With over 35 years in the health industry, I have seen many trends in diets come and go. The Beach diet, Israeli Army diet, Grapefruit diet, Atkins diet, Ornish diet, Pritikin diet etc. They may have had something to offer at the time, but like everything else, as new information comes to hand, trends tend to change and the old fall away.
So, what is a good diet? Well, good for what? Weight loss, weight gain, overall health, longevity, or insulin control or ease of cooking?
To discuss trending diets, it is worth having a reference point.
Nutritional Scientists agree that the following essential nutrient groups are required for meeting minimal Nutritional requirements – Proteins, Fat, Carbohydrates and water.
Proteins: can be in the form of animal or vegetable protein and are broken down in the body into amino acids for the rebuilding of organs and tissues. The best proteins are the most easily absorbed, and they are mainly animal proteins such as Eggs, for example.
The best forms of animal protein are chicken, fish, eggs / and plant protein – tofu, tempeh, lentils, chickpeas.
Fats: are required to make hormones and to assist in vitamin and mineral transfer. They are needed for absorption in the Gut, such as Vit D and E and other fat-soluble nutrients.
The best forms of Healthy fats are Virgin Olive oil, Fish oils, butter, cream and coconut oils.
Carbohydrates: Carbs are required for minerals, vitamins, enzymes, and fibre that feeds the GUT flora. Carbs provide a ready fuel source for the body as they are more easily broken down into sugar molecules. The Carb category may include starches such as -Rice, pasta, potatoes and bread etc., but these are not good examples of good carbohydrates. The best carbs are rich in fibre and nutritionally dense such as Fruit and Vegetables. Coloured fruit and vegetables supply the body’s source of polyphenols or pigmented plant compounds vital for immune, blood vessel and tissue health.
The best forms of Carbs are cruciferous vegetables, beetroot, purple carrots, Sweet Potatoes, all highly pigmented fruits such as blue and red berries, and Quinoa or Buckwheat.
There is a lot on the internet about these foods and the micronutrients they contain, so I will not elaborate here. The purpose is to eat the correct or appropriate amount of Fats, Proteins and Carbohydrates as building blocks for good health.
So as a general rule it is thought that for a balanced diet, and good health one should eat daily about approx.
- 15% fats
- 20% Protein ( animal or vegetable origin)
- 65% Complex high fibre Carbohydrates ( not including the starches )
The proportions here are debatable amongst Nutritionists, but as an example, as it is thought that manual workers or bodybuilders should have more protein and fats, and sedentary workers could get a bit less. The body stores amino acids, and they are available from non -animal origins.
Growing children and teenagers or Athletes can include a bit more starch due to their increased energy requirements.
Starches are generally not required and are considered “empty”, devoid of nutritional density and fibre. An example of an empty starch is white rice, whereas an excellent nutrient-dense high fibre Carb vegetable is- Broccoli.
So, let’s look at the trending diets at the moment-
- The Ketogenic diet is perhaps the most controversial due to the high proportion of protein and fats compared to carbohydrates. The main reason for its popularity is – weight loss. Yes, it does work better than most other diets for this purpose. It relies on fresh produce, so is undoubtedly Healthier than the Standard Australian Diet. ( called the SAD diet – unfortunate! )
It is beneficial for insulin control, therefore specific for hormone control, diabetes, weight loss and for those who have skin problems such as Acne. This diet is often combined with intermittent fasting for weight loss, and there is increasing evidence that fasting is good for extending longevity and promoting good health. Although the irregular fasting part is good, the Keto diet itself is considered by some not to be an excellent long-term diet due to the high amounts of fats and proteins and is low in fruit intake. The typical Keto diet has these typical proportions.
- 70–80% fat
- 20–25% protein
- 5–10% carbohydrates
My Comment: Great diet for losing weight quickly, especially waist or gut fat, or for those who have diabetes, insulin issues, and acne. Perhaps not so good long term as issues as consumption of so much fat and proteins can lead to other health issues. Dr Michael Mosley has an interesting twist on the Keto by promoting Mediterranean Keto eating with lots of vegetables and this is a bit better.
The Paleo diet: This is often referred to the Hunter-gatherer diet and is similar but not as severe as the Ketogenic diet as it allows more fruit and Carbs to be consumed. the ratios are approx. –
- 40% fat
- 30% protein
- 30% carbohydrates
My Comment: Perhaps better for those who find the Keto a bit extreme or those who want to tackle the same health conditions as keto but in a gentler way to start. In cultures that live as traditional Hunter-Gatherers, there is no breast cancer or acne, heart disease, and no diabetes.
The Mediterranean Diet: – has had good press coverage of late and is agreed amongst nutritionists as the number one overall diet for heart health and over health and well being. The reason for its top ranking is that it is a diet that has been studied and measured by food scientists over a long period of time and is one that easily fits into western culture and cooking styles.
it is loosely based on the Traditional Greek diet which includes foods such as beans, nuts, cheeses, lots of whole fibre fruit and veg, lean sources of meats and seafood. The diet can consist of wholemeal bread and pasta and of course lots of olive oil! ( the good fats)
So as a good allrounder which says yes to many food groups, then this is it!
It is suitable for those who need weight control and to balance normal blood sugars. A modified version of this diet minus bread, rice and grains is used as a basis for the Dr Michael Mosley Fast 800 diet for healthy weight loss.
Notice that I have used the term -Traditional Greek diet compared to the “ modern Greek diet”, which unfortunately is close to the Australian SAD diet ( standard Australian Diet ), which is regrettably really SAD. Studies have shown that most Australians daily do not eat the required amount of fruit and vegetables for good health.
The Mediterranean ratios are approx. –
- 20-35% Fats
- 20-35% protein
- 45-65% Carbohydrates
My Comment: Nutritionally, the best diet endorsed by most Nutritionists and a good all-rounder for maintaining overall health. Weight loss can be achieved by reducing portion size and Eliminating starches or empty carbs.
The Vegan diet: The vegan diet is restricted to eating foods of a non-animal origin. The vegan diet differs from Vegetarian diets that allow some sources of animal food such as milk or butter etc. The diet is mainly – fruits and vegetables and legumes such as peas, beans, and lentils. Nuts and seeds are allowed as are, and bread, rice, and pasta. Vegan diets can include Dairy alternatives such as soymilk, coconut milk, and almond milk. Various Vegetable oils are allowed.
The Vegan diet is the best diet for eating a Spiritual and ethical way of eating. Vegans claim that the only way to save the planet is by eating ethically and by eating plant food and not of Animal origin, which consumes many Agricultural resources.
The diet may also be suitable for inflammatory bowel disorders, high cholesterol, heart disease and cancers, and developing a healthy gut flora due to the high amount of plant foods consumed.
The majority of the diet is centred around consuming Carbohydrates and Fat and is the polar opposite of the Ketogenic diet with its low carb, high protein approach.
- 20-30% Fat – no animal fats allowed
- 15-20 % plant-derived proteins only
- 45-60% Carbohydrates, including starches
My Comment: Certainly, the most Ethical diet around and for saving sentient beings from suffering and slaughter. The health benefits have been mentioned, but this diet does not rate highly with most nutritionists.
Some shortcomings perhaps with this style of eating as it is easy to get nutritional deficiencies, for example, B group vitamins, especially Vit B12, iodine, Vit D, Iron and essential fatty acids. Seniors need lots of amino acids for tissue rebuilding so this diet may at times be lacking in protein for tissue health. Problems can also occur with ingesting Soy milk which has been shown to inactivate pancreatic enzymes and this leads to microbiome disorders, digestive absorption issues and leaky gut problems. This does not apply to fermented soy like tofu or tempeh or miso.
Another issue that applies to all that ingest pulses and legumes is that they contain Lectins. Lectins are an anti-nutrient for the body and can cause damage and inflammation to the GUT wall and prevent other nutrients from being absorbed. Lectins can be inactivated by cooking pulses and legumes in a pressure cooker.
Although Vegans may argue otherwise, this may not be a good diet for weight loss or diabetes, or insulin control unless one eats complex nutrient-dense carbs devoid of starches. Vegans can often drift into eating lots of rice, pasta and bread as a source of bulking their food intake or for convenience which is not good for insulin control. Females in particular need to be aware that a strict Vegan diet may put them at risk of iron and B group deficiency. A vegetarian diet with eggs and dairy may alleviate these issues.
So, am I against a vegan diet? – no! It all depends on genetics, lifestyle and the use of correct foods to maintain health. It may be harder to get all the essential nutrients with the Vegan diet, especially for seniors. Seniors over 70 have lost about 25% of their digestive absorption function compared with those of 25 years of age. Digestive functions start to decline after 50 and gets worse with age.
So, there you have it! Each diet has its pros and cons and what matters is your goals and purpose. Special notes follow –
Children and teenagers: The Mediterranean diet may be the best suited for this group as there are many food groups on offer and minor restrictions. Children and Teenagers need a little bit of everything to develop a healthy microbiome,i.e., gut flora.
With this group, I recommend go easy on dairy. For dairy alternatives, one can look at –
Eating dates – so one date = is approx. Calcium is equivalent to one glass of milk. A tablespoon of Tahini = Calcium approx. Equal to one litre of milk. Tahini can be made into sauces that can be drizzled over vegetables or as dips for snacks.
Bone density is laid down in these years, so lots of exercises and mineral-rich food are recommended along with the dates and Tahini.
. Children also need some Vit D supplements as well if they are not going outdoors as much.
Naturally, if the child is putting on weight, one needs to increase the exercise or reduce the starches in the diet.
For those underweight, then increasing the use of fats, good oils and nut butter, is better not so much the starches.
Seniors – For a definition, this may mean anyone over the age of 65 or thereabouts.
Seniors may have assimilation issues and muscle and bone mass loss. It is estimated that over the age of 70, there is a loss of about -25% of our digestive function and absorption as compared to when we are 25 years old. This I have mentioned before, but it is worth looking at it again. Seniors, therefore, should look at Taking digestive enzymes or taking apple cider vinegar or ginger tea ( if feeling cold) regularly with meals.
Two different soups a day in small bowls or mugs with meals is recommended. Seniors are best served with warm cooked meals in general 9 months of the year ( unless living near the tropics ) and either a protein orientated Vegetarian diet or Mediterranean style diet. Seniors can do well on a vegetarian, but not vegan diet, if it is properly administered. An example of Vegetarian Seniors is the seventh-day Adventist community in Loma Linda County, California, the USA, which is part of the ” Blue Zones”. The ” Blue Zones” are areas of the community with many seniors living longer and have low numbers suffering chronic diseases.
So, where does one start as an adult?
On the plate in front of you, it is good to have approx. 80% complex, nutrient-dense carbs in the form of coloured vegetables and approx. 20 % protein from a variety of sources. As mentioned, these ratios can be altered according to need. Vegetables can be steamed, raw, or cooked casserole style. It is assumed that dressings, sauces, and cooking methods will contain a percentage of fat that will add to the actual fat content. Olive oil dressing should be used liberally. z
Cooked food and soups should be more abundant in winter and steamed or raw foods in summer. In winter the use of ” ancient grains” such as Millet or buckwheat may be useful.
A typical daily menu could be –
Breakfast: Porridge made from rolled oats cooked with goji berries or raisins for sweetness, then add some cream and fruit like blueberries or a vegetable egg omelette when cooked.
In summer, a bowl of fruit with nuts or Bircher Muesli may suffice
Lunch: A salad sandwich and large bowl of soup / or steamed vegetables with a Tahini sauce or a rainbow-coloured salad with tuna or chicken or marinated tofu slices ( available in supermarkets)
Dinner: Steamed vegetables with a flavoured Tahini dressing / with Roasted Chicken. Crockpot dishes in winter are straightforward to do with vegetables.
In summer, have a rainbow salad with Extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar dressing, and protein of choice. Where possible in all meals have a few fermented foods on the side or on the plate. Fermented foods can be Kimchi or cabbage or beetroot – the varieties are endless in the supermarkets. Fermented foods contain enzymes that feed the GUT microbiome and are excellent for promoting good health.
Seek advice to customise your dietary requirements to suit your lifestyle needs.
For more information, don’t hesitate to get in touch with me www.adelaidnaturopath.net.au and for your free pulse health check .
Peter Farnsworth, ND.