Eat Your Way to Better Health
Optimal health is a journey, not a state to be achieved and remain static. It is a journey about learning how to adapt to the ever-changing environment, soften the inevitable effects of aging, and let the stressors of daily life gently float through our days.
This journey consists of numerous facets of living such as healthy relationships, daily exercise, spiritual connections, engaging in activities that bring joy, and a wholesome diet. Out of all of these luxuries, food is the one that we cannot live without.
Throughout the years what has been considered a “healthy diet” has changed, largely due to research and newly diagnosed conditions. Not only are we better able to link disease to diet, but we are able to help heal the body with diet as well. The Food Pyramid created by the USDA in 1992 used to be considered a staple of how to organize one’s caloric intake, but through the years this pyramid has been reorganized and changed as views of health evolve. It changed forms in 1995, and again in 2011 to its current state of My Plate. The changes reflect a more broad sense of individuality in ones food choices, with more focus upon balanced meals.
Our understanding of nutrition and health is constantly changing and evolving. “Good nutrition is good health,” says Phyllis A. Balch, a famous Clinical Nutritionist and author of some of the most read guides to nutrition and natural health (Balch 1990).
The basics of nutrition lay within the individual components of food and is broken down into four basic nutrients — water, carbohydrates, proteins, and fats — as well as vitamins, minerals, and micronutrients. Choosing a balanced diet and maintaining caloric balance are aspects of nutritional therapy as “Over-nutrition leading to overweight and obesity is an important dietary problem as it is associated with premature mortality as well as increased incidence of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypertension, cancer, and other important conditions.” (Colditz 2014)
Nutritional therapy is a very effective way to help deal with these disorders as well as gastrointestinal disorders, such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Colitis. Many disorders of the GI tract begin with inflammation. Inflammation is the bodies natural response to injury or infection, but can turn chronic or begin to cause irritation due to poor dietary choices or a weakened system. The main response results in heat, redness, swelling and even pain. Any organ or tissue in the body can succumb to inflammation, and this response may occur without you even being aware.
Nutrition and dietary choices is a complicated field since individuality plays a big part in what constitutes healthy food choices. For example, a healthy wholesome diet for a young pregnant women varies from what is needed for an elderly male with cancer. Also it is important to take into account personal food sensitivities, certain foods that individuals may have a harder time digesting and assimilating. This is a huge facet of health and sometimes it takes the Elimination Diet (more on this soon) to fully establish what these foods are for a person.
The specifics of optimal wellness may vary slightly within various schools of thought but there tends to be common emphasis on balance within the diet and a focus on fresh foods, high amounts of vegetables and certain minerals. Learning to customize ones diet to fit ones need can greatly improve the quality of life. Drastic dietary changes should be discussed with your healthcare provider to make sure you obtain all necessary components within your food choices.
Compiled below is a list of various diets, with pros, cons and summary to help inform you of ways to help optimize your health through nutrition.
Top Diets of 2019
This dietary philosophy is focused on the principles that certain foods tend to create more inflammation within the gastrointestinal tract than others, so if you cut these out of your diet you are more likely to experience less inflammation. It is often used in conjunction with certain chronic inflammatory diseases such as Rheumatoid arthritis.
The Anti-Inflammatory Diet mainly consists of fresh fruits and vegetables, fish, and healthy oils. It requires limited calories, limited animal proteins, a significant amount of fiber, and then no processed/refined foods, alcohol, or coffee. It is a great diet for those trying to heal themselves through nutrition, and is most similar to a Mediterranean diet.
This diet is very effective but can be slightly challenging for long term commitment, as it cuts out caffeine, processed foods, and a category of fruits and vegetables called nightshades (including tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants). The more dedicated one is to the diet the better results are achieved.
Interested in learning more about the Anti-Inflammatory Diet? Check out my article.
Traditional Chinese Medicine Diet
This nutritional philosophy — sometimes called TCM — uses the intricate and nature-based ideas of Chinese medicine as a guideline. According to Chinese medicine, every food and herb has a nature, flavor, and organ system/meridian associated with it. The nature describes the effect of the food (or herbs) on the temperature of the body, while the flavor describes the taste.
Instead of viewing meals as a breakdown of proteins, carbohydrates (sugars), and fats, Chinese dietary therapy utilizes the flavors and natures of foods as a guide to a well-balanced meal.
Learning how to utilize the nature and flavors of foods and herbs is really where the true healing capacity of this diet lays. This diet is wonderful when trying to bring the body into balance. A basic understanding of Chinese medicine philosophy is needed, so check in with a practitioner, or grab a good foundational text. Some ingredients may be slightly obscure for western people, but it is always a good thing to expand our food horizons!
Learn more about the TCM diet from my article.
The NeiJing says-
“One should be mindful of what one consumes to ensure proper growth, reproduction, and development of bones, tendons, ligaments, channels and collaterals. this is help generate the smooth flow of Qi and blood, enabling one to live to a ripe old age.”
The Ketogenic, or “Keto” diet is focused on getting about 70-80% of their daily calories from fat, 15-25% from protein, and less than 10% from carbohydrates. This forces the body to burn fat instead of carbohydrates for energy, a process called ketosis. This produces acids in the blood, called ketones which our body can use for fuel, rather than glucose from breaking down carbohydrates.
Many people believe that ketones may provide the body and brain with a more efficient energy source. In the beginning it is helpful to acquire ketostix or a blood ketone monitor.
Adaptation usually takes about 2-4 weeks. Make sure to stay hydrated, as the initial phase may lead to electrolyte depletion. In the beginning it is a delicate balance of adding back into the diet vegetables and starch while still remaining in ketosis.
Paleo has become all the rage recently and is deeply rooted in many dietary plans for auto-immume conditions (for example AIP, the Autoimmune Paleo Diet). Paleo’s main focus is eating a diet close to what we think Paleolithic humans would have eaten: a diet full of meat, fish, eggs, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, herbs, spices, healthy fats and oils while specifically avoiding processed foods, sugar, soft drinks, grains, most dairy products, legumes, artificial sweeteners, and unhealthy oils (mixed vegetable oils, and trans fats).
Several studies suggest that this diet may lead to healthy weight loss and improved overall health. Diets high in fruits and vegetables can help to regulate blood pressure and improve cardiovascular function.
Raw Food Diet
A raw food diet focuses on only eating foods raw, unprocessed, or barely cooked. Foods should not be cooked above a temperature of 118 degrees Fahrenheit (48 degrees Celsius). This dietary philosophy believes that foods heated above the above temperature are less vital and have lost some of their nutritional value, making the foods harder to digest and less bio-available.
The raw food diet also avoids all processed, pasteurized, and refined foods. Some people choose to stay away from animal products, making the diet also fall into the realm of veganism (described below), but other choose to consume raw dairy, fish, meat and eggs.
Foods included in this diet are all fresh fruits and vegetables, raw nuts and seeds, soaked and sprouted raw legumes and grains, dehydrated meats and fruits, nut milks ( with no chemical additives), raw nut butters, organic cold pressed olive and coconut oils, seaweeds, fermented foods, raw meat, fish and eggs. Many people turn to this diet due to the health benefits it may offer such as weight loss, improved energy levels, increased vitality, and lower environmental impacts.
There are some vitamins that are lacking within this diet such as vitamin B12, iron and calcium, so you can consider taking a whole foods raw multi-vitamin, especially if you are not partaking in raw animals foods.
This diet consists of avoiding meat, fish and poultry, while focusing on vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts. Many people tailor this diet to meet their individual needs and wants of including thing such as dairy, eggs, or fish. While on this diet it is important to get sufficient protein from other sources. Since it does not limit intake of processed foods or sugar, it is important to keep in mind the nutritional impact these may have on your body. Eating a strict vegetarian diet, that is mainly focused on vegetables, fruits and whole grains can have a positive impact on weight control, and cardiovascular health.
The vegan diet take the vegetarian diet explained above one step further and excludes all animal products such as dairy, eggs, meat, and even sometimes honey. It focuses on excluding all animal products from consumption. Many people that choose this diet are not only focused upon the nutritional aspects but the environmental and ethical focus.
Whole 30 Diet
This amazing and healthy diet plan that is essentially a month long program, but is also great to extend and assimilate into a daily routine. The foods that are avoided are added sugar, real or artificial. No maple syrup, honey, agave nectar, coconut sugar, date syrup, stevia, Splenda, Equal, Nutrasweet, xylitol, etc. alcohol, in any form,grains, legumes, dairy, preservatives such as carrageenan, MSG, or sulfites or baked goods, junk foods, or treats with “approved” ingredients.
This diet is quite strict but puts an emphasis on vegetables and health meats. It forces you to cook more and spend more time making healthy food choices.
Balch, P. (1990). Prescription for Nutritional Healing. New York: Avery.
Colditz, G. (2014, October). Healthy Diet in Adults. Retrieved from www.uptodate.com
United States Department of Agriculture. My Plate. Retrieved from https://www.choosemyplate.gov
*Please note that severe dietary changes, especially for people with a preexisting medical condition or that are immunocompromised may be challenging for the body and changes are best to be made under the guidance of a well-versed healthcare practitioner.