One of the most common questions people ask their medical practitioners, especially those of us on the alternative side, is “What’s the best diet for me as an individual?” It’s easy to tell why they might be confused. In the last several years, there has been a greater emphasis on eating foods that fall under very strict restrictions with the idea of minimizing negative food reactions. Vegetarianism, Veganism, Paleo, Atkins, Gluten-free – it’s no wonder people are confused. Well, I’m sorry to say that I don’t have those answers for you. What I can offer is a different way of looking at food and how it interacts with your body. By incorporating a few simple ideas into how you think of food, you will have tools available to help you determine which foods should become staples, which foods to avoid, and which foods you can indulge in, but only every once in a while.
One thing that I will say to avoid universally is anything that wasn’t considered a food prior to 1945. When I say this, I’m not talking about foods that didn’t reach the US until after that point, or combinations of ingredients with a more recent pedigree. I’m referring to foods, additives, preservatives, and other edible compounds that literally had never been consumed by any living creature on earth prior to that point in time because they didn’t exist. There were a number of creations that came pouring out of the factories of chemical and pharmaceutical companies following World War 2 that found their way into the food supply. Artificial flavors, colors, and preservatives were discovered that have since become obsequious, but which our bodies have no history of ever processing. Adapting to a new factor in the environment often takes several generations and in the past four generations, humanity has seen literally millions of them arrive. These items won’t have an immediate effect, but if they become a regular part of the diet, they can start to build up in your system (which has no use for them, but doesn’t always flush them out) and create greater health problems or exacerbate existing ones over time.
The second step is to keep a food journal. This isn’t terribly uncommon advice when it comes to dieting as most people generally don’t think about all the things they consume during the day. The difference in what I’m advising is that 3-4 hours after you eat, write down how you feel. Good, bad, bloated, tired, energized, clear-headed? Write it down. The reason you want to wait a few hours is because our digestive system takes time. Well, let me qualify that. It takes time to break down foods that are complex, full of nutrients, and which haven’t been overly-processed. Some simple and quickly absorbed foods are fine – things like soups and broths for example. But if you have a hamburger that breaks down fast enough to make you feel energized in fifteen minutes and hungry again two hours later, that is not a good thing if you aren’t burning through those nutrients through physical exertion.
Let me put it another way. Fast food especially, but anything that you can get prepared really, is basically pre-digested. That’s what processing means. The food has been broken down to make it easier to absorb. That’s part of how juicing works. The problem is that our digestive system works best when it has to break things down. If that work is done for it, some things that shouldn’t be absorbed are, and other things that are supposed to be released slowly hit the body in a flash.
Here’s another way to think about how food should make you feel. A good meal should feel like waking up after a good night’s sleep. You should feel energized, but calm and collected. Like you are ready to go all day but at your own pace. Overly-processed and artificial foods will make you feel more like you’ve just slammed a triple-espresso after 3 hours of sleep. Technically you have energy, but it’s the jumpy, nervous kind that leaves you exhausted three hours later.