Sunday, January 19, 2014

What is a Healthy Diet?

Today I thought I might get down to basics. It is quite possible we could argue all day and keep going through the night about what particular components comprise a healthy diet. Because most people (without even realizing it) treat diet like a religion. Some believe that meat=murder. Many people believe that a vegan diet is the epitome of healthiness. Despite the fact that human beings cannot survive on a purely vegan diet.

At this point I would like to insert a snippet of wisdom I read on a bumper sticker in Baltimore last night: Don't believe everything you think. HA! Do you love this? I laughed out loud when I read it. But then I said "YES!" This is some darn good advice.

When it comes to diet, we have been fed (both literally and figuratively) a crock of crap. As soon as the US government decided to get involved in recommendations about what we should eat, we began to learn "facts" that were basically invented by politicians to further their particular platforms. (Read The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollin and Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes if you want in-depth, detailed explanations of this fascinating bit of history.) One disgusting example was margarine: touted as a healthier replacement for butter, the transfats were later found to cause heart disease. Saturated fats, like the ones in butter, have now been cleared. Too late for all of those who consumed transfats all their (shortened) lives while giving up the delicious and healthier real food: butter.

But getting to the point: what makes a healthy diet? I think the way to figure this out is to first define what you mean by "healthy." How do you know if you're healthy? Are you thriving? Or are you just surviving? Because humans can survive on really poor diets. Look at the typical American diet: white bread, processed meats and cheeses filled with preservatives, deep fried doughnuts, all washed down with gallons of sugary soft drinks. Are people dropping dead from eating this swill? Perhaps eventually, but certainly not instantly. But I think we can agree this type of diet does not produce vibrant health. Often, this diet produces obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and all the horrors we wish to avoid.

I believe health looks like this: clear skin, shiny hair, strong teeth free from cavities and gum disease, strong muscles, lots of energy, clear mind, clean lungs, strong bones, lack of disease, strong immunity, and a positive outlook. I may have forgotten to mention about a zillion other components, but basically scan through your entire body and assess which systems are working exactly as they were designed to and which systems are broken. Are you frequently sick? Do you pick up every cold, flu, sniffle or cough that comes along? Are you tired all the time? Do your joints ache? Have you broken any bones recently? Do you take medications on a regular basis? Are you depressed? If you answered yes to any of these questions, it is possible your diet could be adjusted and improved.

And if we can agree on what the word "healthy" means, will we be able to agree on what components of a diet bring us into this state of excellent health? I sincerely doubt it.

Even though we may not agree on everything, I'm guessing we can all agree on one thing: veggies are healthy. Right? No one can dispute this. And eating a wide variety of the freshest, darkest, and most colorful rainbow of vegetables is one of the most important components to achieving vibrant health. Throw in a piece of fresh fruit here and there.

To this, I would add plenty of high-quality protein. And in order to get the highest quality protein which contains the essential amino acids our bodies need, you must turn to animal products. Soy replacements just do not cut it. Can you survive on soy? Probably. If you are careful to constantly take supplements for the essential vitamins and nutrients you are missing. But I think we can agree that surviving is not the same as thriving. Best sources of protein include grassfed beef, lamb, wild game, chicken, turkey, wild-caught salmon and other fatty fish (best source of omega-3 fatty acids as well) seafood, and pasture-raised eggs.

And last of all, don't neglect your healthy fats. Grassfed butter is a good source of Vitamin K-2. Organic coconut oil is rich in medium-chain fatty acids. Olives and avocados are a good source of vegetable fats, as are nuts and seeds. But fatty fish is your very best source of omega-3's, an essential part of a healthy diet, affecting everything from joint health to brain function and mood.

Bottom line? Eat real food. Not processed junk. Eat whole foods. Eat a wide variety of foods. And feel better soon.


2 comments:

  1. I think that health is an incredibly personal thing; the last thing one should do is attempt to apply broad, "designed for everyone" diets or nutritional guides to one's own life. I agree that first you need to decide what "healthy" truly means to you, and go from there - eat the things and do the activities that help you to feel "healthy". If I ate according to the government's guidelines, I'd be as big as a house and inflamed all the time, because I have a sensivity to certain grains and animal proteins. I know that for me, eating a diet based mainly in plants makes me feel good and, as you put it, "thrive". If you are truly committed to finding what works for you, then you will get there eventually.

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  2. Diet is certainly a very personal choice. I also believe that plants should constitute the major portion of a healthy diet. Not everyone is able to eat every single food successfully. I happen to have a serious allergy to kiwis, of all things! Sure, it's a healthy food for some people, but eating a kiwi could actually kill me! (Yes, it's that bad!) So I agree. We each need to find the proper balance which equals healthy for us.

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