In research I’ve been doing for a conference talk that I’m giving on Women’s Health in the 21st Century, I came across a diet that was published in a 1977 issue of Vogue.
Nutshell overview: A hard boiled egg and a glass of white wine for breakfast, 2 hard boiled eggs and a glass of wine for lunch and a steak and the rest of the bottle for dinner. Sounds like a fast track to a bad mood, and a substantial lack of common sense.
Looking beyond ridiculous diet fads to diet trends that have substance: Paleo. Keto. Vegan. Mediterranean. Intermittent fasting.
Each has its strengths and its challenges. Each could potentially work well for some people, some of the time. None of them will work well for all of the people, all of the time.
And a diet that works well for some of the people may not work well for those same people at a later time.
Get my drift?
Vegan and paleo are on opposite sides of the diet spectrum. One consumes no animal products. The other a good proportion of the intake is from animal.
So what could they possibly have in common? What is the good stuff to pull out of all highly principled diets?
Here are the three must-haves that every good diet should contain.
You can use these must-haves to register whether you are eating well now, and whether a diet you are thinking of doing is worthy of long-term consideration.
EAT CLOSE TO NATURE.
What do I mean by that? Foods grown from the ground, watered by the rain (or otherwise), and stimulated by the sun are going to contain nutrients that are needed by our brain, organs and every structure and function in the body. Animals, if we choose to eat them, that graze on grass (that grows in the ground, is watered by the rain and nourished by the sun), are going to be healthier for us because their muscle and organs got the nutrients that nature provides. This applies to fish, fowl, eggs, and milk as well. We are part of a grand and glorious natural circle of life.
Compare that to a boxed, bagged, or canned, highly manufactured food. The ingredients contained within, (that may have started from the ground) go through any number of processes - heating, hydrogenation, bleaching, chemical alterations, stabilization, just to name a few. What comes out the other end, are substances that have little if any nutritional value. Add to that the ‘non-food’ substances that is mixed into many manufactured foods, such as flavourings, modified ingredients, sweeteners, colouring. The list is endless. Many of these non-food substances have been identified as endocrine (hormone) disruptors, carcinogens (cause cancer), obesegens (cause obesity), inflammatories, dangerous for the cardiovascular system, allergenic, on and on I could go.
It’s a no-brainer. Any good diet must emphasize foods that are close to nature.
2. EAT LOTS OF VEGETABLES.
The field of nutrition is filled with tons of controversy and differing opinions. How much protein should you eat? How much water should you drink? Are fats good or bad?
Not so re: eating vegetables. It is the one agreed upon non-issue. You may get a suggestion to stay away from the starchy, higher-carb ones. But overall, vegetables play a major role in every good food plan.
I like to say cuz they are the ‘superstars’ of the foodscape.
They grow in the ground where the minerals in the soil weave into their structures. We then use those minerals for our form and function. They have phytochemicals that protect them from viruses, bacteria and parasites. Eating them means our immune system also gets that protection. They contain lots of fibre. Good for your bowels. Good for detoxification. And the sun catalyzes the antioxidants that protect them from radiation. We get that too.
Vegetables are one of the few food groups that provide alkalinity (mineral-richness) to counter the mostly acidic nature of foods rich in protein and fat. This is important for our blood, bones, muscles, organs - really all form and function is affected, either directly or indirectly, by the acid-alkaline balance.
Eat lots and lots of veggies. It’s hard to overdo the leafy greens and multi-coloured varieties. But yes, depending on your goals, you might need to minimize the starchy ones.
3. MINIMIZE (OR ELIMINATE) SUGAR.
When I ask people how much sugar they eat, they often say “...not much. I don’t add any to my coffee or to anything else”. As I investigate further, they have forgotten to include the pop that is a daily habit, the Raisin Bran or other cereal that they had for breakfast, the Timmie’s muffin that they have with their morning coffee with lots of milk (contains milk sugar), the 2 bananas, the sushi for lunch that has sugar in the white rice, the granola bar for the mid-afternoon snack, on and on it goes.
It takes a concentrated effort to avoid sugar in our foods because it’s everywhere. And it doesn’t just mean sugar, in the form of the white crystalline stuff. It means reading labels and understanding the nature of what will cause a rise in insulin levels. Too much sugar leads to too much insulin. This is at the root of many degenerative diseases, obesity, metabolic syndrome, and what researchers have called diabetes of the brain, Alzheimers.
If you are serious about being healthy, you need to learn more about how sugar shows up in so many different forms, hidden from view. Unless you’re looking.
The good news is as soon as you eliminate it from your foodscape, your desires for it will progressively decrease.
Eliminating it is much easier if you follow the bonus MUST-HAVE below.
BONUS. GET YOUR PROTEIN
Quantity of protein definitely varies from person to person and diet to diet. However all good diets have a source of protein at all meals and possibly during snack times. As an eater and as The Food Coach, I’ve seen how upping the protein has made dramatic and quick changes in mine and my clients’ moods, focus, weight, and cravings.
This makes sense as every metabolic reaction in the body depends on enzymes. Enzymes are made up of protein. The brain chemicals that affect our mood, sleep and appetite are made up of proteins. All tissues in the body are made up of proteins. We are a conglomerate of proteins.
Eating protein consistently throughout the day may be the one thing that gives you the edge that you just can’t find without it.
However the disagreement that you’ll find in different food philosophies is how much protein do we actually need?
Vegans do not have the same access to large amounts of protein that meat eaters do. However I know many vegans who feel and look great with only plant foods as their source of proteins.
The years of experience that I have in nutrition have shown me that there are so many factors that go into a person’s dietary needs. The body has adaptive capacity. So a vegan with strong beliefs and principles, who meditates and/or does yoga, who lives close to nature, may possibly alter the needs of their form and function to accomModate a plant-based diet. Their body adapts to live with smaller amounts of protein.
For many people though, getting readily available protein from animal sources reinvigorates the depleted state of their tissues. Their minds are sharper with more protein. They feel more satiated. They stimulate the hormones that help their cells burn fat as fuel.
Quantity remains up in air. However the need for protein is absolute.
When it comes to quality, go back to principle number #1. Eat close to nature.