Is Your Diet a Healthy Diet?
If you’re pressed for time or in a hurry, you don’t prepare your food but instead go to a drive thru and order burger, fries, soda and sundae for dessert which you can get in 15 minutes or less. You take a bite of that sandwich bearing fried or hopefully grilled beef burger with onion, tomato, lettuce and cheese with mayo and/or mustard dressing. Then you dip your cheese or sour cream flavored potato fries in barbecue sauce or tomato ketchup. You take a sip of that ice cold carbonated drink to flush the food down your throat because you almost choke with your mouth full. As the vanilla ice cream with caramel and chocolate dip slowly melts in a carton cup, you try to drink it instead of using a spoon because you need at least one hand on the wheel.
How much and how often do you feed yourself with this junk food? You get calories more than what you actually need so that you gain weight, your blood sugar goes up and your bad cholesterol hits an all-time high.
Merriam-Webster has defined diet to mean the food and drink that a person regularly consumes or is a habitual nourishment. Diet is also a regimen of eating and drinking sparingly so as to reduce one's weight.
THE STANDARD AMERICAN DIET
The diet that I've described above is an example of the Standard American Diet (SAD). The SAD has 63% of calories come from refined and processed foods like soft drinks, packaged snacks like potato chips and packaged desserts. About 25% of calories come from animal-based food while 12% of calories come from plant-based foods.
Unfortunately, half of the plant-based calories (6%) come from French fries which means only 6% of calories come from fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and seeds. Thus, the diet of the Americans is really sadder than initially thought because it can lead to an early standard American death.
THE OPTIMAL DIET
The best or the most favorable diet is called the optimal diet because it helps you attain optimal health and weight wherein you focus on eating high-quality food in appropriate proportions. In this diet, you eat less fat, sugar and salt and avoid alcohol in all forms as well as avoid or gradually eliminate caffeinated drinks like coffee, black tea, energy drinks and sodas/soft drinks. Instead, eat more whole grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables. Drink at least eight glasses of water daily and eat a wholesome breakfast.
When you eat less fat, you avoid fatty meat. Strictly limit the use of cooking and salad oils, butter, dressings, margarine, sauces and shortening. Instead of frying, saute' with some water in a non-stick pan. Avoid cookies, crackers, pastries and other bakery products that use saturated fat and trans fat. Avoid intake of food containing cholesterol like meat, sausages, egg and liver. Limit intake of dairy products and use only non-fat or low-fat variety. Eat fish and poultry sparingly, if you consume them.
When you eat less sugar, you limit cakes, candies, chocolates, cookies, honey, molasses, pastries, soda/soft drinks and sugar-rick desserts like pudding and ice cream. You reserve them on a cheat day and for special occasions only.
When cooking, use minimal salt. Strictly limit processed food which are usually highly salted like chips, crackers, cured meats, garlic salt, pretzels, salted popcorn, salted nuts and soy sauce.
When you eat more grains, you consume barley, brown rice, corn, oats, quinoa, rye and wheat as well as a variety of whole grain products like bread, pasta, breakfast cereals and tortillas. Use all kinds of legumes, peas, lentils, chickpeas or garbanzos and beans of every kind except fava beans if you have G6PD deficiency.
Eat plenty of fresh whole fruits daily. Limit consumption of fruits canned in syrup and fiber-poor fruit juices. Eat a variety of vegetables daily. Some recommend eating a rainbow of colors, too. Avoid high-fat toppings and use low-calorie, low sodium dressings for your fresh salads.
A review of different scientific researches and literature have shown that a well-planned vegan and vegetarian diets provide all necessary nutrients as well as the health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.
Diets high in whole, plant based food have been associated with several health benefits like reduction on all-cause mortality, weight loss and favorable changes in the lipid profile, lower risk and even reversal of cardiovascular disease, decreased risk of some cancers and decreased risk of diabetes with improved glycemic control or normalized blood glucose levels for those with diabetes. Some diets have also been recommended which are specific for certain medical conditions like an anti- inflammatory diet for rheumatoid arthritis, ketogenic diet for epilepsy and Mediterranean diet for cardiovascular disease, colon cancer and Type 2 diabetes.
Here are the different types of diet depending on their composition:
WHOLE FOOD PLANT BASED DIET
A predominantly whole food plant based (WFPB) diet is the diet promoted by the American College of Lifestyle Medicine (ACLM). It is a dietary pattern which centered on whole, plant foods which include vegetable, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds. Processed food and animal food may be limited or excluded. It is not a vegan diet if it includes any animal-derived food.
On the other hand, an entirely whole food, plant based diet is a dietary pattern made up of entirely whole, plant food which include vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds. It completely excludes dairy, eggs, fish, meat, poultry, refined grains, refined sugars and shellfish. This is a type of low-fat, vegan diet based on whole foods.
A vegan diet, also known as a strict vegetarian diet, excludes all animal products like dairy, eggs meat, poultry and seafood but includes any plant-based food. However, it does not necessarily limit unhealthy processed foods if they are free of animal products.
A vegetarian diet, also known as a lacto-ovo vegetarian is similar to a vegan diet but includes dairy products and eggs. Like the vegan diet, it does not exclude unhealthy processed food as long as it is free of animal products like gelatin, meat, poultry, seafood and the like.
A pescatarian diet is similar to a vegan or vegetarian diet but includes fish or seafood and excludes meat or poultry. On the other hand, a semi-vegetarian diet has at least one meal a week with meat, while a non-vegetarian diet includes meat regularly in their diet.
The Mediterranean-style diet is a predominantly but not entirely plant-based diet which includes whole grains, vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, seeds, and plant oils, such as olive oil. Fish and seafood are eaten 2-3x weekly along with small amounts of dairy, eggs and poultry. Wine in moderation is also included. However, red meat, processed meat, refined carbohydrates and added sugars are generally avoided.
The ketogenic diet primarily consists of high fat of about 55% to 60%, moderate protein of 30% to 35% and low carbohydrate of 5% to 10%. It was first used by Dr. Russell Wilder in 1921 to treat epilepsy and he coined the term "ketogenic diet," too. It was a recommended therapeutic diet for pediatric epilepsy for almost a decade until the introduction of anticonvulsants or antiepileptic drugs so that its popularity has waned. It typically includes plenty of meat, eggs, processed meat, sausages, cheese, fish, nuts, butter, oils, seeds, and fibrous vegetables. There is solid proof that this diet decreases seizures in children, sometimes even as effective as medication. However, there may be associated side effects like bad breath, nausea, vomiting, constipation and sleep problems. Keto breath produces a metallic taste or a fruity-smelling odor or even a strong odor like a nail polish remover. For patients with kidney disease, this diet can worsen their condition.
THE ANTI-INFLAMMATORY DIET
Inflammation is a process that triggers your immune system to respond when your body becomes exposed to a foreign material like a microbe, pollen or chemical. It is supposed to protect your health against foreign invasion and occurs intermittently. However, sometimes it may persist for days, months or even years even in the absence of a foreign intruder. It now becomes your enemy as can be seen in many major diseases caused by chronic inflammation like cancer, heart diseases, diabetes, arthritis, depression and Alzheimer's.
An anti-inflammatory diet can help you reduce your risk of illness. This should include tomatoes, olive oil, green leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale and collards, nuts like almonds and walnuts, fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, tuna and sardines and fruits such as strawberries, blueberries, cherries and oranges. Try to limit or avoid these foods that cause inflammation like refined carbohydrates found in white bread and pastries, French fries and other fried foods, soda and other sweetened beverages, red meat like burgers and steaks, processed meat like hotdogs and sausages, margarine, shortening and lard.
COMMON MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT WHOLE FOOD, PLANT BASED DIETS
As a kid and even as an adult, you may have been taught to drink milk for strong bones and even advertisements stressed this. Perhaps you might even be raised in a family which considered that a big chunk of meat should be the center of your dinner plate. Thus, if you go on a vegan or vegetarian diet and forego these food and drink, your friends or even family members would probably worry about the state of your health and well-being. They may even ask these questions: Where do you get your calcium, protein and omega-3 fatty acids? Where do you get your vitamin B 12 and iron?
One myth is that dairy products must be consumed to maintain good bone health due to the high calcium that it contains but they also have high saturated fat and have no fiber or phytonutrients. Besides, literature has shown that those who eat a completely plant-based diet are at no higher risk of having bone fracture compared to those who consume dairy products if they consume adequate calcium from other sources like dark green vegetable like spinach, almonds, orange, calcium-fortified soy milk and other fortified plant-based milk, cannellini beans and other beans and firm tofu. The different health organizations around the world have different recommendations for calcium intake. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends about 300-400 mg/day in infants less than 1 year old, about 500-600 mg/day in toddlers and preschoolers, about 700 mg/day in 7-9 years old and about 1000-1300 mg/day in adolescence to adulthood. The increase in the requirement of calcium can be brought about by smoking, high salt intake and animal protein intake. If you consume about 20-40 grams per day protein, instead of the usual 60-80 grams per day, you only need 500 mg or less of calcium. If you lower your sodium intake from 3.45 grams/day to 1.15 grams/day, you can decrease your calcium intake from 800 mg to 600 mg.
Another myth is that you need meat to get enough protein. You need this nutrient to help support growth and repair in the body. This can be found in a wide range of plant foods like lentils, firm tofu, potatoes, almonds, whole wheat bread and even broccoli.
The WHO recommends that a healthy adult consumes about 0.83 grams of protein per 1 kg of body weight. One cup of broccoli can give you 3 grams of protein while 90 grams of firm tofu can give you 11 grams of protein. In an entirely whole food plant based diet, 100 % of proteins are consumed.
VITAMIN B 12
Vitamin B 12 is an essential water-soluble vitamin which plays a role in the proper functioning as well as the development of the brain and the nervous system. It is believed to be an animal- based vitamin because most of it is usually found in meat, poultry, fish, seafood, dairy products and eggs. However, this vitamin is produced by the bacteria or microorganisms that live in those animals, in our environment and even in all of us. Those who consume a whole food plant based diet or a vegetarian or vegan diet can get Vitamin B 12 from fortified foods like most plant-based milk, cereals, nutritional yeast and nori without consuming animal products. Some individuals with Vitamin B 12 deficiency may actually suffer from non-dietary factors that affect the absorption of this vitamin like autoimmune diseases, gastrointestinal diseases, surgery, infection, drugs and other causes. Thus, supplementation is needed and there are many easy and affordable options available in the market.
Just like protein, iron can be found in a wide range of food that you eat including plant-based food. The type of iron that is found in plant-based food is inorganic iron or non-heme iron. The daily dietary recommendation for iron varies with age and gender and may range from 8 to 18 mg/day and is higher for pregnant women. Although non-heme iron is not as readily absorbed as the heme iron found in animal food, research have shown that vegetarians who eat a well- balanced diet including whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, dried fruits, iron-fortified cereals and green leafy vegetables are not at a higher risk of iron deficiency as compared to non-vegetarians. To maximize the absorption of iron from the plant-based diet, eat a good source of vitamin C which can be found in citrus fruits, tomatoes and bell peppers. Avoid coffee, cola drinks or soda and tea with meals because they have compounds that can bind with iron and prevent it from being efficiently absorbed. Examples of iron-rich plant foods are curly leaf parsley and iron- fortified whole wheat cereal which contain 11.5 mg and 10.5 mg in 100 grams, respectively. Other iron-rich plant foods are tempeh, cashews, sun-dried tomatoes, mixed grain bread roll, pine nuts, almond nuts, English spinach, dried apricots, firm tofu, boiled liver beet, dried dates, peanuts, soy beans, kidney beans, lentils, sultanas, green peas and baked beans.
THE HEALTHY EATING PLATE
The Harvard Publishing and nutrition experts at the Harvard School of Public Health made the healthy eating plate which gives a more specific and more accurate recommendations based on the most recent researches on nutrition.
REFERENCES: 1. Learn More Textbook, Complete Health Improvement Program (CHIP), Lifestyle Medicine Institute, 2015. 2. Eat More Cookbook, Complete Health Improvement Program (CHIP), Lifestyle Medicine Institute, 2015. 3. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/foods-that-fight-inflammation 6. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/healthy-eating-plate