One of the most frequent questions we all encounter is this: What am I going to eat? Most of us are not facing food scarcity–we are facing seemingly enormous food abundance. Our markets overflow with food choices: meat, fish, vegetables, beans, grains, fruits, prepared foods, raw, fresh, dried, frozen and canned foods, gluten free, dairy free, dye-free, artificial flavored, natural flavored, organic, and vegan. Much of what we are offered is processed or grown with pesticides. More and more is genetically modified. Some is organic. So, if I am committed to eating a healthy diet, what exactly should I eat?
Food has undergone a radical change in the last generation. Without question, dyes, flavorings and genetic modification sell product. Consumers might not like genetically modified corn or soy, but judging from the adoption rate, farmers do and gmo corn and soy-based products proliferate on grocery shelves and in restaurants around town. For some of us, these changes represent a growing minefield of hazards. We suspect genetically modified corn and soy cause bt toxin to be manufactured in our gut for months after eating a genetically modified food. Although artificial dyes and flavorings, including “natural flavor” are generally small components of the foods we consume, these small amounts of additives affect some of us enormously, causing us to wonder the effect they have on others who don’t realize the cause.
It stands to reason that a diet closer to that our antecedents ate is better. But which diet? My mother’s? My grandmother’s? A caveman’s?
There is no question that veganism, which is by nature a diet low on the food chain, has a smaller impact on the planet than other choices. Many of us feel better physically after adopting a vegan diet. The famous China Study documents some compelling research on the health benefits of veganism, although it is not conclusive.
For those willing to embark on the journey, compelling research has been conducted which documents the benefits of a raw vegan diet on Type 2 diabetics. There seems to be value in this approach, particularly with those struggling with diabetes. However, a raw vegan diet is not without its risks. B12 must be supplemented, for one. In addition, the effects on longer-term bone health may be negative.
Paleo and similar keogenic diets have become increasingly popular. These diets are very attractive to those who want to lose weight, and to others who suffer from inflammation, digestive problems, chronic disease, or autoimmune disease. My own personal experience with these diets have convinced me the approach can be very useful in eliminating inflammation problems such as arthritis, and can be very useful in weight loss as well.
Some leading proponents of these diets, such as Dr. Joseph Mercola, have sounded a note of concern, however. According to Dr. Mercola, a ketogenic diet without relief is the worst diet possible, activating the body’s mTor pathway and inviting cancer, heart disease, and other problems.
Dr. Mercola has proposed in his book Fat for Fuel that we work to understand and improve our body’s ability to go into and out of ketogenesis, maintaining a moderate protein, high-fat, high vegetable and low carbohydrate diet most days of the week but taking a break once a week or so. This optimizes the body’s ability to burn fat while driving insulin resistance lower, creating a profile that sustains good health.
In the book The Four Hour Body, popular podcaster Tim Ferris advocates a similar slow-carb higher fat diet which produces significant weight loss. Tim makes a big deal about his “cheat day” on which he encourages people to eat whatever they want, but only on that one day of the week. The slow carbs in this diet are satisfying, and the diet has proven popular. Many cases of remarkable weight loss have been documented. For some, the cheat day is brutal–bringing back inflammation and bloating they had escaped all week when they weren’t cheating–and this leads them to cheat much less.
It is worth noting that we tend to make a grand assumption that one answer is right for all. In fact, most of our scientific studies depend on this assumption: all people are the same, therefore if a significant majority benefits from one approach in a study, then it must be best for all. This may not be true. The doctors at Mensah Medical, who treat their patients according to The Walsh Protocol, will tell you that different foods affect different people very differently. For example, those who are undermethylated will not do well with the high amounts of Folic Acid in kale, and they recommend their undermethylated patients to not consume it. Digging into their methods can provide more specific information on what foods are beneficial to each individual.
Whatever diet you adopt, it is important to make a considered, deliberate decision. It is worth researching for yourself. There is no greater impact on a body than the food and drink one consumes. I can tell you from personal experience, this is a highly rewarding journey.