Monday, February 3, 2014

Food Plans, Diets, Dietary Restrictions etc...

I've been in absentia from The Bush Gourmand blog for a while as my studies have kept me occupied over the Christmas break and into the New Year. As most would know, food holds a great deal of importance in my life and I love learning about different foods, cooking styles, diets (not the weight loss kind, more of the eating plan style) and how food heals.

One unit of study, in particular, kept me busier than others as it revolved around food and health.  The Applied Food of Medicine module also incorporated four practical sessions where a cook showed us how to prepare and cook a variety of different ingredients.  During this time, I also attended a Raw Food Class at Radiant Being in Albany where I took home a few ideas.

Immersing myself in the incredible variety of food plans and diets over this time has led me to explore the following: The Paleo Diet, Low FODMAP, Raw, Vegan, LCHF and the Wholefood Diet. A brief explanation of each of these follows.

Paleo is based on the concept that Palaeolithic Man was amongst the healthiest of early man. The diet of the Palaeolithic was vegetable and meat protein based. No grains are included in this diet - the theory being that our digestive system wasn't designed to absorb grains.

Many experts have discounted the theory, stating that archeologists have discovered remains of grains in the stomachs of ancient Palaeolithic peoples. Others say that the diet is nutritionally fairly sound, but has nothing to do with the cave man.
My take is that I don't hold with any diet that removes an entire food group. Grains are a valuable source of phytonutrients, B Vitamins, minerals and fibre. They just need to be prepared correctly. See my post, Grain Pain for more information.

Low FODMAP was developed by Dr Sue Shepherd in 1999 after her PhD research revealed that limiting Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols in the diet helped those suffering from IBS, or Irritable Bowel Syndrome.  The theory is that this collection of molecules found in foods can be difficult to digest by some people. They then pass through the digestive system undigested until they reach the large intestine. The bacteria which normally live there then ferment/digest these sugars and create all those nasty symptoms that IBS presents. 
Many fruits and vegetables are removed from this diet due to their high fructose, lactose or sugar alcohol levels.

For those diagnosed with IBS, I'm sure they're willing to do anything to reduce the symptoms, so this could be a lifesaver for many IBS sufferers. For those who self diagnose, they risk cutting out foods with valuable nutrients in their diets.

Raw is pretty self explanatory with the rule that nothing must be heated over 40C. The theory is that live enzymes in fruits and vegetables are destroyed by heating. Many foods are dehydrated to obtain a texture that is palatable and to provide some variety. Many recipes are ingenious, using soaked flax and chia seeds to bind seeds and nuts together for a type of cracker that substitutes as bread.

I can't imagine what it must be like to subsist on a completely raw diet.  Just the organisation and preparation alone would be difficult. I found the flavours way too intense, with many foods marinated in tamari, a wheat free soy sauce. I believe that my family's diet has plenty of raw food in the way of fruits, salads and nuts without having to go the whole raw food journey.

Vegan diets are totally vegetarian with no animal products at all. This includes eggs, honey and dairy products.
I had quite a discussion about this on Forum Thermomix with a person who decided to put her family on a vegan diet for a month. If you have time, have a read here. Some people have deleted their comments for some reason. As I've said in my comments on the forum, removing an entire food group in my opinion, isn't a smart move. Valuable nutrients are found in animal products and our bodies were designed to consume these. Here's a brief excerpt of one of my comments: 

"Sometimes removing dairy products will make people feel much better. A lot of people are intolerant to either the casein or to the lactose in milk. I think a balanced diet should include a little animal protein, a lot of vegetable protein, some grains (prepared properly - soaked, fermented or sprouted if possible) and plenty of good fats, including animal fats.

I don't like diets that remove an entire food group. Humans are omnivores and our digestive systems are designed to manage all types of foods, unlike gorillas and horses. 

The issue of poor digestion and assimilation often comes about when we eat foods that haven't been prepared correctly or that are highly processed. There's nothing wrong with going vegan for a month. It can be quite de-toxing, just as eating raw for a week can be. But, all my studies indicate that it isn't good to continue such a diet. Perhaps it lowers the incidence of bowel cancer, but so does a good omnivorous healthy diet. Unfortunately, not too many people understand what this actually entails!"

LCHF stands for Low Carbohydrate High Fat and is probably one of the better options out of all the ones I have looked at so far. The fats that are recommended are the highly saturated animal fats and coconut oil as well as the monounsaturates such as avocado, macadamia and olive oils. PUFA's (polyunsaturated fatty acids) are out of the diet due to their tendency to be highly processed during extraction and the fact that constant reheating and cooling (as in the deep fryer of a fast food restaurant) creates cell-destroying trans fatty acids. The low carbohydrate part of the diet refers to high GI foods such as sugars, white rice and white flour.

In my opinion, this isn't too bad for a person who is healthy and not carrying a lot of weight. It could be abused easily by the use of too much fat and too little of the healthy carbohydrates such as good sugars (maple, rapadura etc), good wholegrains etc. I certainly agree that we should avoid PUFA's and use good fats in cooking and food preparation. I also agree with the reduction of processed starches such as white rice.

Wholefood Diet is one in which there is little or no processing involved. The ingredients used are complete. For example whole grains, whole brown rice, raw, unprocessed sugars, unpeeled fruits and vegetables. Good fats are included as are full cream dairy products, raw honey and free range eggs. The diet advocates organic produce over supermarket produce. This depends on people's economic situation and availability of organic foods. A Whole Foods Diet encourages fermentation and soaking of more difficult to digest foods such as grains.

This is my preferred diet over all others that I've investigated. It incorporates aspects of the Raw Food Diet and the LCHF diet without being as restrictive. It can be difficult to follow all the time due to many factors such as availability, preparation time and family food preferences. (My nearest and dearest still prefers commercial biscuits, jams, ice cream and chutneys over home made. It's the addiction of salt and sugar.)

For those trying to lose weight, this would be the way to do it. Of course, portion control is important, but simply removing processed food from the diet will make a huge difference to the way the body deals with the foods eaten. Once processed sugars, (particularly High Fructose Corn Syrup) processed starches, processed sauces, jams, dressings and processed take away foods are out of the equation, the body will begin to heal. Once the healing process takes place, weight loss can begin, followed by more energy, stronger immunity and a general well being.

Even removing some processed foods can make a difference. Start by not buying any take away chips and making your own instead.

Home Made Chips or Wedges

Cut a couple of whole potatoes into wedges or chips and steam, simmer or microwave until just cooked.  Heat dripping, coconut oil, ghee or duck fat (or a combination if you like!) in a narrow, deep saucepan.  Use either a frying basket or a slotted spoon to place chips carefully into hot fat. Cook until nice and golden and crisp. Drain and sprinkle with sea salt. Enjoy straight away. 
Obviously, enjoy your home made chips every now and then, not with every meal.