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Paleo, Whole30, Keto: A Food Scientist's Perspective On Diet Certifications
What diet are you on? In today’s culture, this has become an all-too-common question. Everyone seems to be trying one diet plan or another. Between Paleo, Whole30, Keto, and all the others, there are tons of options out there. As a food scientist, I think a lot about diet trends and fads as I'm formulating and consulting on new products. I'm laser focused on individual ingredients and how they impact your body. This means I pay lots of attention to the foods allowed by each diet plan. Seals and certifications in the natural foods market are there to guide you in your food decisions, and while they can be helpful, they can also be misleading.
What do diet certifications really mean?
If you've ever followed one of these diets, you may have seen various certifications supporting "approved" foods. But it's important to know that a food can be in line with a diet plan's guidelines even if it doesn't have a certification on it. And conversely, a food can be approved by a plan and still not be great for your body. Make sure to read the ingredient list no matter what! Of all the food certification programs, the Whole30 certification provides the best support. I’ve looked into the requirements for all of these certifications and Whole30 is the most authentic with its approved-ingredients list. The plan allows for things like "natural flavors," but it's ultimately up to you to decide how strict you want to be with your lifestyle. On the other hand, the Paleo certification disappointed me the most. As someone who works in the food industry and develops foods, I am very familiar with which added ingredients are there to make food production easier for manufacturers. And in reality, some of those ingredients don’t really need to be included. For example, silicon dioxide is an anti-caking agent, and gums are used as binders to prevent water-purging. Both of these are added to enhance the food’s aesthetic appeal, but are really unnecessary. Shockingly, both of these ingredients are approved on the Paleo certification list, but not for Whole30. Both of these diets represent whole foods, but gums, whiteners, and even some natural flavors technically are not whole foods.
What's the bottom line?
Just because a food has a stamp of approval from a diet plan doesn’t mean you shouldn’t read your food labels. It’s ultimately up to you to decide if the ingredients are acceptable for you. No two body chemistries are the same, and what works for one person may or may not work for another. You just have to think of yourself as a science experiment and see what works for you. Since I focus on healthy consumer products, I think a lot about how the foods I work with fit into different diets and lifestyles. And trust me: I try all the diet plans. Personally, I only view the Keto Diet as an actual diet, since it intentionally restricts carbohydrates and increases fats. On the other hand, eating styles like Paleo and Whole30 are neither calorie-limiting nor macro-restricting (unless you want them to be). Both of these are intended to introduce more "real" or "whole" foods into your daily diet. But a food product that has a Paleo seal isn't by default better than a product without such a seal. So, do your due diligence, read the labels, and eat on.
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