Here at Hearthside, we support people to live their full potential and one of the cornerstones of building a healthy life is to incorporate a whole foods diet. Whole foods consist of organic fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds and animal products that are free of chemicals. We also promote preparing meals from scratch and eating meals with friends and family in a relaxed manner. Through the process of eating a balanced diet, we believe a lot of health and mental health problems can dissipate. We also emphasize eating healthy with the seasons, and trying to buy locally and grow some food in your backyard or in windowsill planter boxes.
Buying at Farmer’s markets or getting to know where your meat or fish comes from helps build a relationship between you and your neighbors and the natural world. Your food choices become more meaningful and you are making the decision to support healthy communities and a healthier environment. We support our clients to grow some food on their own, even if its just a little pot of rosemary or a few lettuce heads. We believe the freshest. healthiest food comes as local as possible and straight out of the ground. Home grown food just tastes better.
We also emphasize eating in traditional ways and we support eating according to constitutional patterns. Chinese medicine, Ayurvedic medicine and Traditional European Medicine all emphasize a diet that is based on your inherent temperament and balancing diseases and illnesses with certain foods. So instead of believing in a one size fits all diet type, we promote the idea that each person needs to find their own way and develop a way of eating that works for each person. For some people, a vegan diet works the best and for others a more low carb paleo diet. For some, a diet that is mostly vegetarian but includes a small amount of fish and chicken is optimal. For some people, it is simply economically infeasible to buy organic or even buy a lot of meat and they are more vegetarian by necessity. Suggesting that Paleo is the only right diet to tens of millions of Indians is as crazy as suggesting that all Native Eskimos adopt a vegetarian diet. What may be the best fit for our diet depends on many factors: culture, bioregion, economics, personal constitution, illness patterns, potential allergies and food sensitivities…and what feels right.
The most important factor in judging what diet is best is feeling for ourselves what feels right. This means taking the time to explore, to really listen to our bodies and see what works and what doesn’t work. Often times we may not even know what is hurting us until we take it away for a while. Some of things that we have noticed cause the most problems for people are the cornerstone of the “Standard American Diet” (also known as SAD). These include most processed and sugary food, such as chips and candy, as well as diet and energy drinks, sodas and caffeinated beverages. One of the biggest steps a person can take towards reclaiming their health and vitality is to give up, or dramatically reduce their consumption, of sugar and caffeine. These substances give a momentary rush of energy similar to taking out money on a credit card. Eventually the debt has to be paid, and usually with interest, in the form of a crash. And for some, this can lead to increasing states of depletion, burnout and the potential for emotional and physical illness.
For some people, eliminating processed foods and sugar and caffeine is a good start but not enough to regain full vitality. They may need to examine other foods that are aggravating them. Gluten has been pointed out as strongly allergenic for some people. By eliminating wheat, barley, rye and oats, some people can see dramatic changes. Suddenly they are sleeping better, their anxiety has dropped dramatically. They don’t feel as sluggish and depressed. Again, think of eliminating gluten for a few weeks to simply observe any changes. If you don’t notice anything, no harm done and you can return to eating those gorgeous plump muffins you saw at the bakery. As you will see, the Paleo folks point to all grains and legumes as being strong aggravating factors that impeded health. Vegans point to all animal products. We urge you to find your own way. Feel what works. And then take the steps to make your life better.
In many ways what you eat is more important than anything else you chose to do for your health. Acupuncture, therapy, herbs, mindful breathing and meditation will be useless if you are eating little debbies and drinking a 6 pack of diet soda for breakfast. Finding your way to a pattern of eating that strengthens and nourishes you will set the table for improving your entire physical and emotional well being. All the other therapies you employ will work 100 times better if you are eating in a way that is healthy for you.
To understand what best suits your personal needs, we have outlined some of the key dietary patterns that are very popular right now. They each have their benefits but also bring their own challenges. Take a look…
One of the most popular forms of diet these days is Paleo/Primal. Essentially, people who follow a Paleo diet believe that we developed many more health problems once we shifted out of the Paleolithic period and adopted an agricultural diet. Essentially, they call for a return to eating in a way that is similar to our ancient ancestors that is heavy on eating meat, fruit and vegetables and avoiding grains and legumes.
There are slight differences between the Paleo and Primal movements. Paleo folks tend to support eating low fat cuts of meat and avoiding dairy while the Primal folks are heavy on eating lots of fats and are open to dairy. What they commonly share is eating a diet that is low in carbohydrates and higher in protein. Both emphasize eating the best quality meat, often grass fed, pasture raised and lacking in chemicals and antibiotics. They also promote avoiding all processed foods, sugar and artificial additives. Both Paleo and Primal stress that grains and legumes contain substances such as lectins that can lead to a poor immune response and issues such as celiac disease and diabetes.
In terms of mental and emotional health, this diet is very helpful. Simply eliminating processed foods can go a long way to helping individuals find greater balance. (Note: most of the folks in these circles do not suggest eliminating caffeine in the form of tea and coffee- beverages that can cause a huge adrenaline roller coaster and not helpful for those prone to emotional distress.) By taking it a step further and strongly reducing all carbohydrates, many people who have blood sugar problems can see greater regulation in this area. The spikes and dips of blood sugar from regularly eating carbs can cause some people to feel increased stress as well as leading to inflammatory states that some people suggest are related to “mental illness”.
There are a few critiques of this diet. One is that a diet heavily focused on meat may not be sustainable for the planet. It is likely impossible to feed the world with a high meat diet, especially if the animals are raised in a grass fed pasture raised manner. The second one is that it can be culturally challenging to avoid grains and legumes. These foods are part of many culture’s traditional heritage. The third is that some folks will point to diets low in meat or vegetarian where people have been living healthy long lives.
And finally, avoiding carbs can be very challenging for some people. When first starting this diet, people can go into actual withdrawals and experience the “low-carb flu.” This can lead to feelings of temporary fog, fatigue and anxiety. Sisson states that this feeling goes away as the body shifts from primarily carbohydrate burning to ketone burning .
To understand more about this style of living, here are some links to some of the best sites on the web.
Mark’s Daily Apple: This is Mark Sisson’s site and its an incredible primer into all things related to the Primal lifestyle. In Mark’s philosophy, this is not just a bout a dietary change but also changing how we live to be more similar to our paelolithic ancestors. That means shifting to an exercise that emphasizes using short bursts of energy for sprinting and weightlifting and avoiding excessive cardio exercise that he believes taps our vitality. He also believes in getting as much sleep as possible (9-10 hours) as well as avoiding electronics and artificial lighting at night as much as possible . Here is the best forum going on the subject of Paleo/Primal and can be a great resource for folks examining health concerns.
Loren Cordain: Author of The Paleo Diet and author of numerous peer reviewed articles on the subject. Right now he is a professor of Health ad Exercise Science at the Colorado State University. His website on the subject gives a full overview of the topic. Cordain was one of the first people to really popularize this approach to eating.
The Whole Thirty: Dallas and Melissa Hartwig wrote an excellent and very easy to read book called “It Starts With Food”, that not only describes the Paleo diet but emphasizes getting started on a 30 day challenge to incorporate this way of eating. Here is their website. Here is a link to their book.
Here is a quick guide to all the foods allowed and foods to avoid on a Paleo Diet.
The Vegan diet is based around eating foods containing now animal products at all. The vegetarian diet allows for dairy and eggs. People choose a “veg” diet for a variety of reasons including 1) for promoting health 2) for the ethical treatment of animals, 3) because it is cheap and 4) because it is more sustainable for the planet.
As an alternative to the standard American diet (SAD), vegan and vegetarian diets are often far more healthy as they place an emphasis on eating lots of vegetables and whole grains. There has been quite a lot of research done on these diets in terms of their health promoting properties. In 2005, several authors including T. Colin Campbell, wrote the book The China Study, which examined the dietary patterns of Chinese in different provinces in China. Through exhaustive research they discovered that in provinces where people ate high amounts of meat and dairy, there was also concurrently disproportionately high levels of illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes and different cancers.
Though the Vegan diet has been popular in some circles for many decades, the increasing public knowledge of The China Study has sparked further growth in the adoption of this diet. Recently, the film “Forks over Knives“, a movie that not only describes the China Study but also promotes the health benefits of a vegan diet.
At a basic level, switching to a diet that is low in processed foods, high in plants and complex carbohydrates can be an incredibly positive step for many people in terms of regaining their health and well being. There are numerous stories of people overcoming illnesses and losing a lot of weight on this diet.
Some of the challenges in eating this diet are that 1) you can continue to eat junk food on a vegan diet. You can buy potato chips and eat skittles and red vines and still be considered vegan. In embracing veganism, its also important to embrace a diet that minimizes processed food as well. 2) There is often a high emphasis on soy. In everything from fake meat to soy milk to tempeh, soy is a big part of the vegan diet for many who eat this way. For some people this food can cause health problems. For a good intro about that, go here. 3) Some people start to feel deficient after eating a vegan diet for too long. A pure vegan diet lacks B-12 and this is an essential vitamin for good health. To read more about this read here.
In terms of mental and emotional health, this diet works really well for some people and horribly for others. My basic take on it comes from a traditional constitutional perspective. If you tend to be hot, overweight, ruddy in complexion and prone towards inflammation and anger outbursts, the vegan diet can be a godsend for helping you to feel cooler, to lose weight, to become calmer and more relaxed. At the same time, if you tend to be sleight of build, somewhat fragile and vulnerable, tending towards being cold and slow, the vegan diet may not add the vigor and strength you need. It all comes down to experimentation with these diets. As I have said previously, try it for a month or two and see what happens on a physical, mental and emotional level.
You can purchase a copy of this book here. And you can read more about this at the website devoted to the book. Again, this book describes decades long research into the relationship of diet to disease and the implications that a plant based diet helps eliminate the risk factors based in numerous illnesses.
This is a great book to get started on integrating a vegan diet. Talks about the link between diet and disease and the protective effects of veganism. Also goes into depth about addressing concerns with the diet (such as B12 and the “not enough protein” issue) and how to help people to eat vegan while going through pregnancy, as a young kid, as an elder and as athletes.
VEGAN.COM A very nice intro to the subject with good links to detailed information about the science as well as practical cooking ideas/recipes.
The Thrive Diet: Developed by former pro Ironman athlete Brendan Brazier, the Thrive diet is a very stripped down Vegan diet that promotes eating quite a bit of raw food and avoids grains. Almost a Paleo/Vegan combo (though he does promote eating some legumes. Pretty darn tough to follow regularly but his ideas are fascinating…and the guy has made it work for him. He sells a lot of Vega product now. I’m a little leery of diets that sell products but then again- I’m a fan of the book.
Traditional diets are the diets that people have historically incorporated throughout the world to help people stay healthy and strong. Often the diet is based on what is available seasonally and in terms of the bioregion. For example, in the colder months of winter, a traditional diet would emphasize eating more warming and heavier foods such as squash soup, Vietnamese “pho” with chicken, spicy stir fries and Indian style curries. And in the warmer months of Summer, a traditional diet would shift to promoting cooler and lighter foods with less meat such as salads, simple fish and rice dishes, cleansing vegetables like radishes, cress and arugula, increasing fruit intake such as peaches and pears.
This is the style of eating that we do at home. Its eclectic, omnivorous and all from scratch. We tend to avoid gluten in the form of baked goods and breads and don’t eat a lot of cheese because we just don’t feel as good when we eat a lot of that but sometimes we give in with some great whole wheat bread, a pot pie or a slice of pizza. The positives to this type of diet is that it emphasizes bio-individuality, the idea that every person is unique and does best when finding the food that nourishes them the best. This diet is adaptable to different situations and cultural contexts without needing to make special requests. It is also a way of getting in tune with the seasons and the natural rhythms around us.
Here are some of the best resources for this type of diet.
Weston Price was a dentist born in 1870 who wrote about how traditional diets are linked to greater health and wellbeing and that the modern diet is linked to a multitude of health problems. He emphasized returning to a more traditional whole foods diet that avoids processed vegetable fats, sugar and flour. He essentially advocates eating a traditional whole foods diet that includes
- Grass fed Meat – using all parts of the animals including organs and using bones to make broths that are nutrient rich and healing.
- Grass fed Dairy- including raw milk, butter and cheese, not low fat.
- Grains, Nuts and Legumes – He emphasizes soaking these for 24 hours to make sure they are more digestible. This helps break down the phytic acids and other aggravating compounds.
- Organic Fruits & Vegetables – He emphasizes eating in season and not overdoing it with fruit.
One of the books we come back to again and again is Paul Pitchford‘s “Healing With Whole Foods.” Pitchford’s book is an amazing compendium of methods for eating a traditional, balanced, whole foods as well as ways of managing disease patterns through eating particular types of foods and herbs.
Recipes for Self Healing. This is an underappreciated book that really delves into traditional Chinese ways of eating a healthy diet and remedying health problems through meal choices. By Daverick Leggett.
Ayurvedic Diet: This is the diet based on Indian philosophy and the rpinciple of eating according to your constitution. In the theory of Ayurveda, each one of has a tendency towards having a predominant energetic pattern, or “Dosha”. These doshas are pitta, vata and kapha. To learn more about this philosophy, read about doshas here and the Ayurvedic diet here.
Macrobiotic Diet: This type of diet comes to us from Japan and is based on traditional principles of the balance of yin and yang. Macrobiotics emphasizes eating primarily whole grain cereals, legumes, vegetables, seaweed, and just a little fruit, nuts and seafood, . They eschew red meats, chicken and nightshades. Macrobiotics takes special account of the season, a person’s state of health, the climate and age. For a number of people it can appear a little rigid as a dietary philosophy but it has a lot to offer even if one doesn’t adhere to it completely. To learn more, read here and check out one of the main websites here.
Excellent Books and Resources:
The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. This one was a game changer. Pollan outlines what is wrong with modern Industrialized agriculture and then looks at numerous ways of eating in a healthier, more sustainable manner.
Food not Lawns: Great book for a homeowner who wants to start growing their own food and wants to get started. Flores really emphasizes the importance of turning your lawn into a mini-farm as a revolutionary and political act that brings increases neighborhood connection, improves our own mental and physical health as well as providing us with healthy home grown vegetables year round. Here’s her web site.
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. This is Barbara Kingsolver’s book about her family taking a year to try and grow most of her own food by hand. She writes about the process of “growing your own” as well as the science and industry of food. She has helped in the recent revolution in the “locavore” movement. She writes beautifully and its a fun read as well. Here’s her website.
Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser will make you never want to eat fast food again. This book critiques how fast food has changed and deranged modern eating habits as well as led to enormous medical and health problems for much of society.