

  • All of the plants God made for food, in the way that He made them, were good (Genesis 1:12).
  • God told Noah (and all of Noah’s descendants) that he was allowed to eat meat (Genesis 9:3).
  • God meant food for our pleasure (Genesis 1:29, Psalm 104:15, James 1:17).

It’s possible food might have become adulterated by human means such that it becomes bad, or that in process of healing a particular ailment for a particular person, it might be necessary to restrict certain otherwise good foods for a certain period of time.

But that isn’t the same as a blanket assumption that an entire class of food that God made and pronounced good for food, actually isn’t. He didn’t lie (He can’t lie, Hebrews 6:18). He didn’t poison His creatures. God only gives good gifts (James 1:17).

If that’s true, it rules out every diet that claims that some inherent component of a whole, unprocessed food is bad for all people, or that entire categories of healthy natural foods are toxic for a large percentage of the population.

That’s just not God. It’s not the sort of thing He would do.

What About Long-Term Restrictive Diets?

One caveat here, still speaking from my fundamental worldview: we do know that when mankind fell, creation fell with us (Romans 8:22). It won’t be restored to its original perfection until all things are made new (Revelation 20).

Because of that, and as technology proliferates and industrialization pumps chemicals and heavy metals and plastics and radiation and pharmaceuticals and etc into our environment, we as a species are becoming more toxic than ever before. Not only that, but the way we process and package and mass produce our food means that the food itself often becomes a source of toxic exposure, nor does it contain all of the nutrients and building blocks for health that it once did, in its original design.

How all of these toxins and deficiencies manifest in a given individual of course varies widely. This, I think, is the level at which genetics come into play. Epigenetics is the way in which our environment determines which genes get turned on and off, and why one person’s “weak link” won’t be the same as the next person’s.

If someone’s “weak link” happens to be the gut, though, does that mean that person should spend the rest of his or her life avoiding 20 food sensitivities, oxalates, sulfates, high histamine foods, and whatever else?

Again, my worldview says no, because God is good. He is our healer (Exodus 15:26), and He designed the body to heal itself. That approach might be necessary for a time, while treating the root cause (detoxing, healing up the gut lining, etc). But if someone continues to restrict trigger foods long-term, that person will simply accumulate more and more food sensitivities. That’s what usually happens.

(The opposite of this approach is hormesis: small exposures to what the body had perceived as toxic or dangerous, slowly increased over time, eventually achieves tolerance. That’s why allergy shots work, and Low Dose Immunotherapy, and many other of my favorite naturopathic therapies.)

There may be a period of time, and often there is, when short-term restriction of otherwise healthy food is necessary, while searching for, and then treating the root cause of why those foods are a problem in the first place. But then, whenever possible, my goal is to broaden rather than to further restrict people’s diets. God made food for our enjoyment, as well as our nourishment (Psalm 104:15).

Achieving Balance

So what diet do I think everyone should be on (once they’re healthy and in “maintenance mode”)?

Just eat food the way God made it—whole, unprocessed, organic if you can afford it (so it’s not slathered in pesticides and what have you), and with a reasonable balance between the main macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates, and fat).

I think occasional desserts with healthy natural sweeteners should be enjoyed, as long as there isn’t a major reason not to.

I think fasting occasionally is very healthy, and scripture certainly backs that up.

None of us will be able to eat perfectly, and that’s okay. There might occasionally be some processed foods, some refined sugar, some pesticides, or some GMOs that slip in there. As with everything else, we should do our best, without becoming stressed out about avoiding every possible toxin. We can’t control everything anyway, and it’s emotionally toxic to try!

A friend of mine in med school once said, “Better a pizza with friends than a salad alone.” Amen to that. It’s all about balance.