Things have gotten so complex, that we don't even know where to begin, what direction to follow, or who to trust! One diet blames ALL modern illnesses on the high consumption of animal products (low-fat diets), another blames ALL modern illness on the high consumption of grains (low-carb diets), another blames ALL modern illness on high consumption sugar (especifically High Fructose Corn Syrup) others blame ALL modern illness on consumption of high inflammatory foods (and here alone there are huge variations of what those "high inflammatory foods"are depending on the expert you are reading!). Then you also find others blaming fluroid in our water, GMOs, vaccinations, heavy metals in cookware, dairy products, pesticides, depleated soils, and the list goes on and on...
So what are we to do??? Throw in the towels, open a bag of chips and enjoy it while we live? If things were that simple, this would be a none issue. But it's not! It is a BIG issue! Because most of us are not just eating this way (Standard American Diet) and "living"....we're "surviving"! We are getting sicker and sicker as we continue feeding our bodies this way, and for the ones with sensitive bodies like me (digestive issues, allergies, chronic sinus infections, muscle aches), we really feel it in our bodies daily the result of this devastation that is happening with the foods we eat!
One can't help but question, which one of these diets is right??? I've come to the conclusion that to a certain extent they all are! It reminds me of that story of a bunch of blind men touching an elephant and trying to describe what the object is! Each will discover different aspects of it. But in my opinion, the most important thing is finding out what the "common denominators" are:
- processed, refined, sugary foods are BAD FOR YOU! That is the 'universal truth' amongst nutritionists out there. You can't go wrong limiting all processed, refined and sugar-added foods from your life! Allow these types of food rarely into your body.
In addition, there are a few things we can learn from all of them as a whole:
- Eat WHOLE FOODS! You know, the ones GOD created...not men! The ones people have been eating for thousands of years. If you are still confused on what those may be...think of nature. Anything that came directly from nature, and will spoil in a short amount of time!
- Eat LOTS of vegetables! They should be filling up your plate, not simply a small side to your dish.
- Animal products should be raised in the habitat and diet that GOD intended for them to have! That means cows should be roaming on a pasture field, eating grass only!
- Fruits are our God's given dessert!!! If you have a sweet tooth like me, you will learn to appreciate the many wonderful sweets we can enjoy that comes directly from nature!
- Love on those bacterias!!! Fermented foods are rich in natural probiotics that can help your gut stay healthy as well as your immune system. 70% of our immunity comes from our GUT!!! :-)
- DO NOT use any refined oils! Any oil that was not "COLD PRESSED" loses all it's healthy properties and becomes oxidated and harmful to your body. It actually increases inflammation! To my recent knowledge, this applies even to Omega 3 supplements! Use only pastured raised animal fat, palm shortening, or unrefined coconut oil (for high heat cooking) and cold-pressed oils such as olive, avocado or flax (high in omega 3) for cold uses, such as salads.
- AVOID GMO (genetically modified) FOODS!!! "The eight GM food crops are Corn, Soybeans, Canola, Cottonseed, Sugar Beets, Hawaiian Papaya (most) and a small amount of Zucchini and Yellow Squash. Sugar If a non-organic product made in North American lists “sugar” as an ingredient (and NOT pure cane sugar), then it is almost certainly a combination of sugar from both sugar cane and GM sugar beets." (see here for more info). If any of those foods does not say ORGANIC or does not have the "Non-GMO verified seal" it is most likely GMO and you are better off not eating it! Pay close attention to food labels in processed foods, especially for soy-based and canola oils and corn syrups that are everywhere!
- REST, RELAX, RECHARGE!!! I love how Sarah Ballantyne on the Paleo Approach points out that stress can undermine all of your nutritional efforts when it comes to health! I know this for a fact! Whenever I'm under emotional turmoil, it doesn't matter what I eat, my health gets compromised. For me the best way to rest, relax and recharge is through reading the Bible, meditating on its Word, and praying to God through journaling. I cannot tell you enough how much this helps me find peace, both spiritually, as well as physically/emotionally (calming any anxiety symptoms that I may have!). I joke that prayer is my zoloft! It is the only thing that keeps me sane :)
Now with all that being said, I do think that there is one very important aspect of nutrition and diet that is just now starting to come out. Finding out what diet is exactly right for YOU??? Those things mentioned above, or we could say, "the common denominators" will be true for EVERY individual on earth! Processed, refined, sugary & GMO foods are bad for EVERYONE! That's easy! Now when you start talking about what is GOOD for you...that's where things can start to get a little cloudy.
Our industrialized society has done a wonderful job at creating "cookie cutter" things to target the general public! We do this with homes, drugs, vaccines, clothes, cars, foods...even diets! The problem is, we're all different! Our bodies are different, we metabolize things differently and our immune responses are different, so we can't just have a 'one-fit-all' anything when it comes to our bodies. That's where getting to know your own body becomes very important!
A little about my journey...
About 10 years ago is when I first began to learn about the many issues found in our current food system. So I learned about pesticides, GMO, the chemical soups that processing foods create, how animals were being raised confined, filled with diseases and antibiotics...the nasty stuff that got into our milk (like cow puss from inflamations), the carcinogens and hormone disrupting chemicals added to most processed foods as preservatives and fillers. Having had childhood memories around real, healthy animals at my grandpa's farm (as you can read on the homepage) I was absolutely appalled at all these discoveries at the time! I grew up with a "pet cow" that I raised since she was a calf and her mother had died, and helped with her bottle feedings, called her by name and she would respond by coming to me...so I knew cows were domesticated animals with emotions and not machines to be abused for our benefits! So gradually I began to follow more and more of a vegetarian diet. That lasted until I got married (you can read more about this here) when I slowly drifted away from a vegetarian diet, and back into the S.A.D. During the time prior to changing my diet, I suffered from MANY health issues, that I just accepted as "part of life" type of thing! I had a lot of digestive issues, like reflux, what I believed at the time was gastritis (recurrent attacks of stomach pain, nausea and vomiting) but I believe now it could have been gallbladder issues. I would get painfully bloated very regularly, to the point I couldn't even walk! Recurrent sinus infections and allergies.
During my diet change, some of my symptoms improved, such as my digestive distress, but others still remained on and off. On my early married years, I started having a lot of chronic sinus infections, and started researching about the cause and solutions. I came across a book that talked about healing chronic sinus infections naturally (Sinus Survival). And that is when I began to learn about inflammation, and the negative impact of dairy to inflammation and sinus issues.
A few years later I returned to a plant-based diet (here), but this time I came back to a much "cleaner" version. The vegetarian diet I had followed during my college years were mainly processed, and involved a lot of packaged "health foods," the new version I started following was plant-based Nutritarian diet that focused mainly on whole foods and limited processed foods.
During this Nutritarian phase, my health improved dramatically. I lost a lot of weight, and had much less chronic sinus infections, had more energy, felt generally better. When I got pregnant with my second child, the diet literally went down the drain! I was miserably sick, and could only eat what I could keep down, and it was mostly unhealthy stuff. With no energy to prepare healthy meals, I just gave in to all my cravings, and was generally unhealthy the entire pregnancy and post-partum. Then I had a MAJOR gallbladder attack, and decided it was time to get back in track. I kept this diet well until I got pregnant the third time...which the same exact thing happened as before. Convenience trumpted health! I was so sick and drained, I could not get myself to cook or do much else other than survive another pregnancy! But during my third pregnancy I developed Gestational Diabetes...something I also had during my first pregnancy. For that, I simply followed the conventional nutrional guideline for gestational diabetes, which is a processed food-low carb, high dairy diet! I remember sitting with a nutritionist, and she placed on the table a bunch of foods that I could eat, and showed me the portions that I could eat, and what to look at when reading labels. She had cereal, yogurt, pizza, bagles, fruits, juice, ice-cream, cookies, crackers, chocolate, on the table. And just showed me the amount of carbs I should focus on for each meal and snacks, and the portion that it represented for those meals.
After baby was born, we were eating mostly quick, easy to make processed foods. Lots of frozen pizzas, breads, bagels, waffles, sandwhiches, pastas. Then I decided it was probably a good idea to check my glucose numbers, since I was eating LOTS of carbs! Even though doctors assured me that once I had the baby I could resume back into a "regular" diet, I just wanted to make "sure" my numbers were okay. I had done this with my first pregancy, and indeed my numbers were very normal and low regardless of how much carbs I ate. This time though, it was a different story! I was getting fasting numbers between 100-107 every morning! So that triggered a BIG red flag for me! It was time to change my diet again...
The problem this time was that I didn't know what diet to follow! I've had gallbladder issues on and off for years up to this point, especially following a period of a lot of junk eating (like Holidays or travels), so a plant-based, low-fat diet seemed ideal! But now with pre-diabetes knocking at my door (I have strong family history), a low-carb diet was the ideal! I was at loss... So in an attempt to address the two, I decided to do a low-carb diet since I needed to get those numbers down, but also focus on low-fat animal products and cut all processed, refined, sugary foods that are associated with gallbladder disease.
Then Holiday and travels came! We were gone for two weeks, and those were some VERY junky eating weeks! When we got back, I rolled right back into my "healthy, low-carb, low-fat eating"....then a month or so into this, BOOM: ANOTHER gallbladder attack! At this point I was eating low-fat animal products, lots of fruits and vegetables, and minimal processed foods. I had no idea what else to do! I had an ultrasound done, and there were no stones again, just thick bile (sludge), and it seemed more likely that a malfunctioning gallbladder could be the culprit. Either way, I left the Doctor with a referrel to see a surgeon. The problem is I do not want surgery! I've read enough testimonies of people with life-long side effects from gallbladder removal, that made me not look at this option lightly! So I determined myself to exhaust all of the possible natural solutions out there.
That's when I discovered The Paleo Approach book...and discovered that gallbladder disease can be related to leaky gut and a precursor to auto-immune issues. Also found out that lots of people with GB problems, had issues with egg whites (which I found out was possibly the villain for my gallbladder attacks!). I also found out that being on a low-fat (vegan) diet, actually increases gallbladder issues, because you are not using it regularly.
So after reading so many glowing testimonies of people implementing the Paleo Approach diet and healing all sorts of things, I decided to give it a try for 3 weeks before re-introducing foods. I was VERY happy and hopeful that finally I would heal my gallbladder issues, as well as other mysterious ones (like my leg achiness) or even my allergies! One week into it, I was a complete mess! I started obssessing SO much about what to eat and what not to eat, and the food limitation left me so anxious, that my emotions were completely out of wack! My health actually felt worst than when I originally started the diet.
So I decided to change things a bit, first by REPENTING of turning food into an idol, and seeking food to be my savior instead of seeking my Savior! All of my free time I spent thinking, reading, and meditating on nutrition and diet, NOT on my Savior!!! Reminding myself of His Soverignty over my life, my health as well as my sickness, and seeking His guidance in this area of my life, put me back in the right track! With knowledge comes responsibility, so if He has educated me in certain areas of nutrition, He will hold me responsible to act accordingly.
Once that was taken care of...I decided to start a little slower, and not go straight into it cold turkey. Since I don't have full-blown debilitating auto-immune disease (Thank you LORD! But I do believe I have plenty of starting symptoms...so this is definitely something for me to watch for), I don't have the "motivating factor" to push me through a very rigid diet like this one. So I decided to start out by cutting the most irritating gut products such as gluten, and minimizing all grains (except oats), cut the eggs, dairy and eat pastured meats only. That sounds like whole lot already! hehe... The goal is to be evaluating more closely how I feel after I eat certain foods, and if I notice something, then I can remove that. So far I discovered sweet potatoes don't agree with me, and chicken also causes mild allergy responses (I get more itchy after I eat it! Something I always feel on and off, but just had never connected to foods). And also plan on focusing on eating gut healing foods, such as fermented foods. Not sure if I can handle offal yet! But keeping those options open for the future.
The most fascinating thing that I realized during these past three weeks, is that the foods I was so scared of eating (high cholesterol ones) fearing a gallbladder attack, actually don't! And the one thing I was eating to 'avoid' an attack, 'egg whites' (since they are zero cholesterol), was actually giving my attacks! When I started this diet my gallbladder was VERY tender, and had been like that for weeks. As soon as I started, I immedietly started eating high cholesterol foods for breakfast, and in a couple of days I already noticed less pain in my gallbladder. This was amazing to me!!! The most puzzling thing about my gallbladder attacks was exactly the fact that they never happened after eating a high fat food, and now looking back, they always happened after eating eggs, especially with lots of egg whites in them! How crazy is that?!?! This just comes to show how we can't have one size fits all approach to our diet, and how little we actually understand of our bodies, and gallbladder issues!
My take from all these experiences, researching different diets, and researching on what to follow or not, is that instead of driving myself crazy navigating through this complicated MESS of information out there, I will simply focus on eating things GOD created (that means anything processed will be consumed minimally), and pay closer attention to how my body responds! I do believe if you suffer from autoimmune issues, digestive issues, or chronic health issues, it is particularly important to focus on healing your gut! Afterall 70% of our immunity comes from our gut! The Paleo Approach does a fantastic job at explaining all the science behind the many health issues we are facing today, and how the health of our gut is at play in those conditions. I highly recommend that book for all the nutrition nerds out there!
The bottom line is that we all have different bodies, different immune systems, different immune responses, we cannot have a cookie cutter diet that will fit all! We need to monitor our bodies response, and individualize our diet accordingly. Eggs work great for my family, but not for me. Cashews will cause digestive distress in my older daughter, but not me! Despite our "custom-made" adjustments, it's time we remind ourselves of what REAL food actually is, and eat that! I teach my daughters that if GOD made it, it is healthy, if MEN made it, we need to have a lot of caution when consuming it. Marketing has made us believe that packaged foods boasting of certain "super-food" ingredients are healthy. But most are filled with sugar, refined oils, and fillers that were simply not created for human nourishment. Our bodies are starving REAL, nourishing foods! Many of the sicknesses going around is our bodies desperate cry for HELP! It's time we start listening to it and feeding it, so that it can work as God originally intended.