Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Which diet is the best? Do you have to be vegan, eat raw food in order to be healthy?

I have often been asked what the best diet is.  I have clients presenting in clinic who are following one diet or another or switching from one diet to another and not feeling any better.  Many would ask me if I am a vegetarian.  As a naturopath and practitioner of Chinese Medicine, I feel it is important for me to share with you what my thoughts are on this subject. 

When I was undergoing my naturopathic training many years ago, we had to study and analyse a number of diets.  We had to practise the way of eating of one diet whilst we researched the nutrition and science behind the many, often contradictory diets.  The one I had to work on practically and did a fair amount of research on was the vegetarian diet.  I cut out all meats and fish.  To start with I am not a big meat eater, so I thought vegetarianism should suit me.  Much to my surprise, even over a 2 week period, I found my energy dropping and my sleep unrefreshed.  The last few days were really a drag, as I was looking forward to adding in my small amount of chicken and fish again.  What I learned out of that exercise was that, even though I consumed just a small amount of chicken and fish, those foods provided me with essential nutrients like magnesium and B12 that helped with energy production and nervous system support.  Moreover, the protein helped with tryptophan production that helped me sleep better.  Whilst I still consume a large proportion of plant based foods, including vegetables, seeds, nuts and some sea vegetables, adding a small amount of meat made all that difference.

There is also a misconception about the word "vegetarian".  There are a lot of people whose health is no better, but worse after becoming vegetarians.  I have seen a lot of my patients who say they are vegetarians, but in fact, they are carbotarians!  Most of their meals are full of carbohydrate, not vegetables, seeds or nuts! They always wonder why they are getting fatter and their health deteriorated after becoming "vegetarians".  Whilst we are designed to eat plenty of plant based foods, we are not designed to consume large amounts of processed foods, like breads, pastries, biscuits, potato chips, cheese flavoured onion rings, chocolate, cakes, etc.  Eating a large portion of processed foods is vegetarianism turned bad, as the fluctuations in blood sugar levels is creating cravings and more intake of sugar laden or high glycemic load foods.

I cannot say that one diet is superior to another, because it all depends on your constitution and needs.  Some people say eat everything in moderation.  I vehemently object to that statement!  Some things that do not agree with a person should just be removed, not even in small amounts!  Drug addicts who go through rehabilitation are taken away from the substance, they are not given a small amount of drug so they don’t react adversely!  And what should be in your diet or not depends on your objective, is it for convalescence, for weight loss, for better energy, etc.  It also depends on what type of physical and mental activity you are experiencing and what your needs are.  I advise you to seek professional guidance but as a starting point, if you are looking at doing it yourself, you should keep a food and symptom diary.  Tracking your progress gives a cheap and objective way of ascertaining what works and what does not.  If there is no consistent pattern you can observe, then seek naturopathic advice, we talk about food and nutrition all the time!

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