We are living in a pretty interesting time health wise. Our knowledge is expanding at a blistering rate and every day, almost, brings news discoveries into areas such as gut health, the benefits of a plant-based diet, the effects of stress on digestion and absorption of nutrients and so much more.
As humans we seem to want to crack everything, figure out life’s greatest puzzles and complete them with a single-mindedness that’s truly something to behold. I think we attack the world of dieting in exactly the same way. Each new diet that comes into fashion is like another chance to start again and we come at them with a “this one’s going to work” and “I’ll definitely stick to this one” attitude that usually falters after the first few weeks. I mean, how long have you really ever stuck to a diet for?
Over the years we’ve had the Atkins diet, one of the most well known, which like the Keto diet focuses on reducing carbohydrate intake in favour of high fat and protein. Before that though, the 80s and early 90s saw a victimisation of fat which accelerated to dizzying proportions and you couldn’t move in supermarkets for fat free yoghurt, margarine (much healthier than butter of course, despite the hydrogenated trans fats...), fat free dressings, low cal desserts and did anyone even buy full fat milk anymore? Did it even exist in the 90s?
Well haven’t we learnt a lot from our mistakes. Google the “fat free revolution” now and you’re confronted with numerous articles from reputable sources completely shaming the whole ‘fat free’ boom. Why? Because fats are essential to our health. Hormones, cell membranes and absorption of fat-soluble nutrients are just a few examples of crucial processes in our bodies that require good quality fats (quality being the operative word here, you can still leave the Mars Bars and deep fried food out of this equation). We need a certain amount of Omega 6 and Omega 3 essential fatty acids in our diet. In fact, fats are crucial for helping us to heal our generally-shoddy-due-to-our-21-Century-lifestyle, guts; and any natural healing protocol would be amiss without them.
I might be getting my timeline mixed up here but at some point next in the firing line comes sugar, and boy oh boy aren’t we fond of this one. Hands up if you’ve bought something claiming to be sugar free? If it’s sugar free it must be healthy right? Because sugar is the devil, the absolute root of all evil. Well yes and no, and I think we’ve come to understand that one a bit better now too. Refined sugar is indeed bad, it spikes our blood sugar levels with reckless abandon, offers purely ‘empty’ calories and often comes in the form of a highly processed snack. A piece of fruit, on the other hand, whilst still high in sugar also provides vitamins and enzymes that assist with the digestion and breakdown of that same fruit. They also contain fibre which again slows the breakdown process, electrolytes, minerals and more. On the flip side, sugar free drinks and snacks contain harmful chemicals dressed up as healthier alternatives to the real deal. Artificial sweeteners like aspartame have come under attack for upsetting the balance of our good and bad gut bacteria, which can spell much more serious health problems down the line. Of course, if you’re a habitual coca cola drinker and consume 6-7 glasses of the stuff a day, and you make the swap to diet, then it’s a step in the right direction. The problem with sugar, as we’ve come to realise, is the effect it has on our blood sugar and that rollercoaster of adrenaline and dopamine that we ride from all the ups and downs. Caffeine also has the same effect, and the culmination of all of these is that our blood sugar level, after having been spiked so high, can plummet below the normal ‘resting level’, which leaves us feeling exhausted and in need of the next sugary or caffeinated fix. The backlash against refined sugar is certainly substantiated by fact, and is likely to be an enduring diet trend. At CPRESS you wont find any refined sugar in ANY of our products. Everything is 100% natural, and our sweet treats usually either have unrefined coconut palm sugar in or natural sugars from banana or blueberries.
Paleo has also been making the rounds, although proponents argue that actually it’s not so much of a recent invention but a regression to the way our ancestors would have eaten. Put very simply, it centres around protein and vegetables with an avoidance of grains. Grains can be inflammatory and lead to problems for those with a gluten sensitivity or coeliac disease but for those of us that just like to keep fit and healthy they they are a valuable source of B vitamins which are crucial for maintaining good health. Paleo also tends to be low on legumes which, as we know, are a great source of plant based protein; the Paleo diet being very easily interpreted as a high animal protein diet which can be taxing on our our digestive system if taken to excess. It can also e high in saturated fat due to the hefty use of animal produce at the expense of a more varied, plant-based offering.
The Carnivore Diet
Taking Paleo to the utter extreme is the carnivore diet consisting of 100% beef and nothing else. It recently came to fame on the Joe Rogan podcast as one girl with cripplingly awful health problems had cured herself of symptoms by just eating meat. Clearly she had quelled the systemic inflammation that was wreaking havoc on her body, but we know that vegetables are the powerhouses of micronutrient nutrition and that the polyphenols they contain which tend to act as antioxidants, are crucial for preventing oxidative stress to our cells and DNA. All the research surrounding gut health that is surfacing at the moment also suggests that we need to at a wide variety of plant based foods in order to feed our good gut bugs the fibrous foods that help them survive and proliferate. Experts in the field are saying aim for 30 different plant species a week. Gut health is at the core of our existence, and if you can maintain good gut health then you are 80% of the way to optimum health. We also know that the gut-brain axis ,i.e. the connection between our gut bacteria and our brains, means that mental health is easily affected by hut health too. In short, happy gut bugs = happy mind.
I could go on and on, there’s the raw before 4 diet, the raw vegan diet, veganism in general, the 5:2 diet and so many more...I think what’s crucial to take from all of this though is that if we stick to a ‘everything in moderation” type of approach then it’s more than likely that we’ll be hitting our macro and micro nutrient targets for the day. What all these different diets have in common, save for the carnivore diet, is a plant based offering at the core. It’s never a fantastic idea to cut out whole food groups from our diets entirely as it can leave us at risk of nutrient deficiencies and health complications further down the line. Eat intuitively, eat cleverly, focus on organic produce, eat lots of veg and keep your diet as varied as possible and you’ll certainly be on the right track. Swap the diet culture for a balanced mindset and reap the benefits.
Grace Kingswell, Nutritional Therapist, N. D. Med