Then there are some who believe that in order to be healthy, you must abide, in it's entirety, to a specific way of eating: Paleo, Vegetarian, Vegan, and Gluten Free are some of the most popular choices these days. But the problem is that most of these diets don't address the root causes of our poor health in and of themselves. It is entirely possible to be vegetarian and consume a terrible diet. Or to eat a gluten free diet by replacing wheat cookies with gluten free cookies. I hate to break it to you, but you're not going to be any better off. Now don't get me wrong, I believe there are healthy aspects to all of these ways of eating, and I employ aspects of all of them into my own eating habits. But to believe that you have to be exclusive of anyone of them, or even worse, to use them as an "excuse" to be a picky eater doesn't work.
So what's the best "diet"? Well, it's not really a diet at all, but a change in how we view food and our relationship with how it's grown. And that is to eat sustainably. By eating sustainably grown and produced food, immediately we're going to go back to the basics: whole, fresh ingredients that are not laced with pesticides, herbicides, antibiotics or other toxic chemicals; eating primarily veggies and fruits; choosing meats and eggs that are healthy for you and the environment; calorie dense foods; reduced numbers of grains and increased nuts and seeds; and limited packaged and processed food.
Now let’s put this into an eating plan:
- Focus on vegetables. 75% of your diet should be veggies, preferably the bulk of which are lower on the glycemic index. Lots of leafy greens, mushrooms, onions, garlic, Brussels sprouts, eggplant, zucchini, radishes, celery, seaweed, cucumber, artichoke… the list goes on. My family and I like to play a game at dinner and see how many colors of the rainbow we can eat in veggie form. We also include black, brown and cream/white… it’s hard to get them all but it’s fun!
- Protein is vital! In my opinion, there are 5 main sources of protein, and they are all important: (1) sustainably raised meat; (2) eggs from free-range chickens; (3) nuts and seeds; (4) low-mercury, fatty fish; (5) Beans and lentils (we talk more about these later). Preferably eat them all.
- Fat is not bad for you and should be consumed freely. Just make sure it’s fat from sustainable and healthy sources. Even animal fat has been shown to be at the least neutral, and perhaps even beneficial in terms of our health. BUT this only applies to animals that have been sustainably raised! Other good fats are egg yolks, avocado, nuts, extra virgin olive oil, cold pressed coconut oil, and fatty fish (or omega-3 fats).
- Grains should be eaten sparingly. For all of us, it’s a good idea to greatly reduce or avoid gluten. Gluten has been shown to increase inflammation, which is the leading cause of autoimmune diseases that are now running wild. That said, for people who are not technically gluten sensitive or have celiac, occasional gluten isn’t going to be a problem. But the best grains are things like quinoa and black rice. They raise your blood sugar less than others and have some pretty spectacular nutrients to boot.
- Starch should not be avoided entirely. But it should be eaten the right way. There are some great starchy veggies: sweet potatoes, potatoes, winter squash, and peas. They contain high amounts of fiber, antioxidants, and in some cases resistant starch. So leave the processed grains behind and try these out instead!
- Fiber is amazing. A lot of the foods we have talked about above contain good fiber. But let’s talk a little about legumes, and in particular beans and lentils. Both of these are also good sources of protein, and it’s probably the major reason why I won’t ever be a true paleo eater. However, some people do have a hard time digesting beans. If that’s you… then by all means, don’t eat them. But lentils don’t seem to give these same issues. Lentils are lower in sugar than the big starchy beans, and are a wonderful option for protein and fiber. Plus there’s an abundance of variety and color… and so much you can do with them.
- We’re buying as much as we can from our local organic or pesticide free farms, and in turn supporting our community.
- We consume far less sugar, and the sugar we are consuming is natural sugar contained in whole fruits, vegetables, legumes and grains, which comes into our bodies with fiber so that it doesn’t ‘hit’ our blood stream in the same way as processed sugar.
- We’re buying in bulk when appropriate (like beans, lentils, grains, and even meat).
- Our meat is grass fed, free-range, happy animals that are not only sustaining us, but also providing health to the environment. And buying this kind of meat in bulk (i.e. half a cow) and using a chest freezer will help save money in the end!
- The seafood we eat is low in mercury and caught in a way that will keep the oceans thriving for generations to come.
- We’re producing less waste (fewer packaged foods, our food doesn’t have to travel as far, or through as many hands before it reaches our plate).
- We avoid toxins, GMOs, and manufactured ingredients that are so often hidden in conventionally grown food and packaged grocery store items.
- The calories we’re consuming are more dense and nutritious, resulting in us needing less overall food.
To be sure, there are a lot more details that go into this. And for anyone who is struggling with weight issues or illness, there may be other considerations that need to be made. But for everyone, if we take these ideas and apply them as much as we can to our food choices, the result will only be positive. If you would like to dive into this deeper, or get some help in implementing this to your own life, give a holler!