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Diet Cults by Matt Fitzgerald is one of my favorites of the stack of diet books I’ve been reading as background material for the diet book I am writing. It is easy reading and covers rather critically all of the major diet fads that we have been subjected to in the last thirty years in reasonable detail. He illustrates where each of the popular diets has its failings and where the scientific studies have demonstrated their failings.

One of the themes of the book is built right into the title, the cult-like qualities of the popular diets. That personal dedication from the dieters is needed because of the difficulty in maintaining rigorous limitations on what they can and can not eat. Pick any food you can name and you can find some people who insist that it is a panacea and others who will insist that it’s poison. Well, everything except vegetables, he wavers, no one he wrote that he had met was willing to claim vegetables were evil. I haven’t known any more people than average, but Dale, one of my buddies back in Berkeley, did claim that all green foods were poison, and he never ate any of them. Unfortunately, he died about the time he turned fifty.

Diet Cults is written in a friendly style and claims not to be cultish itself, but Matt defines his study group for perfect health to be extreme athletes. Not run-of-the-mill athletes either, but world-class ones who train to appallingly high, self-imposed, rigorous standards. He claims these are perfect specimens of human health whom the other seven billion of us average humans should emulate. Most people would simply kill themselves if they did exactly as these paragons of health do as their routine exercise.

To come back to what these heroes eat, as opposed to what they physically do, is more sensible. His recommended diet even for them is simply common sense. Lots of vegetables and fruits and quite a lot of nuts, wild-fed meats, whole grains, and yogurt. He doesn’t say to totally avoid processed fatty meats, sugar, and fried food but to keep them to an absolute minimum. It’s okay to eat lots of carbs if you’re doing a marathon or are a lumberjack burning through five thousand calories per day.

Ultimately it appears that humans can eat almost anything and remain healthy if they are physically active enough.