Vegetarian, vegan, paleo, Atkins, detox, Food Pyramid, raw food: There are a lot of diets out there, and they often have their own individual prescription. Low carb/high carb. Animal protein/Plant protein. Embrace fat/low fat.
It can get really confusing!
But the most healthful diets out there have a lot of thing in common, and if we go by those alone, we won’t go far wrong in helping our bodies to get healthy.
But first a quick dip into the least healthful ones, because they have some things in common too. It’s worth stating these commonalities just to make clear what I’m constituting as unhealthful.
- The least healthy tend to sell a product, or are fueled by making money. They have marketing and advertising pushing their products. i.e. Weight Watchers, Slim Fast, Atkins, Food Pyramid.
- They concentrate on calories and not nutrients. Calories are so 1990’s! And honestly, no matter how few calories you eat – if you don’t care where those calories come from, then that does not determine a healthful body.
- Products and Calories = processed foods. It’s easier to count calories on a package, than to weigh and to guess. Did calories get pushed to help sell products? Hmm, I wonder.
- They focus on weight loss, and not on gaining health.
Moving on to the Big Rules that all the healthiest diets out there tend to follow. If you focus on the Big Rules and not the little individual ones connected to each diet, then you have a solid basis for working towards a healthier body. As new science comes out regarding saturated fat, or animal vs. plant protein, well then you can pretty much tweak, chop and change the details as you see fit without going off the tracks and into a diet that the body isn’t lovin’. Going from a Big Rules basis, you can see what your body responds to quite clearly when introducing more specified changes.
P.S. I’m not going to name diets, because these are captured from all the diets that don’t market or count calories. Plus they may all agree on, say, salt – but differ wildly on fat. So these are the most common guidelines found in diets that focus on whole, nature based foods. Plus, if I gave names it would make it all the more confusing, don’t you think?
THE BIG RULES THAT ALL HEALTHY DIETS FOLLOW:
- Reduce or get rid of processed food.
- Reduce consumption of grains, especially wheat.
- Don’t include much sugar, especially refined sugar.
- Satisfy thirst with water, and not juice, soda, caffeinated drinks.
- High Fibre. Vegetables!
- Concentrate on nutrients, vitamins, and minerals.
- Forget about calories.
- Eat real food which is found in nature. Those veggies again – heavy on the greens.
- Don’t add salt, at least, not too much.
- Think twice about dairy, especially milk.
Break it Down.
When you get rid of processed food you automatically lower the amount of grains, chemicals, sugar, flavourings and high carbohydrate that you’re eating. Less processed food also automatically forces you to choose foods found in nature. Less bread – more veggies. Most grain foods are processed because we can’t easily eat grain without some sort of process involved. And a lot more processing when changing the food into a flour based food. Pasta, bread, cake etc.
When you eat less grain and processed foods, you eat less carbohydrate – which instantly helps with stabilising blood sugars. The higher sugar content in the food you’re eating is, the more the pancreas has to work to release insulin. Then the body gets slightly bonkers trying to shove excess insulin and the bloody sugar it’s escorting into other places, which triggers a fat-storing response in the body.
So just once change, i.e. no or limited processed foods, already has a huge impact on the body and that alone can take you very far in achieving a balanced, happy, healthy body.
Even though the status-quo still praises milk for its Vitamin D and calcium content, most healthy diets don’t give it much of a look-in. I think slowly, the fact that the only liquid we really need is water is finally sinking in. When milk is taken away, then the foods associated with it go too. Breakfast cereal being the most obvious one, as often milk is only really for pouring on cereal. An easy go to rule (as in the above list) is that if it is heavily marketed, then it probably isn’t that good for you.
Perhaps the best motto for the best diet is – Eat food free of marketing!
The Rest is Up To You.
Whereas those basics steer an individual in the right direction, they only go so far. The rest is either going to be scientifically clear soon, or if not – then our bodies will have to tell us where to go next. One thing I know for sure is that relying on newspaper headlines about diets and pills will make you so confused that you give up hope of ever figuring it out, and eat a deep fried chocolate bar in despair.
The Little Details.
- Fat – especially saturated fat. It’s getting some limelight right now. Cholesterol is having a new look in as well. It’s up to individuals to see what response their bodies are having to different levels, and types, or fat. But a diet full of chocolate, chips, crisps and soda won’t be a clear tool to measure alterations that you’re experimenting with in other areas. A cleaner diet makes the little changes more obvious. Obviously.
- I’m not totally convinced that paleo is so amazing. After all, there is no one paleo diet. A hunter gatherer in colder climates would eat differently to a hunter gatherer in a tropical climate. But the emphasis on eating food found in nature is wonderful, and I think our bodies can all appreciate that.
- Fruit. Another staple being re-visited. A lot sweeter and more hybridized these days, so should we be limiting it? Or are the vitamins too precious to give up? I’ve always thought it was odd that the 5-A-Day campaign here in the UK was for vegetables AND fruit. Surely it’s easy to eat fruit, but vegetables aren’t so easy to get in to people’s diets. Especially green leafy veg. The campaign should have been for veg instead, because perhaps we do eat plenty of fruit, then think it’s good for us and then avoid eating our greens. Not so good. Other than that, if you decide that fruit is too sugary for you right now, then I think that’s probably not too bad a decision!
- Caffeine and alcohol. These are in the press so often. Good for you one day, bad for you the next. I’ve actually gone from drinking no caffeine and zero alcohol to drinking coffee and red wine. I feel okay, but that has to be a personal experiment whilst keeping an eye on up and coming research.
- Meat. Another reason I’m not a fan of paleo is that we don’t truly know how much meat our ancestors ate. And have you ever tried hunting? Without a gun? If we were out in the wilderness right now, we’d eat a LOT of green leaves that’s for sure. It’s also a huge ethical and moral dilemma concerning the animals and for their effects on the one planet we all share. It’s really a personal decision. And as with all the foods on this list, we need to shine the moral spotlight on them too. Is it right to eat foods shipped from around the globe simply because they are now dubbed super foods? Again – that one is up to you.
Another point I’d like to add, is that local foods are always a wonderful addition, or even a foundational staple to your diet. Growing your own food is a guarantee of fresher and more nutritious fare in your diet.
What do you think?
Do you agree with my list of ten Big Rules? Where do you stand on the smaller details?