Is there one healthy diet for everyone? If so, what is it? Why do some diets work for some people, but not for others? What is required for a diet to be considered successful? Is it weight loss? Is it energy and balance? Is it wellness and reversal of the disease process?
I’ll start this post off by mentioning that I do not see the need to list all the various fake foods that we should not be eating at all. There isn’t any scenario in health that includes sugar, hydrogenated oils, processed foods, soda and other junk foods.
What are the most common diets holistic practitioners use as a protocol addition for treatment of symptoms and restoration of balance? There’s the paleo diet, the autoimmune diet, the anti-fungal diet, the Mediterranean, the gluten free diet and so much more. Many clients I see are confused by all the conflicting food information. Let’s go through some of these one by one.
PALEO AND KETOGENESIS
Ketogenesis refers to the biochemical process by which organisms produce a group of substances collectively known as ketone bodies by the breakdown of fatty acids and ketogenic amino acids. The Ketogenic diet consists of high healthy fat (70-80%), moderately low protein (20-25%) and very low carbohydrates (5-10%). This diet was originally developed for potentially managing epilepsy in the short term. Today ketosis is heralded for weight loss, reducing the dependance of carbohydrates and athletic competition. In theory, the very low carb diet shocks the body and causes it to burn fat as its primary source of fuel. It’s also theorized that ketogenesis negates carb cravings and energy crashes.
Paleo/Paleolithic – the Paleo diet essentially consists of plants, berries, proteins and fats. It’s like the Atkins diet, but with a bit more concentration on healthy, organic food choices. Paleo advocates the reversal of chronic disease, losing weight and improving athleticism, optimizing brain performance and more. This method of eating is based on the ‘paleolithic’ time when people hunted and gathered their food as needed. Paleo is not necessarily ketogenic. It is an easier way to start and maintain your healthy journey because there are fewer restrictions. The Paleo diet also has many studies done the last five-ten years that seem to suggest that its claim to health restoration and symptomatic relief in metabolic disease, type II diabetes, weight loss, athletic ability, autoimmunity has merit.
The Paleolithic diet resulted in greater short-term improvements in metabolic syndrome components than did guideline-based control diets. The available data warrant additional evaluations of the health benefits of Paleolithic nutrition. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26269362
Paleolithic nutrition offers promising potential for nutritional management of hyperlipidemia in adults whose lipid profiles have not improved after following more traditional heart-healthy dietary recommendations.
The Paleo diet group had greater benefits on glucose control and lipid profiles. Also, on the Paleo diet, the most insulin-resistant subjects had a significant improvement in insulin sensitivityEven short-term consumption of a Paleolithic-type diet improved glucose control and lipid profiles in people with type 2 diabetes compared with a conventional diet containing moderate salt intake, low-fat dairy, whole grains and legumes. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23890471
Even short-term consumption of a paleolithic type diet improves BP and glucose tolerance, decreases insulin secretion, increases insulin sensitivity and improves lipid profiles without weight loss in healthy sedentary humans. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26626156
This diet has gained ground the past years, and rightly so. Gluten, is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. The human body is unable to digest and metabolize gluten. Wheat, especially now, contains more that three times the amount of gluten than it did a few generations ago. Wheat is almost always genetically modified and sprayed or treated with toxic chemicals.
It is now known that gluten causes inflammation in the gut lining up to three days after it’s consumed. It is thought that the larger undigested particles of gluten in the gut cause inflammation through the activation of the immune system. This, in turn, causes a separation of the cells lining the gut so that now the undigested particles, pathogens and microbes can freely enter the circulation. This is Leaky Gut, or Intestinal Permeability. The continued activation of the immune system can lead to autoimmune problems, which is closely associated with leaky gut.
Some of the symptoms of gluten consumption are stomach pain, constipation and/or diarrhea, brain fog, tiredness, achy joints and muscles, low immune system, weight gain, depression, bacterial overgrowth and infections.
Many people are unaware that they are sensitive to gluten, specifically. As with all foods, some people are more sensitive than others. People with celiac disease cannot eat any gluten at all.
VEGETARIAN AND VEGAN
Vegetarian and vegan lifestyles have been the norm for many cultures in the world. Vegetarian diets can include some animal products like eggs and dairy while vegan diets eliminate all animal foods. There are so many great benefits to the vegetarian diet. I have met many people over the years that are vegetarian. This diet must include plant based proteins from many different sources so that the person does not become amino acid deficient. Amino acids, the building blocks of proteins, are used in so many important processes in the body. Vegetarians commonly become deficient in one more amino acids. B12 deficiency is found in almost all patients eating a meat-free diet. Vegans and vegetarians often have a high carbohydrate diet as a consequence of attempting to replace non-vegetarian/vegan foods. I caution vegans, especially, to be educated about what foods you are eating and make sure you are getting all the nutrients found in proteins.
This diet is often suggested for people with an autoimmune condition. It’s similar to the Paleo diet. The AIP eliminates gluten, sugar, dairy, soy, caffeine and alcohol initially. These foods are instrumental in stimulating the immune system through causing inflammation in the body. Without the addition of these foods, the inflammation in the body can decrease and the gut can start the healing process. Since autoimmunity is functionally associated with leaky gut, the nutritionist may recommend the elimination of legumes, all grains, sometimes nuts and nightshades as well.
I know most of you are reading this so that I can tell you what I think you should all be eating to lose weight, balance your hormones, reverse or minimize your symptoms, reduce inflammation and get a good nights sleep.
This basic template will do all of this, but only up to a point. The reason is that you are all unique, and different. The way your body metabolizes fats, carbohydrates and proteins is different that the person sitting beside you. Your genetics and how your genes are expressed, is uniquely you. If you have pre-existing health conditions or food allergies and sensitivities, then changes to the template have to be considered. The truth is, there is no diet that will work for everyone!
We already know that protein is essential in the make up of hormones, muscles, connective tissue, for liver health, for growth and repair. So we need protein every day.
One of the studies I read recently found that it’s not the low-carbohydrate aspect of the diet that helps with weight loss and fat loss. It’s the high protein aspect of the diet. I should mention that I am a supporter of protein powders as a healthy addition to the diet. This is especially true for the elderly, athletic individuals and people trying to lose weight. The reason for this is that eating protein at every meal and snack can add too much unhealthy fats to the overall diet picture. There is also the aspect of higher inflammatory processes occurring in the body with high red meat and pork consumption.
We need healthy fats every day. All of our hormones are derived from cholesterol. Our brain is made up of cholesterol. The ‘good’ cholesterol in our bodies is protective, not disease-causing! Fats are especially important for the function of our brain and mood.
VEGETABLES AND FRUITS
Fruits and Vegetables, for the most part are essential to health, including healthy weight loss. Our bodies cannot function without the nutrients and vitamins that these two food groups have. There is a caveat, though, which is that too many servings of high-sugar fruits daily will raise the glucose levels in the body. This is also true for high sugar vegetables like corn, carrots, peas and parsnips. I recommend seven or more servings of vegetables daily and no more than 2-3 servings of fruit. Dr. Terrry Wahls, MD, who essentially cured herself of progressive multiple sclerosis with high nutrient dense food, especially vegetables.
We now know that high-sugar carbohydrate foods like wheat and corn are inflammatory to the body and will cause long term damage to the gut and other organs. A big midsection (stomach) is associated with inflammation and insulin resistance.
Sugar is an addictive poison that damages everything it comes into contact with. It’s the precursor to many modern day diseases like diabetes, heart diease, liver disease and chronic system inflammation.
Dairy is usually an offending food to humans. This is because there is a protein in dairy, casein, that is very difficult to digest (some say, impossible) for humans. If we can’t digest something, then it ends up contributing to inflammation leading to leaky gut and a host of other diseases. Yes, raw milk also has this protein. There seem to be a small percentage of people that are less affected by the consumption of dairy. But, in my opinion, be cautious.
Eat primarily whole foods that are organic and home-grown, if possible. Eat proteins, vegetables, fats and some fruits. Drink water and herbal or matcha teas. This basic template will accomplish a lot for you. After that, it’s important to individualize your dietary needs with how you, personally use, digest and metabolize foods at the cellular level. Be conscious of how you feel, even after healthy foods. If you’re mindful of how your body responds or reacts to foods, you will be able to better determine what’s good for you and what isn’t.
I think the oversimplification of our diet is as detrimental to health as the overcomplicating of the foods we eat. In functional medicine, practitioners will often refer to the dietary template. In simplistic terms this means that there can be a basic ‘template’ diet that is beneficial for most people, but this template needs to be revised for each individual. We are all fearfully and wonderfully made..differently.
To summarize, each person is profoundly different in their genetics, their environment, the stress load of the body systems – just to name a few. To think that there is one diet for all is the same as the thought that there is one pill or supplement to treat all illnesses.
This article does not focus on weight loss as the primary function or goal of a specific diet. That is just another oversimplification of food! If weight loss is the only goal to the diet, then the numbers on the scale are the only conclusion that has any merit. The truth is that the food in the diet is so much bigger than weight gain or loss. Food is medicine. In this context, weight loss is only a fraction of what our viewpoint of diet needs to be. Genes in our foods have the ability to ‘talk’ to our human genes and completely change how they express themselves. That means that food can actually turn our genes on or off. Real food is true medicine and has the power to heal and reverse disease.