For those of us who are first entering into the vast world of health and wellness, it can be overwhelming when considering where to start. There are so many aspects to consider. We can start wading into the waters of which diet to chose, whether it be vegan, paleo, fruitarian, keto, carnivore, SAD, Whole 30. This can prove to be a completely overwhelming and frustrating path to go down.
Even if you ask friends for advice, opinions might come at you with biases that have to do with ethical motives, or tribal mentalities. I say tribal, because we have a natural tendency to identify our purpose or worth with what belief system we happen to follow. Many vegans I know may not have much to say in terms of concrete science to back up their beliefs, but the ties to ethics and morality in relation to animals are so strong that nothing can really be discussed. Many in the paleo world can adopt a similar bullheaded attitude and be reluctant to new science or information
So can someone that is busy, perhaps with a family to look after, a job that takes up a lot of the day, start getting healthier without getting to lost in the rabbit hole that is human health?
1. Consider What Our Body Can’t Process
Lets use the principal of Occam’s Razor. The simplest solution is the right one. This doesn’t mean that you can’t dial in things further down the road and experiment, but there is no need to try a diet that is going to be hard to comply with. We can just look at what we know should be reduced in our diet.
From an ancestral perspective (the way I look at health), there are a few things that have been added to our diet only recently in the scope of our evolutionary history. Around 9,000 B.C, farming of grains started to become a reliable source of food for people. This is after about 2.5 million years of hunter gatherer ways of eating, in which animals were a main food source for many populations, with plants like starchy tubers and berries consumed alongside them. Some island populations had more access to fruit and plant foods, but there where basic needs met, and many things were not around that we consume in excess today. Most peoples modern processed food diets are built of foods that we don’t have the ability to thrive on.
The three big foods that we can immediately discount are the following; Sugar, grains, and PUFA-rich vegetable oils. The amount of sugar people eat is staggering. Not only is it a completely unnecessary and harmful food, it is highly addicting. When consumed in a refined form and not bound to fiber in fruit, it raises blood glucose levels alarmingly quickly, causing a rush of insulin to be poured into the bloodstream. If we have not “earned” the extra fuel by depleting our stored glucose (known as glycogen), insulin shuttles the glucose out of our bloodstream to be stored as fat. Continually spiking insulin causes fat storage, inflammation of the arteries, and oxidation of cholesterol in our bloodstream. This leads to heart disease, weight gain, and diabetes. We can safely avoid basically all carbohydrates at the extreme (ketogenic diet), because we do not need carbohydrates to survive. We have a very efficient fuel system in place to make glucose out of protein, or ketone bodies (energy from fat) out of fat stores. In short, we only need as many carbohydrates as what we burn in intense activities. Getting our carbs from vegetables like starchy tubers, leafy greens, and from fruits ensures we don’t go overboard with them.
Grains are of a similar category in my book. Completely unnecessary amounts of carbohydrates, along with large amounts of anti-nutrients like lectins and phytates. These compounds prevent the absorbtion of vitamins and minerals, and cause irritation to the gut lining. This lead to “leaky gut”, a condition in which material from the intestines leak into the blood stream and cause systemic inflammation.
Vegetable oils like canola, soy, sunflower, and corn, are usually labeled “heart healthy”. This is because they have the tendency to lower total cholesterol, which is not always the desired outcome. We need cholesterol to live, we are made up of it. Research being done by people like Dave Feldman show that what matters is not the amount of cholesterol in the blood, but the amount of triglycerides relative to our HDL cholesterol. Triglycerides are the free floating lipids (fats) in our bloodstream. They are energy that has been liberated from stored fat or ingested. When these are chronically high in our blood stream it means something is wrong and our body has nowhere else to put the fat, or does not know how to use it for fuel. Vegetable oils often are oxidized (partially broken down, meaning unstable) before being ingested. This in turn oxidizes the cholesterol in our blood stream, setting off a chain of systemic inflammation that leads to heart disease. So yes, vegetable oils lower your cholesterol, by breaking it down into broken molecules that inflame the system…..
2. So What Does Our Body Need?
Let’s look at the three macro nutrients. We’ve established we don’t need as many carbohydrates as we generally consume, so that leaves protein and fat. For protein, getting it from good sources like grass fed animals, free range eggs, and wild caught salmon is ideal, but can often be expensive. It is preferable because the nutrient and fat content of these animals will be superior. In the beginning though, if funds are tight, just focusing on getting a couple of serving of animal foods into your diet is key. There are amino acids we get specifically from animal sources that are not found or are in very low amounts in plant foods. Vitamin B12, fats EPA and DHA, our particular nutrients that are key for brain function and healthy cell metabolism.
Fat can come from the meat you are eating. This can include fattier cuts of steak, fatty fish like salmon, eggs, skin-on chicken, the list goes on. Don’t be scared of these fats. They are loaded with key vitamins, minerals, and along with the protein help keep us satiated. Fats DO NOT MAKE US FAT. That would be like saying eating blueberries turns us into a blueberry.
Fat can also come healthy sources like grass fed butter, cheese if you tolerate it well, olive oil, coconut oil, and avocado. Use these to add some fat to a meal like a salad, or drizzled on veggies. These provide long burning fuel and insulin control, so that we are not throwing our blood sugar up and down, and crashing in the middle of the day. I guarantee that replacing grain based food with vegetables, animals, and fats, will leave you feeling more energized through out the day.
3. Put It Into Action
Ok, we’ve established that grains, sugar, and certain oils shouldn’t be in our diet. What does that leave us? How could we possibly survive without toast with breakfast, a sandwich for lunch, or pasta for dinner? It leaves us everything! Here is a sample of what my day of eating might look like.
3 slices of bacon, 2 eggs, half and avocado
Large salad with whatever veggies I have prepped. This includes avocado, cherry tomato, red onion, bell pepper, asparagus, ect. I usually prep a protein like steak or chicken earlier to throw on. Top with olive oil and vinegar (I like Balsamic).
8oz steak, avocado, TB butter, sautéed spinach. A few berries or dark chocolate for dessert.
nuts and seeds, jerky, dark chocolate, coconut butter, cheese, pork rinds (look for pasture raised pork), celery and peanut butter.
That is just one example. I usually don’t eat 3 meals a day. I often will have 2 large meals. Whatever works with your schedule! The important thing is getting rid of processed foods, grains, and sugar. This will have immediate effects and lasting effects on your health.