Healthy eating. What does that look like? Is there a one-size-fits-all diet that most supports human health? If so, then why are there so many conflicting beliefs about what constitutes the healthiest diet? Hasn't science been able to determine which foods are best by now?
Is there a way to determine the best food selections for each individual, regardless of what the 'experts' claim?
By now, most people have been confronted with a range of ideologies about what constitutes healthy eating. Some claim that we are meant to be eating what our paleolithic forebears ate, that being a more hunter-gatherer type of diet.
Others believe we will experience lasting health by eschewing the meat, and munching solely on plants.
Still others claim our health suffers because we eat cooked foods, and are destroying important enzymes in the cooking process.
Does healthy eating involve eating a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet, or a low-protein, high-carbohydrate diet, and if so, should it be fruit-based, or grain-based? High fat, or low fat?
So many questions surround the topic of healthy eating!
To get a taste of learning how to eat more intuitively, imagine for a moment setting aside all nutritional and moral ideologies, then ask yourself the following question:
Which foods among those provided by nature ~ that are easy to obtain or prepare with minimal technology ~ are most attractive to you?
By and large, people are most drawn to meats, fats and sweets, along with a little salt.
According to Chinese dietetics and food therapy, meats are considered to have a 'sweet' flavor. Fruits are also sweet and juicy. Whole grains which can be sweet when thoroughly chewed are not really as sweet as meats and fruits, and are considered to have a bland, neutral flavor.
Fats provide pleasure and satiety and can be found in many plant and animal sources. Choosing the right fats is key when considering healthy eating. What fats are actually considered healthy according to scientific studies, including the work of Weston A. Price, and epidemiological observations over many years may surprise you!
A variety of tubers or root vegetables including sweet potatoes and winter squashes also provide energy, a sweet flavor, and a sense of fullness. Add some greens and other vegetables for a balance of the five flavors, and you have the foundation for healthy eating!
Healthy eating constitutes having the right balance of potassium and sodium salts, and an appropriate level of nutrients to provide peak functioning and health of your entire body and mind. Meats and fruits and vegetables are ideal complements that can provide this balance.
How much and which of each of these foods will best support your health can best be determined through experimentation, and by paying attention to various signs and symptoms, which I discuss below.
Don and I have experimented with many variations of healthy eating over the years.
Essentially, there are signs and symptoms that can help you gauge if you are on the right track nutritionally. If you pay attention, and know what to look for, you can determine if you are experiencing signs of nutritional deficiencies, or signs of improving health, and adjust your diet accordingly.
Next, I share a bit more detail of how Don and I came to create the Trust Your True Nature Diet Plan, and a list of a few common signs of nutritional deficiencies, and signs of healthy eating.
Are you showing signs of nutritional deficiencies?
According to our recent research, vegans (and some non-vegans) can be at risk for several nutritional deficiencies, which can take some time to develop.
Some potential indicators of deficiencies of several important nutrients such as zinc, iron, selenium, and B-Vitamins include:
Liver is among the most nutritionally dense foods, containing folate, and Vitamin A, which among other things, is great for eye health. Don't like the taste or texture? There are ways to incorporate it into meals that make it more palatable. Or, try taking Now brand Liver Powder, or Universal Uni-Liver Tablets (which I usually chew. They aren't that bad! The Liver Powder shown tastes fine when mixed with a little low-sodium vegetable juice and water, along with the citrus flavored Carlson Labs Cod Liver Oil. See also top right if interested to order.
Why did Don & I create the TYTN Diet Plan?
During the fall of 2011, Don and I transitioned from eating a paleo-diet, moderately high in carbohydrates and fat, to a much lower-fat, plant-based diet. After a few months, we both had a relief from several concerning symptoms, including an advanced fibrocystic breast tenderness with visibly enlarged, fatty, and uneven sized breasts, and prostatitis symptoms for Don who has a family history of prostate cancer. The relief we experienced was pretty swift, which validated our decision to switch to eating a whole-foods, plant-based, vegan diet.
After five years of what we considered to be very healthy eating, I began to experience increasing fatigue, low-motivation, poor sleep, and increasingly poor vision. Don was also dealing with very slow healing from old injuries, and poor vision. He also had a worsening of his psoriasis, something we believed the 'nutrient-dense', plant-based diet would rectify. (You can see pictures, and read more about this here, with some before and after photos here.)
A recent blood test showed that I had 'normal' levels of iron in the blood, although my symptoms fit the Chinese medicine text book syndrome of blood deficiency, marked with fatigue, pallor, pale nails and lower eyelids, dry symptoms, and more. Don's blood test showed low phosphorous and globulin levels. These could indicate dehydration, or a low-level protein deficiency.
During the time we were consuming a vegan diet, we began to watch videos by many of the popular plant-based diet advocates who seemed to be regularly pumping out material about "what not to eat" in order to avoid the top modern killers, namely red meats (especially processed) and saturated fats.
We also read several of the books written by many of the doctors, nutritionists and dietitians promoting plant-based nutrition, and began to believe that animal protein, and especially red meat was bad, and could promote tumor growth (as T. Colin Campbell explains in The China Study).
Several of the plant-based doctors also recommended a very low-fat diet, with minimal to no added oils or plant fats. Caldwell Esselstyn Jr., M.D. claims in his book, Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease; The Revolutionary, Scientifically Proven Nutrition-Based Cure that maintaining a total cholesterol of 150 or under would make you "heart attack proof".
Other studies posted Dr. Neal Barnard's group at Physician's Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) seemed to indicate that the more servings one consumes of red meat, the higher the risk for breast cancer, and other conditions.
After 'saturating' ourselves with information about plant-based diets and nutrition, we were convinced we were now on the right track, consuming what was perceived by the plant-based diet advocates to be the most nutrient-dense foods which promote health ~ whole grains, beans, vegetables, sea vegetables, greens, and fruits. We also included some nuts and seeds, and small amounts of oils after going for an extended period without.
Because we both were experiencing potentially pre-cancerous symptoms, and because of the information we read in the above, and several other books, we stopped eating animal foods all together.
And, as I mentioned, the initial swift relief of our more disconcerting health symptoms validated this decision.
In fact, we were so sold on plant-based diets, during our five+ years of being vegan, I completed T. Colin Campbell's Plant-Based Nutrition Certification course through e-Cornell, an online macrobiotic counselor course through Macrobiotics America, and I wrote not one, nor two, but four books on plant-based nutrition, and macrobiotics! Don wrote several books as well.
While much of the information we shared is still of value, we are remiss to keep our books on the market as we have since realized where the holes in our own education led us to the wrong conclusions. We do not want to sell material promoting a diet that we ourselves no longer follow. Our desire is to promote health, not just sell books.
Nevertheless, after five years, we had a growing sense of dissatisfaction, despite eating big bowls of what I used to call, 'grains, greens, and beans'. We also both had a growing general sense of malaise, poor moods, lower motivation, and ongoing digestive issues, some of which we had rationalized were caused by other factors.
We decided to go back to the drawing board to investigate any new research that had come out over the last several years ~ during our time period of eating a vegan diet. Were some of our symptoms a sign of specific nutritional deficiencies that we could try to rectify? (See common nutritional deficiency signs above.)
We also contemplated the fact that only humans seem to be confused about what constitutes healthy eating! Other animals instinctively know exactly what to eat. Aren't we supposed to be more advanced?
Scientific studies can help us determine what constitutes healthy eating, but we are also equipped with sensory organs that can guide us instinctually to the best choices.
One day, Don had an epiphany. He had previously read NeanderThin, by Ray Audette who suggested only eating those foods you could eat without needing modern technology. Don realized that if we just trust our true nature ~ and choose from among the foods that Nature has historically provided in abundance ~ we could better determine what constitutes healthy eating for each of us.
Nature has always provided man ~ and all animals ~ with an abundance of options for healthy eating! Natural foods, are those foods you can obtain from nature as Ray Audette, would say, "naked and with a big stick."
Animal flesh foods, and a variety of fresh plant foods, including greens, vegetables, tubers, nuts, seeds, and fruits ~ have been available world wide in varying degrees throughout history.
Whole grains and beans are a more 'modern' food that began to be cultivated with the advent of modern agriculture.
After spending some time researching some new and old studies, and revisiting books, like NeanderThin, and Life Without Bread, How A Low-Carbohydrate Diet Can Save Your Life, by Christian B. Allan, PhD, and Wolfgang Lutz, MD (both of which I now highly recommend) ~ we have come to see that the true and original Western diet ~ a diet primarily centered around animal foods and fats ~ was indeed a good model for healthy eating after all.
Several decades ago, fruits and vegetables never accounted for much more than 10% of the total calories consumed, on average. And, most foods that previous generations consumed were produced locally ~ from one's own or another nearby small farm ~ similar to our European ancestors.
For example, in his book Germania, the Roman historian Tacitus (AD 56 to AD 120) reported that the diet of the native Germans consisted of wild fruit, wild game, and dairy products. He also observed the Germans to be large framed and very strong.
Sadly, our current mechanized version of a Western diet, replete with refined, packaged and processed foods, is calorie-rich, and nutritionally deficient. I postulate a theory that the simple basic Western diet was once a reasonably healthy diet ~ modeled after the diets of our European ancestors ~ which I will be writing more about, and will link to when available.
Studies have shown that folks who live in rural areas tend to have better health than their urban counterparts, who rely more on take out and processed 'convenience' foods. Rudolph Ballentine discusses this in his book Diet and Nutrition, A Holistic Perspective.
Joel Salatin recounts a couple stories in his book Folks, This Ain't Normal: A Farmer's Advice for Happier Hens, Healthier People and a Better World indicating just how pervasive the disconnect from our food source has become. There are now people who pretty much only eat pre-packaged foods that can be quickly zapped in a microwave, and have no clue how to cook a simple meal from fresh whole foods.
Healthy eating requires taking the time to pick up food to prepare at home. You can learn how to make better choices when ordering food out at a restaurant, however, you have much more control over everything going into your body when you prepare food at home.
Don and I revised our approach to 'healthy eating' and devised a new healthy diet based on what we were most drawn to, and our updated research on nutrition ~ hence the TYTN Diet Plan was born. Each person can adapt the choices ~ among those foods recommended ~ to best suit their needs and health goals.
The TYTN Diet Plan highlights the foods known to best support development of muscle growth coupled with fat loss to achieve an optimal body composition.
Eating protein and fat has been shown in several studies to be best for developing muscles.
According to conclusion by the authors in the abstract, Dietary Protein for Athletes: From Requirements to Optimum Adaptation, published on Pub Med:
"it does appear, however, that there is a good rationale for recommending to athletes protein intakes that are higher than the RDA. Our consensus opinion is that leucine, and possibly the other branched-chain amino acids, occupy a position of prominence in stimulating muscle protein synthesis; that protein intakes in the range of 1.3-1.8 g · kg(-1) · day(-1) consumed as 3-4 isonitrogenous meals will maximize muscle protein synthesis. These recommendations may also be dependent on training status: experienced athletes would require less, while more protein should be consumed during periods of high frequency/intensity training. Elevated protein consumption, as high as 1.8-2.0 g · kg(-1) · day(-1) depending on the caloric deficit, may be advantageous in preventing lean mass losses during periods of energy restriction to promote fat loss."
Other studies have shown that even those who are not athletes can safely consume higher levels of protein with good results.
Since switching our diet to once again include animal foods, we have noticed great results with our own strength training routine ~ with swifter recovery, greater endurance, and more immediate and observable muscle gain.
As a bonus, our skin and hair has become much softer and shinier as well. A sure sign of eating a healthy diet!
Below are photos of the foods we were consuming while following a whole foods, plant-based vegan diet, based on principles of macrobiotics which typically focus on whole grains and a variety of greens and land and sea vegetables, along with some beans and legumes ~ foods we once considered foundational to healthy eating.
Before concluding, here is one more simple study to consider:
A 1999 crossover study published in Pediatrics, was conducted on 12 obese boys comparing the hormonal appetite regulating effects after consuming a low, medium, or high glycemic breakfast. The low glycemic breakfast consisted of a vegetable omelette with fruit, and the medium and high glycemic breakfasts consisted of oatmeal. The high glycemic breakfast was made with instant oats, while the medium glycemic breakfast was made with steel cut oats.
They were given a lunch, and a low-glycemic dinner. During the day, between meals, they were to ask for food when they felt hungry, ad libitum. The hormonal and metabolic test results indicated a clear difference between the various diets, with the low-glycemic breakfast producing the best results.
They consumed less food and had a better insulin response following the low-glycemic vegetable omelette, then when consuming the instant oats, and the steel cut oats.
This study exemplifies to me the different effects of eating carbohydrate-rich meals, versus a meal made with protein, and some vegetables and fats.
We have experienced greater energy and satiety and much better digestion eating animal protein-rich meals with some vegetables or fruits, than when we were consuming even our higher-protein grain, bean, and vegetable porridges while vegan.
The classic oatmeal porridge on the left, made with steel cut oats (shown here topped with a few walnuts and a little sprinkle of brown sugar ) provided more satiety than instant oatmeal to the boys in the crossover study, however, the classic 'Western' breakfast of eggs (shown here scrambled with some ham, spinach and other veggies) has a lower glycemic index than the oatmeal, and provided longer lasting satiety, with a better insulin response.
To determine what constitutes healthy eating for you will also depend on the context of your past habits, and current condition.
Within the greater framework of our TYTN Diet Plan, there is an ideal set of foods that can be determined based on your personal goals and needs.
In summary, what constitutes healthy eating will vary for each person, however there are basic rules that apply to all, such as avoiding the foods that are definitely not part of a healthy eating plan, as mentioned above, and as outlined here.
It is our desire to empower people to free themselves from rigid dietary boxes, prevent potential health challenges, and enjoy ones diet and life.
Food is to be prepared and enjoyed as a sacred act. When we are mindful, and have embodied the above principles, we can finally trust ourselves to be the best determiner of what healthy eating looks like for each of us individually, more easily tuning out the rest of the noise in the endless sea of dietary fads and advice.
Ultimately, we are each responsible for our own choices, and the creator of our outcomes. Determining what is healthy eating is a personal journey, one that can save you countless dollars in medical bills, and provide you with a much greater quality of life!
Embracing this responsibility is a far more empowering and liberating way to live!
Special note: The books shown above are a sampling of resources we read which represent both sides of the dietary debate. I try to highlight in the text which I especially recommend. Several books shown that convinced us of committing to a plant-based diet are interesting, however, we now see the gaps in much of the research cited in those books. Read with an open mind. There are always two sides to every story. Studies are very easy to interpret in a way that reflects what you are trying to prove. Sometimes the devil is in the details that were not discussed!
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