The Nutrition Gray Zone


Last night, I was a guest on Mike Robertson’s Physical Preparation Podcast. Before the interview we chatted about not doing a traditional interview, (“what are the 5 foods that you think people should eat?”), instead we opted for a more free flowing, at sometimes philosophical, discussion. I think it went great…but I’m interested in hearing your opinion after you listen to it (I’ll link it up when it is published).

One of the things that we discussed is what I call ‘gray zone nutrition’ and the main reason why mainstream nutrition advice is so bad. Here’s the concept:

We as humans love black and white. Two opposites and we get to pick sides.

good vs. bad

high vs. low

champion vs. loser

gluten free vs. not gluten free

This is one of the reasons that I think gluten free foods have become so popular, while foods that would benefit other, more prevalent conditions, like diabetes, have lagged in market adoption. Gluten free is very black and white. It is either gluten free or it is not.

Let’s continue with the diabetes example. If you take a food that you deem a good snack for someone with diabetes, depending on the food – you could easily find 5 people that disagree with you. When I look at the American Diabetes Association snack recommendations I roll my eyes and think to myself, TWO RICE CAKES, seriously? What is good for diabetics to eat is a highly debated topic. I think the grayness of this has prevented mainstream adoption and action from both food companies and the general public.

Life is gray, messy, and mixed up. At a macro level, grayness of dietary concepts can impede adoption and progression (like in the example of foods for diabetics compared to gluten free foods).

However, at an individual level, your diet should be gray.


There is no one diet prescription that works every time for every person. There is no perfect meal. There aren’t really good and bad foods. It usually comes down to dose, timing, and context.


But after a long and intense workout, you could probably benefit from some sugar in your post workout shake.

gluten free…good…right? 

Not if you don’t have an allergy or intolerance to gluten. Gluten free replacement products (e.g. GF bread, crackers, pasta, etc) are made with highly refined components. If you could eat whole grain bread that packed 4 grams of fiber per slice why would you opt for the gluten free slice made with tapioca starch and rice flour?

trans fats…bad…right?

Not if they are naturally occurring trans fat like vaccenic acid or even if they are industrially produced trans fat consumed at a level of 1% of your total calorie intake or less.

When it comes to nutrition, it is okay to live in the gray zone. You’ll actually do better in the gray zone over the long term vs. the dogmatic world of black and white.

Ground your diet in the 6 Pillars of Nutrition, but give yourself the flexibility to adjust and adapt to what works in your life.


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