The definition of a healthy diet varies wildly depending on who you ask, even among experts. I’m going to share the type of diet I adhere to and briefly explain why I believe it’s one of the healthiest diets out there. Note, however, that I am not a dietician or nutritionist. Instead, the decisions I’ve made regarding my diet have been developed over many years and represent what I’ve found are the simplest and easiest general rules to stick by which, and which simultaneously are most beneficial to me in terms of my own health and management of my bipolar disorder.
There are three main “rules” I’ve adopted for a healthy diet, and these are:
- Food should be minimally processed
- Avoid animal products (meat and dairy)
- Eat across a wide variety of fruits, nuts, vegetables and legumes
My philosophy is that most of our foods should come from whole, minimally processed sources. This means cutting right back on breads and bakery items and sweets. The reasons for this are that our digestion systems are designed specifically to deal with minimally processed foods. When we introduce highly processed foods into our body we generally overload it with abnormal ratios of macro-nutrients (fats, carbohydrates and proteins) which alter the way we metabolise and utilise energy. Perhaps even more importantly, we don’t ingest enough dietary fibre which is crucial to a healthy bowel.
The second rule is to avoid animal products, and I say as much as possible. A rare serving of animal protein is ok, but it shouldn’t be a staple in our diet. Animal protein is different from plant-based protein sources in that it is much more difficult to digest and the ratio of protein to other nutrients is very high. Contrary to many beliefs, we don’t actually need huge quantities of protein in our diets. It’s essential, yes, but we’ve come to over-represent it hugely in our meals. There is also good evidence that diets high in animal proteins increase the risk of cancer, heart disease, diabetes and a plethora of other medical conditions.
I’ve been a vegetarian for a few years now and I’ve also periodically stopped eating dairy products in the past few years. I’m now cutting them out of my normal diet again for the long term, although the rare coffee with a friend every few weeks is still a special treat! I started heavily restricting the times that I consumed dairy in my teens, when I found that dairy products increased cramping and other PMS symptoms every time my menstrual cycle came around. The incredible change to my physical health and moods while avoiding dairy just in this one aspect of my life has made me dubious about how other ways it might negatively affect my body. So I avoid it as much as possible nowadays.
Most importantly, I like to eat broadly. That is, I don’t think it’s healthy to stick to a regular, staple diet of the same veggies day after day. In our society we tend to latch on to anything reportedly beneficial and then overdo it. Protein, saturated fats, sugar, dark chocolate, cholesterol… all of these things are good for us, but if we eat too much of any one of them our diet becomes unbalanced and that’s where trouble begins.
Instead, I eat all types of fruit and vegetables, often trying new ones here and there and coming up with interesting ways to prepare them. The benefit of this is I take in a wide variety of vitamins and minerals and on the whole my macro-nutrients (fats, protein and carbohydrates) remain balanced.
I think together with our large intake of animal protein, lack of variety in our diet makes us sick by restricting the vitamins, minerals and antioxidants we take in. We then turn to multivitamins to fix our deficiencies and often overdo it at the same time. When will we learn that pills are not the answer? Our lifestyles are costing us billions of dollars, we are dying, the research is all there and still we pay no heed.
One other thing I like to include in my diet is intermittent fasting. Fasting keeps our metabolism strong and I’ve found it keeps my energy levels even. I fast everyday until evening and eat only when I come home from uni. I’ve found this has enormously improved my energy levels, brain function and mood.
I will endeavor to share some details of my meals and recipes in the coming weeks so stay tuned!