Why do we keep falling for fad diets? With the festive season behind us, you may be wondering how best to shed a few kilos. Not long ago, we were told the answer was to eat like a caveman. Before that it was ketogenic diets, or gluten-free diets (as a lifestyle choice rather than a response to celiac disease), or plant-based diets, or Mediterranean diets.
There’s an element of self-flagellation in all this. Adherents are celebrated for their discipline and self-denial. If they break the strictures of their diet, they must confess, feel ashamed, and do penance down the gym. With social media, there’s no shortage of role models to follow. In fact, some argue there’s something cultish about modern dietary fads, and they seem to have more in common with religion than with science.
What do our readers think? We had a comment from Ivan who says he wants vegans to stop pushing their “unnatural” diets on others. Is he being unreasonable?
To get a response, we spoke to Antje Gahl from the German Nutrition Society. What would she say?
I can understand Ivan well, vegan nutrition was a hype in the media, there was a lot of discussion and the proportion of vegans has certainly increased in recent years. There are many reasons for this: some want less factory farming, others greater sustainability.
But it shouldn’t lead to nutrition being seen as a religion. It must not come to the point where someone says that you’re a bad person if you do not eat a vegan diet. That would be a very one-sided view. There are lots of different nutritional trends out there, and food is seen as part of our identity, both collectively and individually. But we shouldn’t overdo it. You can also eat sustainably without being vegan. For example, if you consume a lot of plant-based foods and eat animal-based foods in moderation.
The data available to vegans also does not indicate that they are healthier because of their diet. The vegan diet goes hand-in-hand with many health-promoting factors. Most vegans are very health-conscious: most of the time they do not smoke, drink little alcohol, and are generally more physically active. In addition to nutrition, these aspects are very important factors for our health.
Therefore, the impact of diet is difficult to identify, since our entire lifestyle is relevant to our health. Much would be gained if vegans and non-vegans accepted one other and everyone checks how they can lead a healthier lifestyle.
Is food the new religion? Is there something cultish about modern dietary fads? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!