The BIG picture: Food allergies are at a high. Autism is on the increase. Diabetes has become an international health crisis. Celiac is increasing. We are reaching critical mass on the effects of the industrial food system. Our bees are dying off. Habitats are disappearing. Global warming and toxins are changing everything for our wildlife. Our forests are disappearing. Our icecaps are melting.
Sadly these phenomenon are connected by the food industry, which is having a huge impact on our bodies and our planet. Your family’s health is not the only reason to choose an organic, healthy diet. Pesticides and hormones contaminate groundwater and undermine the health of our soil. Pesticides may be the cause of colony collapse disorder, which threatens our honeybees and our food supply. What’s good for your body is good for the earth.
Despite the threat of the American diet to our health and environment, the role of diet in health has not gotten a foothold in medical treatment.
“It’s shocking,” says Pediatrician Dr. David Ludwig, “how little we consider food quality in the management of chronic diseases. Ludwig, who is director of the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center in Boston, who sees more and mores cases of Type 2 diabetes in children, which was unheard of 20 years ago.
So it is not surprising that informed individuals are taking their diet into their own hands, experimenting with a healthier approach. Farmers are responding by growing organic foods and diversifying beyond the limited selection of agribusiness. Farmers markets are springing up to respond to consumers’ desires for local food. And specific healing diets are answering the need for a healthier lifestyle.
The Paleo Diet
Recently, the Paleo diet has surged in popularity. Also known as the primal diet, caveman diet, Stone Age diet, or hunter-gatherer diet, it consists of fresh vegetables, fruits, roots, nuts, wild fish, free-range poultry, and grass-fed meat. It excludes all grains, legumes, dairy products, refined sugars, and processed oils. The modern Paleo diet is a whole lifestyle of particular foods and exercise, and it has many interpretations.
The Paleo diet was first brought into the spotlight by Loren Cordain, PhD, considered the world’s leading expert on the Paleolithic diet, and author of the best-selling The PaleoDiet: Lose Weight and Get Healthy by Eating the Food You Were Designed to Eat. Dr. Cordain’s extensive research focused on the evolutionary and anthropological basis for dietary health and the links between modern diets and disease. What did our ancestors really eat? Dr. Cordain studied human diets during the Paleolithic period spanning 2.5 million years, gleaning evidence from microscopic scratches and wear patterns on teeth. According to Dr. Cordain, our ancestors were omnivores, eating a hunt-and-gather diet of fresh wild fruits, vegetables, and animals, depending upon the climate in which they lived. The major difference between their diet and our modern diet is the development of agriculture about ten thousand years ago, which brought us grains and legumes (beans).
More recent changes to grain cultivation and refining methods came about around 1890 with the advent of refined flour. In the last sixty years, the introduction of industrial farming methods, preservatives, chemicals, and longer shelf lives has brought major changes to our tables. With a global food industry narrowly focused on volume at the expense of nutritional value and environmental balance, it is no surprise that chronic health problems are increasing worldwide.
Our ancestors were physically strong, fit, and active. They had to walk miles to gather food, migrate to distant areas, and outrun wild animals. Just two hundred years ago, Lewis and Clark crossed the American Pacific Northwest wilderness on foot with a company of soldiers, walking as far as 50 to 75 miles per day. Do you know anyone who could do that today?
Dr. Cordain’s view that our modern diet is inadequate to sustain good health is supported by Dr. Weston Price, a renowned nutritionist and dentist. He traveled the world, studying indigenous peoples, and his findings clearly demonstrate the strong connection between diet and health. Wherever he went, he found that native people living on a traditional diet had very low rates of dental decay and sickness, whereas the same genetic groups eating a modern Western diet had higher rates of tooth decay and disease. His fascinating accounts are documented in the book “Nutrition and Physical Degeneration”.
The Gluten-Free Diet
The Gluten-Free Diet grew out of the Specific Carbohydrate Diet, a nutritional regimen, which restricts the use of complex carbohydrates and eliminates refined sugar, all grains and starch from the diet. It is promoted as a way of reducing the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, coeliac disease and autism. Gluten-free food is normally seen as a diet for celiac disease, but it has been applied by others with a range of conditions with excellent results.
Several grains and starch sources are considered acceptable for a gluten-free diet. The most frequently used are corn, potatoes, rice, and tapioca (derived from cassava). Other grains and starch sources generally considered suitable for gluten-free diets include amaranth, arrowroot, millet, montina, lupin, quinoa, sorghum (jowar), taro, teff, chia seed, and yam. Sometimes various types of bean, soybean, and nut flours are used in gluten-free products to add protein and dietary fiber.
Almond flour has a low glycemic index, and is a low-carbohydrate alternative to wheat flour. In spite of its name, buckwheat is not related to wheat. Pure buckwheat is considered acceptable for a gluten-free diet, however, many commercial buckwheat products are mixtures of wheat and buckwheat flours, and thus, not gluten-free. Gram flour, derived from chickpeas, also is gluten-free (this is not the same as Graham flour made from wheat).
Gluten may be used in foods in some unexpected ways, for example it may be added as a stabilizing agent or thickener in products such as ice-cream and ketchup. Those wishing to follow a completely gluten-free diet must take into consideration the ingredients of any over-the-counter or prescription medications and vitamins. Also, cosmetics such as lipstick, lip balms, and lip gloss may contain gluten and need to be investigated before use. Glues used on envelopes may also contain gluten.
Most products manufactured for Passover are gluten-free. Exceptions are foods that list matzo as an ingredient, usually in the form of cake meal.
Restaurants with gluten-free menus exist, but those who are gluten-sensitive must always be aware that the variety of procedures used in kitchens and grills may lead to cross-contamination. This can be especially true at buffets where utensils may be used in different food bowls by customers.
Special care is necessary when checking product ingredient lists since gluten comes in many forms: vegetable proteins and starch, modified food starch (when derived from wheat instead of maize), malt flavoring, including maltodextrine, dextrine, unless specifically labeled as corn malt. Many ingredients contain wheat or barley derivatives. Dextrose is considered gluten-free, however, since it is highly modified, no matter what the source. Quinoa is a grain that is gluten-free.
Low-Carb, No-Carb Diets
Low-carbohydrate diets are used to treat or prevent some chronic diseases and conditions including: cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, high blood pressure and diabetes, epilepsy, chronic fatigue syndrome (see ketosis) and polycystic ovarian syndrome. When you eat a low carbohydrate diet, you minimize spikes in blood sugar, and your pancreas releases very little insulin. Once your body has depleted its carbohydrate stores, then it begins to rely on stored fat as its primary source of fuel, leading to weight loss.
As with the Paleolithic diet, several advocates of low-carbohydrate diets have argued that these diets are closer to the ancestral diet of humans before the origin of agriculture, and therefore that humans are genetically adapted to diets low in carbohydrate.
The Ketogenic Diet
The ketogenic diet is a high-fat, adequate-protein, low-carbohydrate diet. Dieters restrict or eliminate foods high in easily digestible carbohydrates, including sugar, bread, and pasta. Instead, they consume foods containing a higher percentage of fats and moderate protein: meat, poultry, fish, shellfish, eggs, cheese, nuts, and seeds and other foods low in carbohydrates like salad and vegetables. Other vegetables and fruits, especially berries, are often allowed.
By restricting carbohydrates drastically to a fraction of those found in the typical American diet, the body goes into a different metabolic state called ketosis: it burns its own fat for fuel. Normally the body burns carbohydrates for fuel — this is the main source of fuel for your brain, heart ,and many other organs. A person in ketosis is gets energy from ketones, little carbon fragments that are the fuel created by the breakdown of fat stores. When the body is in ketosis, you tend to feel less hungry, and thus you’re likely to eat less than you might otherwise. Ketosis can be risky and is a controversial approach to food.
The intake of gluten and casein has been found to be linked to the symptoms of children with autism. By completely eliminating gluten and casein from the diet, parents have seen improvement in their autistic children. It is a challenging diet for children, since it means no breads, baked goods, cereals, cookies, crackers, and pizza, as well as no milk, cheese, ice cream, and yogurt. Casein is a common additive in the food industry, and care must be taken when purchasing all foods to check the listed ingredients.
Dairy Free Diet
Millions of Americans suffer from dairy-related intolerance or allergy. The National Institute of Health’s clearinghouse on digestive diseases reports 30 to 50 million Americans are lactose intolerant. Some people who avoid dairy are allergic to the dairy proteins themselves and must avoid all dairy products, including milk, cheese, butter, cream cheese, cottage cheese, sour cream, ice cream, whey and casein. Some avoid dairy because they lack the enzyme lactase, which digests milk sugar, lactose. Others eliminate dairy to support joint health or to free themselves from autoimmune disorders. Cheese is often a trigger for migraine sufferers.
In addition to the obvious dairy products, dairy ingredients come in many different forms. Look for: curds, whey, ghee, casein, rennet, lactose, lactulose, whey and casein hydrolysates, lactalbumin and lactoglobulin.