What and Why to Eat for Optimal Health

by Brian on March 6, 2011 in Paleo Diet

This is the first part of a seven part series where I explore optimal eating habits and compare the pros and cons of different diets including vegan, vegetarian, raw food, and the paleo diet.

What happens when you send a credentialed scientist, a politician, and a new age mystic on a mission to find the healthiest diet for humans? You get the confused and often contradictory body of nutrition advice that you find whenever you head to the bookstore or internet in search of information on healthy eating.

I’ve spent the past few years tinkering with my diet, and I’ve recently been on a bender of food documentaries and diet books. My goal is to build a simple, easy-to-follow, healthy, and ethical system of eating.

In addition to finding a systematic approach to meal planning, I also wanted to find answers to questions like:

  • Should I be concerned about farmers feeding bad things to food cows?
  • Is my food genetically modified? (And should I care?)
  • Why is that McDonald’s burger so unhealthy? (Isn’t it made from the good 4 food groups?!)
  • Can vegans/vegetarians get enough protein without meat?
  • Does cooking food create toxins and destroy healthy enzymes?
  • Are different diets irreconcilably different or do they share certain common points?

The majority of my research revolves around books and documentaries on the Paleo Diet, Vegan Diet, Vegetarian Diet, and Raw Food Diet. I’ve also done a good deal of fact checking on WebMD, the Mayo Clinic, WikiPedia, and other sources.

What I do not cover in these posts are fad diets, supplements, or any kind of questionable “quick fix” methods for weight loss. Instead, I give you an honest look at what current science and my own experience (albeit anecdotal and not that of an M.D.) shows to be healthful and unhealthful ways of eating.

Guiding Principles for an Optimal Eating System

First and foremost I believe that eating healthy should be easy. Consequently, any system that requires calculations of daily calorie ratios, RDA intakes of 72 different types of minerals, complex nutrient absorption matching, or even time-consuming food preparation is out.

An optimal eating system should be based on a few guidelines simple and easy enough to follow that even a child could do it. It should also be practical enough that you can do it every day for every meal without it feeling like a chore.

Secondly, like many of the promoters of the diets I examined, I support the evolutionary approach. Over millions of years of human evolution we have had access to more or less the same foods, and these are the foods that our bodies have become fine-tuned to eat (though what exactly these foods are is hotly debated).

Another way to look at it is that the best foods for humans are what our instincts would lead us to eat on a stroll through nature (there is even a fringe diet called “Instincto” that takes this principle to the extreme).

In case I am accused of promoting a “one size fits all” diet… I am, sort of. I don’t think we should all eat exactly the same meals everyday, but I do think there is a “general best” diet that applies to us all. We all have the same organs, same digestive processes, and same energy pathways. (Unless you have four stomachs like a cow, then send me an email because that would be pretty cool.)

Last but not least, I believe an eating system should be ethical. You don’t need to be a PETA fanatic, but whether you plan to be vegan/vegetarian or a meat eater, it’s important to be aware of different practices employed in the meat industry to make sure they are aligned with your values.

In the next post I will explore The Paleo Diet and its pros and cons.

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