Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Dietary Dilemma

The idea of nutrition as the cornerstone of health seems self-evident to me -- garbage in, garbage out. Bodies don't run well on Twinkies and jujubes. I get it. What puzzles me is this: what exactly is the optimal fuel? I've been a bit of a nutrition junkie (ie. not an expert) for a number of years, and the more I read the less I feel I know a lot of the time. My quest for the ultimate diet led me to explore a number of different avenues:

1. Gluten-Free: no wheat, barley, or rye (or derivatives thereof). Oats only ok if guaranteed GF.
After I had a celiac roommate in college, I thanked my lucky stars I didn't have to eat like that. Karma led to my own diagnosis months later. Though initially concerned I would starve (clearly I didn't), removing gluten from my diet was nothing short of a miracle after having been sick for many years.
Note: Gluten-free does NOT mean healthy. This is a common misconception. Gluten-free just means without gluten - you can still find mega quantities of trans fat, sodium, sugar, and preservatives in gluten-free prepared foods. This is what sparked my interest in learning to cook.

2. Vegetarianism: No chicken/beef/fish. Eggs and dairy ok.
I am a wannabe vegetarian. My numerous failed attempts at converting to vegetarianism (yes, I combined foods properly) taught me that there isn't likely one single ultimate diet that suits everyone. Some people are at their best as vegetarians; others are like me.

3. Veganism: No chicken/beef/fish/eggs/dairy/honey/gelatin/anything else from an animal
There are a number of well-known figures who promote a plant-based lifestyle (e.g. Neal BarnardDean Ornish) as a means to reverse chronic illness and promote ultimate health. Sadly, my three-week vegan stint just left me feeling very, very tired.

4. Paleo: No grains, legumes, dairy, salt, refined sugar, preservatives, fermented food.
This is probably the closest approximation to how I eat most of the time. That said, I'm not a purist. There's a jar of organic sauerkraut in my fridge, and I have half a bottle of organic apple cider vinegar in the pantry (ironically, both of these foods are seen as super healthy by the raw vegans). I eat legumes. I use sea salt when I cook (I eat so little processed food that my doctor said this was a good idea). I don't eat organ meat, and I certainly don't eat anywhere near the amount of meat this diet advocates. However, my body seems to run at its best in the absence of grains, dairy, sugar, and articifial colourings/preservatives. So, that's what I strive for.

5. Raw veganism: No animal products; no cooking allowed.
I have not tried this diet. Yet. I find the concept strangely intriguing -- enough so that I signed up for a 1-day introductory workshop. I am hoping that this workshop will give me some ideas on how to creatively incorporate more fruits and vegetables in my diet. Sadly, I don't think a 100% raw vegan diet is compatible with a climate that knows snow for 6 months/year. A brief trial might be fun though.

What is your nutritional philosophy? What inspired you to choose this style of eating?

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