I’ve often discussed the benefits of a healthy diet. And the question that I get asked most frequently is what should I eat. With so much information and misinformation online even a healthcare professional can get confused! For me the quality of food trumps everything including calories. It really is true, not all calories are created equal. Focusing on foods which are high in nutrients really is the best way to go.

Below is a list of food groups in a chronological order based on how nutritious they are. 1 and 2 are high priority foods and should dominate an individual’s diet. The quality decreases as we go towards 10. 3, 4, 5 and 6 should be consumed carefully, 7 and 8 should be avoided stay away from 9 and 10. The last two are the worst items to put in our body. To be honest, they’re not even real foods!

 

1- Organic raw fruits and vegetables

This is the most important food group. Didn’t we just turn the traditional food pyramid on it’s head! Vegetables and fruits are low in calories and fat along with being excellent sources of vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals. They protect our body by boosting immunity, pumping in antioxidants and providing us with both soluble and insoluble fiber. Consuming high amounts of raw fruits and vegetables has been linked to longevity and a healthy mind and disease free body.

It is important to ensure the produce is fresh and seasonal. Nutritional value starts going down the minute fruits and vegetables are picked so it’s crucial to consume them as soon as possible.

Eating a variety of colors is extremely important. Red and orange coloured produce is high in Vitamin C, greens are full of iron and blue or purple fruits and veggies have plenty of antioxidants and contain compounds that protect against cancer. In short, different shades mean a variety of nutrients available for our body to utilize.

 

2- Steamed Organic vegetables and fruits

Steaming or boiling vegetables mean they aren’t heated beyond a 100 degree Celsius. This ensures that we don’t lose many vital vitamins or minerals through cooking. It is true that cooking fruits like strawberries, bananas and avocados changes their structure considerably and makes them loose their natural benefits. At the same time there are many vegetables that are easier to digest after they’ve been heated. Many vitamins and minerals become available when the cell wall denatures and all the material within it becomes easier to absorb.

 

3- Organic raw nuts and seeds

Nuts and seeds are popular for their healthy fats but did you know that they are also a good source of fiber. An ounce of flaxseed contains 7.8 grams and almond gives you 3.5 grams.

Along with being rich in monosaturated fats and many vital nutrients, nuts are extremely calorie dense. Which means consuming them in large amounts can result in weight gain. When eaten in the right quantity nuts have been actually shown to reduce the risk of Type II Diabetes and Cardiovascular Disease.

 

4- Cooked vegetables

Raw and steamed vegetable and fruits are of higher nutritional value than their fried, baked, or grilled counterparts. This is because cooking at such high temperature not only results in loss of valuable nutrients but also the formation of many toxic, carcinogenic compounds. Researchers found Acrylamide, a cancer-causing agent, in many foods that were cooked over 120 degrees Celsius. French fries and potato chips contain it in the highest level compared to other foods.

 

5- Organic raw and unpasteurised dairy (goat and sheep)

My father had raw milk and dairy all his life, my grandparents had it all theirs and before these packaged, UHT, dairy products flooded the market our entire country consumed raw milk. Yes, drank it, ate it, rubbed it all over our faces, and not only lived but reproduced to pass on the tale of the mythic raw milk. Of course, nowadays all I hear is how this milk is actually making us sick. Of course it is. The billion dollar, highly advertised dairy industry is telling us so. We’ve got to believe the adverts.

Real milk, which is obtained from healthy, grass fed goats and sheep, is a marvel in itself. Firstly, goat milk is very close to human milk, which makes it an ideal food for humans. Secondly, it is living with a powerful anti-microbial system which stimulates the immune system and strengthens it. Pasteurisation kills all the bacteria in milk including the ones that are actually good for us.

Many people who are allergic to cow milk find goat or sheep milk to be a suitable replacement. It is also a more suitable option for toddlers as it’s easier to digest than cow milk.

Having said that, milk should not be consumed in large quantities. Increased intake is associated with many diseases. Cow milk, especially, has been linked to osteoporosis, acne, hormonal disturbances, allergies and inflammation.

 

6- Whole grains (Brown rice, Whole wheat)

When I was little whole grains were all the rage! Cereal, bread, nutritional bars, even cookies came with a ‘whole wheat/rice/etc.’ label. Recently, though, we’ve had an anti-grain movement where these carbs have become our number 1 enemy. Firstly, it is true that grains are not as nutritious as fruits and vegetables. If you’ve got a choice between a fruit salad and whole wheat bread with peanut butter, it is better to choose the former.

Secondly, gluten is a very real problem for people with celiac disease. But there is no evidence to suggest that gluten might cause harm in people who don’t have this condition.

Thirdly, grains contain phytic acid which does hinder the absorption of nutrients. This is their natural defense against wanting to be consumed. Research is still being done as to how harmful this actually is.

 

7- UHT, Pasteurized dairy and animal meat (organic fish, chicken, beef and mutton)

With the high protein and low carb craze dominating our dietary choices, many of us live mainly on meat and dairy. Losing weight has become synonymous with eliminating fruits and all grains from our diet and opting for protein to fill us up.

Of course, there is plenty wrong with this kind of thinking. We do not need to consume the amount of protein we do to fulfill our daily protein requirement. Nor do we need the quality of protein we get. The meat is low grade full of steroids, antibiotics and/or hormones. Thanks to the meat and dairy industry’s need to ensure their animals don’t fall sick, grow up quickly and fulfill their purpose of either blessing us with milk or their meat.

Consuming large amounts of dairy and meat has been liked to diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, hormonal disorders and numerous other diseases. Eating a lot of fish is a prominent cause of mercury poisoning.

Meat and dairy is high in B Vitamins, which many vegans do not get through their diet. Meaning they are beneficial for us to a certain extent. It’s important to control your portion size and never go overboard. In certain cases eliminating this group entirely has actually ben very beneficial for that person. I’ve seen that in most of our clients who cut down this group entirely or stick to eating eggs and having meat once a month.

If you’re worried about not getting enough protein on a vegan or vegetarian diet, do not worry. Greens, such as spinach and Romaine lettuce, are extremely high in protein. If you think you’re not getting enough greens in your diet, grains are a good source too. Rice and lentils are a complete meal and provide all the essential amino acids. Some suggest that plant protein is better than animal. This may be true but there isn’t enough research done in this field to warrant such a statement.

 

8- Refined Grains (white flour, white bread, white pasta, etc.) And refined sugar (white sugar, corn syrup)

If you’re on a deserted island and the only thing that has washed up besides you is a massive bag full of bagels, donuts, pizza and pasta. I’d say it is okay to consume it but in any other situation it is never acceptable. With so many food choices available to us opting for those that are calorie dense and nutritionally low does not make rational sense. Also, if you’re consuming enough calories of good quality foods its very unlikely you’d binge on lower grade ones. From obesity and diabetes to cancer, food addiction and heart disease, these foods are linked to almost every evil food related ailment there is out there.

 

9- Cooked/processed animal fat and hydrogenated oils

The worst food to consume! This lowers your HDL, while upping your LDL levels. A guaranteed heart attack in the making and found in packaged snacks, fried foods and margarine. If it’s in a packet your might want to rea the label. There is a huge likelihood of it containing hydrogenated oils or transfat.

 

10- Preservative, artificial flavours, colouring and artificial sweeteners/spices

Cancer, cancer, cancer! Not just cancer but numerous other diseases are linked to long-term consumption of additives. There should be NO place for these in our diet. These sneaky ingredients can make their way in literally anything so read labels, ask restaurants what youre eating or drinking before they serve and educate yourself more so you can avoid them in the future.

 

Resources:

 

http://www.drfuhrman.com/faq/question.aspx?qindex=4&sid=16

http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/causes-prevention/risk/diet/acrylamide-fact-sheet

http://www.globalhealingcenter.com/natural-health/goat-milk-benefits/

http://saveourbones.com/osteoporosis-milk-myth/

80/10/10 Diet:

http://www.livestrong.com/article/325437-harmful-effects-of-preservatives-in-foods/

http://www.cell.com/cell-metabolism/abstract/S1550-4131(14)00062-X