Vegan. Vegetarian. Paleo. Oh my…
There are endless diets out there that swear up, down, and sideways to be the absolute best for your body. They usually sound thoroughly convincing too, until you read up on another diet that abosolutely, positively contradicts everything the first diet claims you should follow. This leaves the great, mind-numbing diet dilemma: which diet should I follow to ensure I’m maintaining optimal health?! Most people start out 110% on a particular diet, only to find it feels far too rigid and then they give it up completely.
While this post is not a promo for a particular diet, I do believe there are some key guidelines we can all follow to make sure we’re making healthy food choices. Food is fuel, and cooking and eating it should be a joy. Whenever I prepare a meal, I constantly think of all the people who desperately need basic provisions, and it reminds me to be grateful that I have the ability to not just choose to eat, but what to eat and when. Seriously, we need to keep that in perspective just a bit and find a happy balance. It’s incredibly easy to feel overwhelmed when you’re trying to figure out which diet to follow and why. The principles of good health, however, aren’t so much which diet you follow, but guidelines you live by when it comes to foods. If you find a certain diet resonates and fits your lifestyle a little better than another one, I say go with it. Live the life that feels most comfortable for you, so long as you continue to follow good guidelines. That’s why I wanted to breakdown some basic guidelines to follow, and wherever they lead you is up to you. And can I add one more thing? Can we kinda ditch the term diet? It sets us up for failure right from the beginning, or infers that we eat certain foods merely to be skinny. Skinny is NOT healthy. Healthy is healthy. Even if your main goal is to lose weight for better health, you’ll find great success if you create a lifestyle change that’s easy to maintain.
I personally practice a lifestyle of doing as little harm as possible. From a diet standpoint, this means I eat a 90% vegetarian/vegan diet to be kind to other living creatures (and only eat fish as a meat source). I’ve been a complete vegan and found it difficult to maintain with my super social life and intense yoga training. To minimize harm to myself as a yogini with Lupus, I maintain a gluten-free, anti-inflammatory diet of no refined sugars, GMO’s or processed foods.
10 Key Points to Forming Your Food Lifestyle:
1. Endless research shows eating a lot of meat is actually pretty rough on the body, particularly the digestive system. Eating raw fruits and veggies makes our body happy. No brainer guideline: cut back on meats, increase greens. There are tons of ways to get protein outside of meat. Mainstream medicine confirms a high protein diet does in fact lead to cardiac issues and a slew of cancers and can increase weight gain. Super bummer, I know. On the plus side: cutting back meat intake is a way we can actively control our health. A simple solution: follow actual recommend portions. In America, we rarely do.
TIP: lift weights and need your protein shake? Try a vegan GMO free protein powder; there are tons of plants that pack more protein per 100 calories than a slab of steak; plant protein is also an amazing source of amino acids—which is what your body needs to make muscles. Whey takes a lot more energy for your body to convert to building blocks to make muscles. My husband drinks a vegan protein shake and his muscles are ginormous (hooray!).
2. Eat more RAW fruits and veggies. Those bright, beautiful colors tell the story of the amazing nutrients and life packed in each item! Cooking your produce denatures the enzymes and renders them much less nutritious, although still a low calorie fiber option.
TIP: get your green smoothie on! I start my day with a green goddess smoothie which gives me more energy than a cup o’ coffee and tastes amazing.
3. When the body is digesting food, it uses 60-80% of our energy. That’s why you wanna take a little afternoon nap after a huge meal. Need more energy? Eat foods that are easy for your body to digest, like…wait for it: GREENS! See the above point about meats.
TIP: Don’t start your day with a huge, heavy protein filled breakfast. It will give you the zzzzzzzz’s…..Your body won’t even benefit from your breakfast for quite a few hours, because it takes so long for it to reach your microvilli in the small intestines—they basically grab all the nutrients from food, package it up, and mail it out to the rest of the body to be used. Know what the body can instantly absorb and use as energy? YUP! GREENS!
4. Eating meat in moderation won’t kill you. But what’s in most meats can do serious harm. If you choose to eat meat, DO please eat organic so you do not partake of either harmful antibiotics, hormones, or truly inhumane “care” of living creatures. Hormone supplements and replacements are a known cause of cancer and throw a person’s health out of wack…let’s not take “supplements” via our meat or dairy.
TIP: Opt for free range and buy from local farmers who you know treat their animals humanely. It’s totally fine to not feel a moral obligation about this (I personally do), but from a health standpoint, it’s much more sanitary and less harmful for you when animals are kept and slaughtered via humane methods. Make sure your meat is hormone/antibiotic/etc free.
5. Do avoid cow’s milk and cheese (includes whey protein powder). The body has trouble digesting milk proteins, and dairy is subject to the same chemicals and such that meat undergo. Plus, most people are allergic on some level to dairy. If you must, buy organic and preferably local.
TIP: major cheese lover? You don’t have swear it off. Goat and sheep cheese is a gentler option for you body, and the occasion cheese tray is ok. Just avoid frequently eating dairy.
6. If it’s artificial, and/or has a list of ingredients that sound like they belong in a chemistry class, steer clear. Truly, this is one of THE best things we can do for our health! And please note, diet soda is like the elixir of hell. It’s like chugging draino—a scary chemical mess! I had to break the habit myself…it’s hard, but our bodies will thank us.
TIP: make your own meals. Meal prep for success. Avoid anything that comes in a package or has obviously not “food” ingredients. If it sounds weird, it is weird for your body too.
7. If food has a shelf life (preservatives), it will hinder YOUR life. Your body doesn’t know how to process artificial ingredients, and it really doesn’t know what to do with preservatives.
8. To eat grains or to not eat grains?! THAT IS THE QUESTION! Anti-inflammatory diets promote very little to no grains. A big reason is our grains aren’t really true grains anymore; they’re a GMO experiment and therefore foreign to the body. What the body doesn’t recognize, it reacts to. Reactions look like: celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, IBS, bloating, cramping, constipation etc. and that’s just how it impacts the gut. Basically, it’s causing inflammation of the intestines.
TIP: make sure your grains are GMO free, and eat them in moderation. Opt for gluten-free if you’d like to be gentle on your gut. If you have an autoimmune disease like me, limit grain intake.
9. And speaking of GMO’s….Please don’t buy food made from GMO’s. There’s more than enough research out there that support GMO’s are exactly what they claim to be: a hybrid pesticide meets food, and that they will do to our bodies exactly what you’d expect a pesticide to do. We just don’t know if they’re safe yet. Since we don’t have any long term research conducted by company’s that promote and sell GMO’s, I’d rather us all be safe, not sorry later. I don’t gamble when it comes to health. If you’re comfortable eating GMO’s, that’s fine! It’s a choice, or it should be anyway. We should all have the option. Support GMO labeling, because we have a right to know what we’re eating and to choose one way or the other.
10. Sugar is pretty much the devil…and just as deceptive. It comes in all manner of disguises, in “health bars” and cereals, our favorite drinks, our salad dressings…it’s everywhere and it’s as addictive to the body as heroin. It’s also a killer and research confirms it ages our skin. Ain’t nobody got time for that! Moderation is absolutely the key when it comes to sugar. Substitutions are salvation.
TIP: Stevia is a great, natural alternative. Coconut nectar has a low glycemic index, and organic maple is even a pretty decent sugar alternative. Agave actually has a high glycemic index (what makes your blood sugar level spike and then crash), so avoid this as an option.
The most important thing about one’s diet is that you follow guidelines that work for you. There is no such thing as a one size fits all lifestyle or diet. If you can reduce the intake of less healthy things and increase your consumption of raw fruits and veggies, it will make a huge difference in your daily life. As you follow these guidelines, you’ll start feeling better and figuring out which things make your body feel crappy verses fabulous. Do what works for you, and also what makes you happy. Food is fuel, so let’s feed our bodies well!