What should I eat?
This is the most controversial question ever asked!
Traditional cultures knew what to eat and we used to know what to eat – we would eat what our parents ate, what their parents ate…..so on and on.
This way of eating was based on years of traditional eating, passed down through trial and error of what allowed the longest most robust lives for our ancestors.
It was seasonal and regional – what we could grow in our own backyard, what was easily accessible, directed by the climate and various conditions, with no waste.
Let’s fast forward to the 20th century – we now transport our foods around the world in under 24 hours far from their places of origin and we have less understanding of what our grandparents or great-grandparents were eating.
We have lost a lot of the knowledge and understanding of what our traditional foods were. Modern food processing has also changed the foods we put in our mouths so often it doesn’t even look much like what it started off as and is certainly of questionable nutrient quality.
Food absolutely affects health and these sorts of changes happened before our understanding of these any negative effects were known.
Which Diet Then?
Just the other night we were watching the TV and the local media ran a story saying that “It’s ok to eat salt every day” and my husband looked at me laughing out loud and said, “that’s good, we don’t need to hide the salt anymore!”
So it’s crazy trying to work out what we should be eating in the face of so much controversy around what is “healthy”.
Should it be free for all and you eat whatever you like?
Maybe it should be Paleo, vegetarian, vegan, ketogenic, low FODMAP, SCD, high fat, low fat, high carbohydrate, low carbohydrate………aaahhhh!
You just can’t decide!
Here are our 4 Most Important Things You Should Consider When Choosing a Diet.
1) What can you cope with – What can you manage, where is your headspace! What can you do and what can’t you do or what are you willing to do and what are you not willing to do? What can you cope with? How many people are you responsible for? What is your workload like? A mother with young children has different things to consider compared to a single person without these types of responsibilities for others. Education and training go a long way to help and support the needed changes but initially, these are essential considerations.
2) What are your symptoms and what is your context – The next really important question is what symptoms do you have and what else is going on? Do you have fatigue, eczema, high blood pressure, bloating etc. ? These sorts of things direct the type of food you eat, the timing and whether the various macro and micronutrients are required in higher or lower amounts. Symptoms reveal genetic tendencies, such as autoimmunity, immune dysfunction, allergy or cardiovascular risks. Another thing is when your gut isn’t working well it cannot process foods well, this is why some of us are intolerant to even good whole foods! Improved digestion equals improved tolerance with improved nutrient absorption and fewer deficiencies. Don’t forget your bowels absolutely need to move well and daily as well!
So diet choice can depend on what symptoms you have and what your genetic tendencies are.
3) What do your pathology markers say about you – Any diet you are on should be based on you as an individual and that your levels of inflammation, your liver & kidney markers and your insulin levels are optimal. People often say, I’m on an anti-inflammatory diet or a vegetarian diet or a low-fat diet but they have constipation or urgency and when we check some of the basic pathology markers they are just NOT normal!. So please check your pathology, you need to know where you are starting from. These are some of the basics:
- Fasting insulin levels (ideal around 5 mmol/L)
- Inflammatory markers – CRP, ESR and ferritin
- Nutrient levels – zinc, copper, iron, B12, folate, selenium and iodine
- Autoimmune markers – ANA (antinuclear antibodies) & thyroid antibodies (TPO/ TG)
- Know your thyroid levels – not just TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) but T3 and T4 too. Did you know without enough iodine you can’t make T3 and T4!
- Liver and electrolyte markers
- Vitamin D and PTH (parathyroid hormone)
Be clear it’s impossible to check everything and mostly just not needed, for instance, you wouldn’t check for allergy markers unless you suffer hayfever, asthma, rashes, eczema or have other immune system issues.
If things are not improving even after you move to a good whole food diet and have made other foundational lifestyle changes that would be the time to start thinking about doing more testing to find the root cause of why. If you need a dietary supplement to provide you with extra nutrients when your diet is lacking, check this out.
The proof is in the pudding (excuse the pun!) if you have symptoms or pathology markers that are not right then you need to consider your diet as a major driving factor.
These symptoms and pathology markers must also be considered in the context for you as an individual – valid interpretation is very important.
4) What is the quality, quantity and timing of food that is right for you based on the stage of life you are at –Your diet may need to change or evolve over time. What’s right for one stage of your life may not be right for another stage.
Here are some important examples:
- When you are pregnant or breastfeeding you need to eat differently, please no fasting
- Be more conscious of eating organic foods/additive-free foods
- You may need to eat more regularly and smaller meals as organs get pushed out of the way and impacted by growing bubs
- Eat some foods higher in iron as the need for this nutrient increases as the pregnancy progresses
- Eat more fiber & drink more water as pregnancy progresses to avoid constipation – and yes we know fiber doesn’t agree with everyone!
- If you are under an enormous amount of stress you need to eat differently – foods higher in b vitamins as the need increases with stress and eat foods lower in simple sugars to avoid energy levels going up and down impacting stress even further.
- Do you have a more active work life to a less active might require more or fewer foods or more or less whole-food carbohydrates. Shift work is important to consider too.
Each stage of our lives and our genetic potential makes us more susceptible to certain things:
- For post menopausal women your risk of bone issues, Alzheimer’s dementia, other cognitive issues and cardiovascular disease just went up!
- If your parents have cardiovascular disease (CVD) (heart attacks, strokes and atherosclerosis) your risk for cardiovascular events is higher than your mate!
It’s not just about what you eat, it’s about quantity, quality and timing of food:
- The less processed foods you eat the better off you will be.
- When you eat – if you are eating late at night it causes a cascade of responses in the body from how blood sugars and cortisol (stress hormones) are managed to how this affects our sleep and how we manage stress – eating 3 hours before bed is better for you even regardless of what you just ate.
Basically, all these things can affect what you eat and how you structure your eating.
So Let’s Start Choosing
Sounds complicated right!
Buts it’s not once the above things are considered we can start to choose what diet is right for you.
Here is a basic starting summary of what to eat for certain situations:
Please note – this is not an exhaustive list and having a practitioner look at what your signs and symptoms are may be valuable to work out what is needed for you.
What is Going On in Your Life
Foundational Foods to Consider
|Weight Loss, pre-diabetes and diabetes||Consider Low glycaemic foods, lower carbohydrates, non-processed foods or even a ketogenic diet. ‘Intermittent’ fasting where you do not eat for between 12 to 16 hours from the last meal to the first one the following day can also be an effective tool|
|Hypothyroidism – not associated with autoimmunity||
Increase consumption of seafood & seaweeds for the iodine, brazil nuts for the selenium, oysters and red meat for the zinc & iron.
Note: it’s unlikely you are deficient in all of these so check your pathology markers.
|Pregnant or going to be||No fasting, low additives and organic foods when possible, the need for smaller meals, maintain iron, iodine, omega-3 and folate rich food, eat more fiber and drink more water for constipation. No alcohol and caffeine are best too.|
|Raised inflammation||Whole foods, minimally process and increase the levels of colourful vegetables that contain high levels of polyphenol compounds and anti-oxidants that reduce the damage caused by inflammation, Foods such as seafood with omega-3 fats EPA and turmeric have important direct anti-inflammatory effects. Yet again fasting or intermittent fasting can reduce inflammation as well.|
If you stick with nutrient-dense whole foods that are lower in starches, refined sugars and carbohydrates you will go a long way to stopping cravings, staying slim and having energy all day. Stick with good fats, protein and vegetables. Experiment with a total carbohydrate intake of around 50 – 100g per day for 30 days or even more ( 2 – 4 months) if you are feeling good. If you start to feel a bit off or a desire for more carbs slowly ramp up by 25g per day for a week or 2 and see how you feel. If you feel better add a small amount more. At some point you will notice you no longer feel as good as before this becomes a measure of your maximum carb intake needed.
There is a bit of controversy over the need for carbohydrate intake for optimal thyroid hormone conversion from T4 to T3. You may find increasing carbohydrate consumption as above works best for you or sometimes a small dip is just a short adaption period and no other change is needed.
|Active Work or Exercise||This is the time to think about the possible need for greater carbohydrates added to your diet. You can even experiment with cycling greater amounts of carbs (100/ 200/ 300g) 1 or twice a week or after your most intense work or activities. Carbohydrates need to be earned!|
|Autoimmune marker(s) present||Eat foods that take the load off your gut and support the immune system by healing an over-permeable digestive tract, a so called ‘Leaky Gut’. Foods such as bone broths and more cooked vegetables can help with this. Initially, you may need to remove the most common inflammatory food such as dairy, refined sugars and gluten-containing grains. You may also need to include the removal of eggs and high fibre foods such as other grains (especially corn), legumes, lentils, nuts, seeds and nightshade vegetables (eggplants, capsicum, tomatoes & potatoes especially for Arthritis types of autoimmunity). Autoimmunity is a bit trickier to handle so you may need the professional help of a trained practitioner.|
|Under high physical or emotion stress||Foods higher in B vitamins such as organ meats (yes liver!), asparagus, lamb, beef, fish, shellfish, legumes/ beans, nuts, avocado, eggs, broccoli, dairy, sweet potatoes and carrot. The need for B vitamins increases with stress and by eating foods lower in simple sugars you will avoid energy levels going up and down which can cause further stress. Seafood or a vegetarian source of omega-3 and foods high in magnesium, zinc and vitamin C are also needed in higher amounts to support the immune system, inflammation levels and the function of the brain|
|Gastrointestinal Dysbiosis (SIBO & IBS)||You may need to consider a Paleo or a low FODMAP (fermentable, oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols) or Autoimmune Paleo diet. Looking for gut pathogens and overgrowth in the small intestine can be important and protocols using antimicrobial herbs, probiotics, gut healing nutrients and even elemental diets can be used to kill pathogens and unwanted bacteria and heal the lining of the gut.|
|Yeast Overgrowth||Low carbohydrate, low glycaemic plus the liberal use of anti-fungal foods such as garlic, ginger, onion, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and cayenne pepper.|
|Coeliac Disease/ Non Coeliac Gluten Sensitivity||Gluten-free whole foods. It’s important to also limit the processed gluten-free foods. You can join the Coeliac Society for extra info on helpful tips and tricks to follow.|
|Aches and pains – with no other known cause or as part of another diagnosis.||May need to consider diets that eliminate or reduce one or more of these – glutamates, oxalates, salicylates, metal nickel, nightshades and amines (including histamine).|
|Chronic Fatigue||Eat small meals regularly (at least 5 times per day), ensure that carbs/protein/fats are in every meal, avoid high sugar foods.|
Important For All Diets
All diets can be done “badly” or done “well” for example an all meat diet using only processed meats, with animals given the wrong feed, with chemicals added is not going to work too well. A vegan diet based on high sugar foods such as white refined bread and pasta is equally not going to work.
How foods are prepared can change a healthy food into a toxic food, the oils used, the way it is processed, what is added, what has removed all affect what you are left within the end.
All foods should be cooked and prepared in fats and oils that do not turn toxic.
Oils such as olive oil, avocado oil, ghee, coconut oil, macadamia oil, palm oil, lard, tallow and butter can be used depending on what else is happening in your body and life. Polyunsaturated vegetable oil such as cottonseed, canola, sunflower, peanut and soy should be avoided due to their ability to become inflammatory and damaging especially when heated.
Extra sugars should not be added to foods other than what is found naturally.
All diets should aim to be unrefined, which means that nutrients have not been taken out such as is the case with white bread and pasta.
Foods that are processed (aside from general traditional cooking methods) should be avoided as they are no longer what they started out as and could in fact be harmful.
One thing is for sure every single diet must consist of the nutrients we require to make our biochemical pathways work for these pathways run our mood, energy levels and many other important functions that our body does for us that we take for granted every day.
There is no one ‘perfect’ diet!
For centuries cultures around the world have shown us that they all eat different foods and modernization hasn’t changed this. All traditional diets have always been based on seasonal whole foods that are minimally processed. Weston A. Price looked carefully at these ancestral variations in food and found robust health in these traditional populations.
What may resolve one person’s health issues can make another’s worse. As we journey our way through working out what is and isn’t right for us to eat, know that others may be experimenting with various ways of eating and ploughing through information and what is right for them may not be for you.
Have fun and enjoy the journey 🙂