Diet Series: How Healthy are Popular Diets?

This one’s long. It may be my longest post ever, like Wait But Why style. Get ready.

Gluten is bad, meat is bad. You should avoid processed sugars, dairy, soy. We hear it over and over again. A new study shows you should eat a ton of kale. Make sure you take probiotics every day – no, wait, prebiotics. What diets are healthy, which are straight-up wrong, and which are environment-friendly? Here’s a review on a bunch of different diets that people tend to be on these days. This will be a multiple-part series highlighting guest authors’ stories about their relationship to food and their respective current diets.


Standard American Diet (SAD):

american-food09-640x480

The Standard American diet is high in trans-fats, sugar, vegetable oils, and carbs. American cheese, antibiotic-ridden meat, and preservatives are consumed by those who follow the SAD. It pretty much consists of all of the “bad” foods. You may have heard that American companies will add dyes to non-organic eggs so they look more natural. All of that is true. This is the least healthy diet you can be on and it tends to be the most popular. We all know that this diet is bad for us, so what about the alternatives?


Vegetarian:

How can people stop eating meat? It’s so good! Those darn animal-lovers…lisa_the_vegetarian

Oh yes, the vegetarian diet has soared in popularity over the past few years. With drought-stricken areas needing to preserve water, avoiding meat saves thousands of gallons of water. Think about all of the water that goes into keeping you alive. How much do you drink a day? Now think about how much it takes to keep a cow alive until it is old enough to be slaughtered. That’s a lot of water.

Boycotting the meat industry which is notoriously horrible for pumping antibiotics into their cattle and squeezing them into tight spaces (they’ll even go so far as to serve up ground slaughtered cow to the living ones) is a pretty good idea. On top of that, the meat usually contains added hormones, antibiotics, and a bunch of other weird shit. It adds to antibiotic resistance and you will definitely consume everything that animal had injected into it when you eat its carcass. It’s pretty messed up. However, you can avoid that bullshit by eating organic meat.

Meat, although it isn’t entirely necessary to survive, provides nutrients that you can’t get from vegetables – and no, I’m not talking about protein. I’m talking about Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) and Vitamin B12. CoEnzyme Q10 is only found in meat products, more specifically in organ meats (offal), and it helps repair damaged mitochondria. Mitochondria can become damaged from toxins, oxidative stress, and a variety of other things. Mitochondria damage is also the leading cause of autoimmune diseases, according to recent research. Vitamin B12 deficiency can lead to peripheral neuropathy (your feet and hands becoming numb), yellowing skin, and chronic fatigue. For these reasons, people who don’t eat meat are statistically more likely to develop an autoimmune disease if they don’t supplement.

Don’t be afraid though! You can still keep your diet (keep saving water and the animals) by supplementing with B12 and Coenzyme Q10 every day. However, the isolated synthetic form of the vitamins is only about 30% effective compared to the natural form, according to research by Dr. Terry Wahls. Try doing a Meatless Monday or only eat meat once a week if you want to get the natural form. What you eat is up to you and there are definitely ways around it.


Gluten-Free:

These people have gotta be making this up. Bread is a part of, like, every meal. It’s just because everyone in Hollywood is doing it.gluten-hyman1

This one is indeed the elephant in the room. I wrote a post a long time ago about the gluten-free diet in which I (along with the entire medical community) thought that unless you tested positive for Celiac Disease (an autoimmune disease characterized by gluten intolerance), you were not gluten intolerant and it did not affect you. However, I did remark upon how you should listen to your body and if you find that you have stomach upset or some crazy rash when you eat gluten, just don’t eat gluten. It’s that simple.

Gluten is naturally found in wheat products and other grains, including rice sometimes. However, when it is processed and creates by-products, gluten is incredibly difficult for the body to absorb. Difficulty absorbing nutrients could lead to your mitochondria not getting the nutrients it needs (creating that sluggish feeling that people tend to complain about with gluten) which could also contribute to leaky gut syndrome (literally that – your digestive system does not work properly, not absorbing nutrients, etc). The yeast in bread and other usually gluten-ridden products can contribute to a thing called candida overgrowth. Candida is a naturally occurring yeast found in your stomach, along with a bajillion other types of bacteria. However, when it overgrows due to sugars and wheat products feeding the candida, it can cause some major problems.

So no, the gluten-free people are not crazy. They have a ton of legitimacy.


Sugar-Free:

Are you CRAZY? I could never do that. Fruit has sugar! Oh, are you going to stop eating fruit too?sugar

For YEARS and YEARS, Americans have been blaming the obesity epidemic on high fats in our diet when really, fats aren’t the bad guy. There are good fats (coconut oil, animal fats, olive oil, and butter – yes, butter) and there are bad fats (trans-fat, canola oil, “vegetable” oil, peanut oil). However, even fats aren’t really the problem. It’s sugar!

Many people have adopted a sugar-free diet with very positive results. You can become addicted to sugar, much like cheese. Your body will start to crave it and it’s programmed to seek sugary foods because sugar, unlike fat, can provide short term energy spikes. However, (we’ve all been there) that can lead to crashes of fatigue later on. Sugar is naturally present in fruits, honey, and maple syrup. However, processed sugar is what’s really harmful.

Processed sugar is everywhere in the Standard American Diet and it’s present in very high quantities. Sucrose, high fructose corn syrup, and granulated sugar are all culprits in the anti-sugar movement. They still provide energy, but the basic bonds and structure of these sugars is completely synthetic, making it more difficult for your body to process it and therefore much harder to eliminate it from your system. High fructose corn syrup, for example, found in ketchup, pre-made sauces, soda, juices, ice cream, beer, candy, and cocktail mixers, is one of the main causes of the obesity epidemic in America. The sugar stores itself in your body, similar to unused fat, and adds a ton of weight to your body that’s very difficult to lose. Many people will simply take soda out of their diet and notice a huge difference – they don’t feel sluggish and they lose weight. Why is that? They’ve eliminated high fructose corn syrup (and a bunch of other nasty things in soda that we don’t need to get into).


Dairy-Free:

That’s just a thing that some people have. I could NEVER give up cheese though.dairy-products

Soooo many people are lactose intolerant and it can build up over time, with age. Sometimes a reaction is so slight that it doesn’t bother the person enough to notice. Other times, dairy can put someone out for a night, hovered over a toilet seat. The fact of the matter is that dairy is very difficult to digest. First of all, it’s an animal product – literally an animal’s milk. Milk is supposed to be for babies only, and ONLY their own species milk. Our bodies are not meant to process dairy after humans get to their toddler years. How weird is it that we drink another animal’s milk?

Regardless, the milk is processed and usually along with a bunch of chemicals, becomes ice cream, cheese, or yogurt. Cheese is amazing, but it’s not good for you at all. No matter what guilty pleasures that gruyere, cave aged blue, brie, or gouda may give you, it is not good for your body. Whether you’re lactose intolerant or not, you’re bound to feel the effects of cheese like a pit in your stomach after eating it – oooh especially with a glass of wine! Okay, I digress. I digress.

Cheese contains casein, which is addictive, just like sugar. Casein is a protein found in milk and it makes you crave dairy products. If you look back at milk’s origins, it probably makes sense for it to contain an addictive protein so that the baby will continue to go back to its mother’s teat. What really gets people though is lactose, which is a type of SUGAR that a lot of people can’t digest as well later in life.


Organic Diet:

What’s the point in buying organic? Isn’t it the same thing? It’s just so much more expensive.healthy-food-eggs

First of all, produce is the cheapest thing in the grocery store unless you’re buying some crazy exotic imported fruit (love them). Spending another dollar on produce that is way better for you is worth it, I swear, and here’s why:

Farmers grow organic produce using natural pesticides. It is possible, of course, to grow food without using pesticides at all, but it’s very difficult to mass-produce them that way and therefore it’s rare (if at all possible) to find in a grocery store.

“Normal” aka unregulated produce is blasted with harmful chemicals that kills insects, including the progressively more endangered honey bee. What does this mean for you? Even after washing the produce with water or grapefruit seed extract, there’s a high chance you’re going to ingest these chemicals. Farmers spray chemicals on the plant as it’s growing and the skin of most produce is porous. No matter how much you wash it, that is a chemical-laden veggie. You won’t feel effects immediately because a small amount of toxins from the produce enter your body, creating oxidative stress (one of the main causes of cancer), which can build up over time.

Another problem with non-organic produce is that there’s no way to determine if it’s genetically modified. Corporate giant Monsanto/Bayer is the leading seed disperser in the United States and Monsanto is known to threaten farmers if they save their own seeds, swap seeds, or refuse to use their seeds for whatever reason. They genetically modify food with things like scorpion DNA using a “cut-and-paste” gene modification process to further decrease the chance that a bug will chew on the growing vegetable or fruit. There is currently no way to find out how genetically modified produce will affect the human body in the long term, however, there is proof that these crops and the pesticides used on them are strongly adding to colony collapse disorder, or bee endangerment. This is no joke.

Have you ever scratched a “normal” apple only to have wax gather underneath your fingernail? A wax coating makes an apple look shinier and more appealing. Have you ever seen those “Pom” brand pomegranates that are nearly double the size of normal products? They’re definitely genetically modified and I’ve tried them. There’s no flavor.

Now, organic meats are a different story. Non-organic meats contain added hormones, added antibiotics, and a slew of other crap. If you switch to anything organic, please let it be meats. It is healthier to avoid meat entirely than to eat meat that isn’t organic.

USDA organic for meats means that the food the animal eats during its entire life before slaughter is organic and non-GMO.


Vegan:

I don’t need vegans telling me what to do. They’re so intense. What’s so great about it anyway?salat herz

If someone is obsessively talking about a change they just made in their life, it’s probably because that was a really good change and they want other people to feel as amazing as they do, so stop hating on the vegans, jeez.

Veganism is pretty rad. It’s a boycott for the environment and the nasty meat industry that has definitely gone way too far. However, people become vegans for a variety of reasons. The vegan movement boasts helping all kinds of animals and the diet eliminates every animal product. Some products, like honey, are a bit controversial in the vegan community. Some eat it, some don’t.

The vegan diet therefore eliminates eggs, dairy, and meat products. The focus is supposed to be on vegetables, fruit, and healthy grains, in which case the vegan diet is very healthy (for awhile, I subsisted mostly on 3-ingredient meals – two types of veggies and rice). However, many vegans will fall back a little too harshly on wheat and grains, making gluten and carbohydrates a really big part of their diet rather than a small one. Since a lot of people don’t feel an effect from gluten, this is fine, but a lot of energy can come from bad carbs. Then, there’s also the lack of nutrients that you can only get from meat. However, if you’re supplementing correctly, you’re not only a part of an important movement, but you’re saving a ton of water and animals without harming your body.

Read Anna’s Story here.


Raw Vegan Diet:

This has gotta be the healthiest diet ever, right? Right?vegan-food

The raw diet is somewhat rare. It tends to be a vegan diet that avoids cooking or processing any food. Because of this, dairy, gluten, and sugar tend to be avoided as well. Raw vegetables were consumed by our ancestors before we started using fire… and then ovens, and so forth. Cooking veggies and meats, especially when they are overdone, kills a lot of important proteins in the food, making it less nutritious. However, eating veggies that have been left out for a few days also make them less nutritious (foods have the most nutrients when they are freshly picked). Cooked food is easier to eat and it’s more easily absorbed into your system. So, easting raw vegetables isn’t really much better than eating cooked food, especially since people who eat cooked food tend to eat raw veggies as well. The raw vegan diet is a bit healthier though because they tend to eliminate processed foods as well.


Paleolithic (Paleo):

So…what is this? Some kind of cave man diet? Do they eat sticks, or what?paleodiet2

The paleolithic diet includes only foods that people ate during the paleolithic period. That means all-organic, no processed foods, no sugar, no legumes (especially soy), no dairy, no seed/vegetable oils (except olive oil), and no wheat products. Paleo tries to add a variety of foods into the diet, especially offal and sea vegetables. Yeah, I know. It sounds pretty crazy. We’ve gone over gluten, dairy, and sugar, but legumes?

Paleo dieters don’t eat legumes for an interesting reason. Legumes, such as beans and peanuts, contain a coating of naturally occurring toxins that the bean uses as a defense mechanism in the wild. Unless they’re soaked for a few hours or sprouted, these toxins can cause oxidative stress in the body. On top of that, legumes tend not to have much nutritional content. The entire point of the paleo diet is to get the best nutrients possible in everything you eat. The reason the paleo diet does not include soy is because 99% of soy is genetically modified. You’ve heard the risks – it messes up hormones and a ton of other crap.

The reason the paleo diet eliminates seed and most vegetable oils is somewhat complicated on a molecular level. Vegetable oils are high in omega-6 fatty acids and those need balance with omega-3 fatty acids in your body. The SAD is usually high in omega-6 fatty acids with very high quantities in corn and soybean oil. Canola oil contains trans-fat and also when heated, it destroys the omega-3s. Olive oil is fine unheated. Paleo dieters tend to stick with coconut oil, ghee (clarified butter), tallow, and lard as their main sources of fats.

Offal contains the highest amounts of CoEnzyme Q10 along with a ton of nutrients. Beef heart specifically contains the highest levels and liver comes in second place. Liver is one of the healthiest foods you can eat (sorry I doubted you Anthony) even though I originally thought it would be super bad for you since the organ’s purpose is to eliminate toxins. Greens are also on the healthiest foods list, but that’s for a different post.

Sea vegetables are high in so many nutrients that you can’t find elsewhere, including iodine. People usually get their iodine from iodized salt ever since a near epidemic of people fainting everywhere in medieval times. Kelp, nori, kombu, arame, and other types of sea vegetables contain iodine naturally. They’re super duper good for you.

This diet seems a little too intense to realistically follow, but plenty of people make it work, especially since there are clinical trials that prove its effectiveness at curing autoimmune diseases and mental illness. It’s grown in popularity over the past few years in line with the health craze. A negative concerning the paleo diet is that it’s not exactly fantastic for the environment like the vegan diet. Paleo dieters do try to support local farms, though, and get all of their meat organically.


Autoimmune Protocol (AIP or Autoimmune Paleo):

Okay now, what is THIS? WHAToysters-2_web

This one is even more hardcore than Paleo. Many people follow AIP to decrease inflammation within the body and they seek to cure their respective autoimmune disease, figuring out what helps their body as they go along. Including all paleo things to avoid, AIP also doesn’t allow nuts, seeds, dried fruits/fruit over-consumption, alcohol, chocolate, eggs, gums, nightshades, herbs from seeds (mustard, fennel, nutmeg), and tapioca (because it contains gluten usually).

Every single reason AIP eliminates these extra foods is because they are common allergens (Dr. Wahls suggests eliminating eggs from her paleo-based protocol as well) or they help to eliminate inflammation. Sometimes it’s short-term and sometimes people will adopt it for the rest of their lives. It’s so rare that you’ll actually be allergic to all of these things though. People tend to use it to figure out what exactly they react to by reintroducing foods into their diets.


Ketogenic (Keto):

You’ve lost me. I’ve never heard of this before.ketogenic-diet

The keto diet is arguably the healthiest diet you can eat. Scientists have discovered that by forcing the body into ketosis (what your body does when it’s starving), your brain can repair what was previously considered irreparable damage. Yeah, seriously. Here’s how it works:

Keto is Paleo minus anything high in carbs, starches, and sugars (even fruits). You also only eat two meals a day (breakfast and late dinner) and increase your fat intake. The Keto diet makes your body think its starving while you’re also giving it all the necessary nutrients it needs through greens and other veggies. When your body starves, it stops getting energy from carbs and sugars and instead gets its energy from fats that are stored in the body. While you’re on this diet, you’ll lose a bunch of weight for this reason.

So in order to kickstart brain health, you must introduce a higher amount of healthy fats such as coconut oil, ghee, lard, and other animal fats. Your liver, once burning fats instead of sugars, will create ketones that can pass the blood-brain barrier and the brain can later burn the ketones through its mitochondria.

It’s recommended to incorporate this diet temporarily based on your race/combined race’s origins. For example, the northern UK’s winter lasts for about 4 months, so if you’re from there, you should only be in ketosis for about 4 months out of the year. This is because your ancestors would usually go into ketosis around wintertime when food was scarce.


There are a ton of crazy diets out there but nearly all of them have some true health benefits. With scientifically curated diets curing people of Multiple Sclerosis, cancer, Hashimoto’s, and a bunch of other diseases, it shows that you really are what you eat. Remember that no diet is “better” than any other and that you should eat what is best for your body and your lifestyle.

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I am not a certified nutritionist, but I have studied nutrition since 2011 when I was diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome and even more hardcore (like a maniac) for the past 6 months. Please keep in mind while reading this article that although I am not certified, I know enough about nutrition that this ain’t some bullshit. I’ve read about clinical trials, many books by certified nutritionists, and interviewed doctors as my sources, unlisted here. I do encourage you do some badass research on your own though.

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3 thoughts on “Diet Series: How Healthy are Popular Diets?

  1. Pingback: What is with the Gluten-Free Obsession? | The Barefoot Aya

  2. Pingback: Diet Series: Anna’s Story | The Barefoot Aya

  3. Pingback: Diet Series: Naomi’s Story | The Barefoot Aya

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