So what the heck can I eat?Oct 01, 2023
Over the last few weeks, we’ve reviewed the different macro and micro nutrient requirements that we consume in our food. Remember, food doesn’t just provide energy–it also gives us the building blocks for various tissues in the body and the various means of communication from one system and organ to the others, such as neurotransmitters travelling from one neuron to another.
In case you missed any of the articles, here they are again:
Now let’s use this information to create healthy meals, making sure we get all the essential macro and micro nutrients on a daily basis.
First of all, here’s a review of some guiding principles:
- Just Eat Real Food!
That means whole, unprocessed, toxin-free, as close to nature as possible, real food. In other words, as close to the source, be it garden or farm, as unprocessed as possible, avoiding manufactured “food products.”
- Plan ahead
Don’t get caught with your head in the fridge at 6 pm wondering what to eat! Or out on the road at noon having nothing to eat with you, and fast food restaurants lining off both sides of the road.
It’s worth spending time one day a week to plan your meals for the week ahead. Consider your schedule, noting when you need to take snacks or a meal with you. When you will be eating out, are you able to plan that ahead as well? This allows you to revise the remaining meals that day so that you don’t eat more than you like to eat. Most restaurants these days post menus online and if you can decide ahead of time what you’re going to eat so you won’t be influenced by what others order. And many restaurants will make substitutions, so don’t be afraid to ask. For example, ditch the fries and have a green salad! Your body will thank you. If you’re going to a potluck, always take something that you can eat. And if you're dining in someone else’s home, do you know them well enough to call them up and be that person that likes to know ahead of time what they’re going to eat?
- Fat, fiber, and protein at every meal and snack
Protein and fat are very satiating, whereas starchy carbohydrates are not. This is especially important to remember at breakfast, where we may have grown up eating cereal and toast–and then feeling hungry again at 10 am, whereas a higher protein meal will keep you going well into the afternoon. As for fibre, low glycemic fruits and veggies provide lots of it and will help fill you up.
- Let veggies and some fruits half fill your plate
Start here, and let them fill at least half of your plate. Then pick high-quality protein and fats, and a small amount of starchy carbs, and use these almost like a condiment to add flavour.
- Eat your largest meal at noon
According to Ayurveda, your digestive fire, also known as your Agni, is at its peak at noon, whereas later in the day it’s not as strong so let breakfast and dinner be lighter and smaller.
- Eat most of your meals at home
Food that you shop for and prepare at home allows you to know exactly what you’re eating and this unfortunately is not true when you’re out at a restaurant, especially a fast food restaurant. So do your best to take the time to prepare your own food. It’s OK to start small with a few meals a week, and by all means employ what is called meal planning, which means preparing extra servings and storing them for later meals.
Healthy Eating Styles
Research has found that eating styles like the Mediterranean diet are healthier than the “Standard American Diet (SAD)” which relies on lots of processed foods, animals raised in crowded, inhumane conditions, and cheaper items such as sugars and processed seed oils.
Vegan diets are also very popular, and can be very healthy as long as they consist of real healthy food, and not some of the processed offerings of the food industry. Just because something is labeled “vegan” doesn’t mean it’s necessarily healthy.
Paleo: Many people have adopted what has become known as the Paleo diet, where grains, legumes, dairy and other foods that humans have been eating for less than 10,000 years are removed. The rationale? There simply hasn’t been enough time since the adoption of agricultural methods for our human bodies to adapt to these “new” foods. Of course this is different for each individual, so the best practice is to experiment!
More recently nutritionists have created combinations of styles for particular purposes, such as the MIND diet for brain health. (Click HERE to read more about it.)
Another diet developed recently by Mark Hymen is what he calls the Pegan diet. This is a combination of Vegan and Paleo recommendations.
What do they all have in common? But all of these eating styles remove processed foods–anything with a food label containing multiple ingredients, particularly sugars and processed oils.
The bottom line for each of you is to try these out and ask your body how it feels: “What is healthy for you? What makes your gut happy? What gives you the most energy and allows you to live the life you want?”
So what some of these eating styles include?
The Mediterranean diet is a way of eating based on the traditional cuisine of countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea. There's no single definition for the diet. But most often, it's high in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans/legumes, nuts and seeds, olive oil and seasonings with herbs and spices. In addition, have some fish, poultry, beans, and eggs each week, moderate portions of dairy products and limit how much red meat you eat. But avoid processed and “fast” foods of all kinds.
There are actually a few different styles of vegetarian diets including:
Lacto-ovo vegetarians: Do not eat meat, poultry, or fish, but do eat eggs and dairy products.
Pescatarians: Avoid meat but may eat fish
Vegans: Do not eat meat, poultry, fish, or any products derived from animals, including eggs, dairy products, honey, or gelatin.
The paleo diet may also be known as the Stone Age diet, the caveman diet or the hunter-gatherer diet–what did our ancestors eat 20,000 years ago before the advent of agriculture? The paleo diet food list includes: fruits, vegetables, lean meat like grass-fed beef and game meats, fish, including those high in omega-3 fatty acids like salmon and tuna, nuts, eggs, seeds like chia seeds and flax seeds.
And avoid: grains, legumes, dairy, refined or added sugar, added salt, highly processed foods, and certain vegetables that are high in starch like corn, peas and potatoes.
According to Mark Hymen, the paleo diet and a vegan diet don’t have much in common. One focuses on meat, while the other excludes it. But what if you take some of the healthiest qualities from both diets and combine them into one?
Going Pegan means you can eat:
- Fruits, with an emphasis on low-glycemic fruits like cherries, strawberries, pears and apples.
- All vegetables.
- Dairy alternatives without added sugar like unsweetened nut milk or coconut yogurt.
- Nuts and seeds (except peanuts, which are legumes).
- Oils rich in healthy fats like avocado or olive oil.
- Meats and poultry (preferably organic, grass-fed, sustainably raised meats).
- Sustainably caught fish, especially low-mercury options like anchovies, salmon and sardines.
- Plus small amounts of black rice, legumes like beans or lentils (up to one cup per day), quinoa, and sugar or desserts, though these should be very limited.
- Bread and most grains like barley, oats and wheat (except black rice or quinoa).
- Dairy products including milk, cheese, ice cream or yogurt.
- Foods with added sugar or a high glycemic index.
- Processed foods like packaged crackers, snacks and baked goods.
And all of these plans make a point of avoiding processed foods and manufactured food products.
For more on all of these eating styles, see the references below.
So how do you put this all together and design each meal and maybe even a full menu plan for a week?
As a special offering on Thursday, instead of the usual five or six recipes, I’m going to give you a Mediterranean Flex plan for the entire week, including recipes, and a shopping list. This is based on a Mediterranean plan, including fish, chicken, and legumes, as proteins. But it can be modified to Vegan by switching out any animal proteins for additional plant-based varieties. It can be modified to be Paleo by taking out starchy carbs and adding more protein and veggies.
Here’s a sneak peek:
Vegetarian and Vegan
Paleo and Pegan
For more info on this and other natural health topics:
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