The more I read about diets, the more confused I used to become. So below is my simple uptake on everything I have read, heard and studied about dietary advice - along with the most recent world wide agreed dietary advice from the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAD). Following some simple idea's makes shopping and deciding what to eat a lot less stressful.
Unless you have dietary requirements for religious or health reasons, my suggestion is that you KIS JERF (Keep it Simple, Just Eat Real Food).
Off the top of my head, here are just a few of the diets around: Paleo, LFHC (low fat, high carbohydrate), HFLC (high fat, low carbohydrate), Vegetarian, Gluten Free, Dairy Free, Vegan, Ornish, Blue Zones, Aitkins, 5/2, Fasting, Juice diet, Blood type, Lemon, Detox diet, Grapefruit diet, Mediterranean, Beverly Hills, The Zone, South Beach...... need I go on.
And then there are the more specific questions: Should you not be eating more than one piece of fruit a day? Use coconut oil for 'everything' (the answer is: in moderation - it still raises 'bad' cholesterol). Eating diary? What about the recent news about red meat - now associated by the WHO (World Health Organisation) as being linked to cancer? And especially when it comes to processed meat products being cancerous?
Most of these diets have their positives and their negatives; Paleo is been effective for some people losing weight - but long term the Paleo diet is not recommended due to the high meat content (and just on the side; if I see another recipe for 'Paleo cookies' I will scream - just because it fits into the 'Paleo' diet - does not mean it is good for you). Cutting out any one food sources eg all grains, is not doing you any favours - unless you have difficulty digesting them (in the case of Coeliacs) - or you are doing this short term to heal a 'leaky gut' (permeable gut membranes).
Juicing although has its merits (high quantity of nutrition/vitamins) - consuming fruit juice in large quantities is not good due to high fructose (fruit sugar) content, and there is such thing as too much of a good thing - there have been examples of excess quantities of kale have been known to contribute to hypothyroidism and can affect blood coagulation (as kale is high in vitamin K). Too much carrot juice can cause your skin to get an orange taint to it (although this is mostly harmless and reversible). The most detrimental part about juicing however is that you are discarding the fibre which is incredibly important for bowel health, gives our pro-biotics something to feed off and helps us to feel full (which leads us to eating less).
Abstaining from all meat products can deprive us of essential nutrients (vitamin B12, amino acids) unless you actively seek to replace them elsewhere.
The 5/2 diet does hold promising results - it does help weight loss and seems to help reduce the incidence of type two diabetes, the main emphasis is also on the foods you choose and promotes healthy not over indulgent eating. However, in general - it is the reduction in overall calories consumed which offers the greatest benefit of the 5/2 diet. Fasting has been thought to impact on immune system function - therefore being helpful in chronic conditions produced by on over active immune system. Obviously - there are limits with fasting (not to be undertaken by those with diabetes, pregnant.) Fasting in the longer term (ie not part of 5/2 diet) can obviously have an impact on mood, decision making and ability to function in general and should not be undertaken lightly or without supervision.
If you feel better off gluten and dairy, then by all means try it, but be aware of the nutrients you might be missing out on by doing so. Many gluten containing foods also contain a lot of good nutrients - which I am not ready to throw away just yet. And is it the gluten itself - or something else in the grains or other food within that food that is causing the problem (coeliac excluded of course)? Why all of a sudden the big global gluten sensitivity? Could it as some people suggest the glycophosphate (aka Round-up) or the genetic modification of these foods causing the problem in the first place? (There are instances of people not tolerating grains in one country and being fine with the same grains in others). Whatever the cause - there are a lot of people who are now unable to tolerate gluten - and this is becoming a major issue. A large percentage of the population also can not digest lactose - and should not be consuming dairy products (although they can often cope with cheese and yogurt).
Diets and dietary advice is also very individual - what might be good for one person - just doesn't sit well for another - I think this is where the individual who swears by one type of diet just doesn't seem to understand why another doesn't get it. Or feel good on it.
What is most important - is that your diet should not simply just be all about 'cutting calories' or losing weight. Having a healthy lifestyle is about eating well - not about eating skinny.
Some studies show that high fat diets may be better for some people - they feel better, get less hungry - tend to eat 'better' and maintain a healthier weight and blood markers - but any highly processed fats are not good for you. And; "when you replace some of the saturated fats in your diet with unsaturated fats or whole grains, you get an improvement in heart health" (Ref: Should you drink milk). In other words - if you are comparing high fat diets to high simple-carbohydrate (processed carbohydrates) diets - then yes - the high fat is likely to be 'better'. There is still sufficient evidence however that suggests a high fat diet is related to heart disease - despite the latest published cherry picked data that suggests it isn't, depending on what you read of course (See Dean Ornish). Although research continually supports the health benefits of low fat, high vegetable intake diets, it in all cases supports the Mediterranean style diet - which isn't low in fat - but uses minimal processed fats, uses a lot of extra virgin olive oil and consumes small amounts of meat (grass feed).
So after reading all about certain diets and listening to authors of one diet put down authors of another and the cherry picking of data to suit whatever you bent may have, this is what I have come down to:
- Alcohol, sugar and processed foods - ideally these should be eliminated (but no one is perfect!) - this includes processed breakfast cereals, highly processed grains and 'white carbs'. Up to three glasses of wine a week is thought to be OK (unless you are at risk of breast cancer)
- Be aware of hidden sugar (ie - not just the white stuff in the jar, and yes, honey is still sugar just by another name - but a good substitute) otherwise labelled as fructose, corn syrup, glucose etc. Fructose is metabolised by the body in a very different way (and not in a good way!) - excess consumption results in a fatty liver.
- Processed and cured meats (associated with an increased risk of bowel cancer and should be eaten only as a treat)
- Avoid all transfats and heavily processed oils - Use unprocessed non-grain oils (olive, coconut).
- Artificial sweeteners - although the jury is out as to why they appear to cause issues (messing with the microbiome or the insulin receptors) generally they are not good - and are mainly found in processed goods anyway.
- A plant based diet ie vegetables and fruit
- Fibre from plants. Fibre is your friend - and is mostly found in complex carbohydrates (fruits vegetables and legumes)
- Eat pro and pre-biotic foods to feed your gut bacteria (read about that here)
- Small amounts of nuts and seeds (essential vitamins, oils, minerals)
- Whole grain, minimally processed everything else (breads, pastas, grains, oats etc)
- Free range, grass feed, naturally grown meat and dairy products (it's better for the animals, better for us, better for the planet). Eat meat only a few times a week.
- Eat a wide variety of foods; colours, shapes, types. Don't repeat the same menu day after day, week after week. Try new foods.
Ideally it's great to eat organic - but it's not always easy to get your hands on (and sometimes not affordable) - and it's better to eat non-organic fruits and vegetables than not to eat them at all. Wash them well.
New Zealand (and therefore NZers) is deficient in a number of essential soil nutrients - for this reason you have to seek them outside of a normal diet - these include: iodine and selenium. Hence iodised salt - however you can get this by eating seaweed and fish. Two brazil nuts a day will provide you with your selenium. We are also, amazingly becoming increasingly deficient in vitamin D - hard to believe - so get out in the sun (half the time it takes to burn) regularly (and then get out of the sun!)
Listen to your body. If you are mindful about what you are eating - chances are you will gain an increased understanding of what feels good and what doesn't. You will know if wheat gives you a bloated stomach, dairy makes you feel basically ill. Seek help / assistance from a nutritionist who may be able to help heal the issue that is causing this in the first place - especially if this is something which has developed later in life.
Foods can affect your gene's (turn them off, turn them on (epigenetics)) especially in regards to cancer - so above everything else, chose foods high in nutrition and ones which aren't toxic to your cells (eg alcohol, transfats).
Unless your body is telling you otherwise - in the words of Michael Pollan:
"Eat food, not too much, mainly plants"
and I will add:
KISS JERF (Keep it simple silly, Just Eat Real Food).
Just today (November 19th 2015) - Finding Common Ground Released this recommendation:
The overall body of evidence examined by the 2015 DGAC identifies that a healthy dietary pattern is higher in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low- or non-fat dairy, seafood, legumes, and nuts; moderate in alcohol (among adults); lower in red and processed meats; and low in sugar-sweetened foods and drinks and refined grains. Additional strong evidence shows that it is not necessary to eliminate food groups or conform to a single dietary pattern to achieve healthy dietary patterns. Rather, individuals can combine foods in a variety of flexible ways to achieve healthy dietary patterns, and these strategies should be tailored to meet the individual’s health needs, dietary preferences and cultural traditions. Current research also strongly demonstrates that regular physical activity promotes health and reduces chronic disease risk. (Source: 2015 DGAC summary wording)
So there we have it. Don't get confused or bombarded with information on the 'latest' diet. Stick with the basics - listen to your body - get mindful of what you are putting into your mouth (see my other blog about that here) and think of it was a way of being - not a temporary way of eating.
It may not be perfect, but it takes away of lot of stress about what to buy when you are in the supermarket!
Health Science Academy Studies - "Diploma in Nutrition"
Gut Check - Exploring your microbiome - Coursera, University of Colarado
Disclaimer: This blog is written with the best intentions and is not replace recommendations from your health professional. This knowledge is gathered through studies of nutrition at a primarily lay-persons level and from a nursing/health perspective. In other words - expert I am not. This is my attempt to make sense of a very confusing industry. (And is in alignment with the very latest recommendations from experts from around the world – hoorah!)