Jessie So discusses the latest fad in healthy eating, and whether there’s any evidence behind it
Healthy eating has rapidly become a very popular topic of discussion. More people are aware of it, and make a conscious decision to make better dietary choices. However, many food products in super markets that are simply branded as ‘healthy’ – such as low fat, or sugar-free – may actually contain more chemicals and additives that are bad for you.
With this, there comes a new health fad: returning to the basics and only incorporating whole foods into the diet. This is, for example, the basis of the ‘paleo’ diet – and it’s gained a lot of momentum in recent years. Similarly, plenty of celebrities and models are (very loudly, of course) claiming to have gone vegan, ditching meat in favour of a plant-based diet, and losing a lot of weight in the process.
But is there any truth that super restrictive diets like this are any good for us?
In recent years there has been a focus on food intolerances as the main cause of weight gain, low energy and ill health. Intolerances are very different to a food allergy, in that symptoms present hours or days later. It generates an immune response when certain foods are present in the body, leading to symptoms such as fatigue, eczema, migraine and asthma. It can also slows down metabolism and increases fluid retention, leading to weight gain.
Statistics from Allergy UK show that around 45% of the UK population suffer from a food intolerance at some time in their lives. More and more food products in shops are being labelled as having 100% natural ingredients, gluten free, wheat free, or dairy free. But are companies venturing into this market simply for profit, or is there a truth behind it all?
Some individuals choose to make the drastic choice of adopting a completely plant-based diet based on whole foods in the belief that it can cure chronic illness. That’s right – no meat, dairy, sugar, wheat or gluten. Nothing processed, no chemicals, and no additives.
I was first alerted to this concept when I came across Ella Woodward’s blog, which goes by the name of Deliciously Ella. She writes about delicious and healthy recipes that are completely plant-based, in accordance with the diet she started following after her diagnosis of Postural Tachycardia Syndrome in September 2011. This disease of the autonomic nervous system left her bedbound 95% of the time.
While conventional medicine didn’t have an effect, 18 months after starting her new lifestyle she was able to come off her medication and start a new lease of life. Through the recipes on her blog she aims to show that healthy food can be easy, delicious and extremely nutritious. The popularity of her app, cooking classes and new book published this year, suggests that the previously established opinion of healthy food being bland and boring is slowly diminishing.
Her ideas aren’t completely crazy. Dr Mark Hyman insists that the major reason why people fall ill and are overweight is because they eat foods that make them toxic and inflamed. Examples of these are sugar, chemicals, additives, fructose, trans fats and artificial sweeteners. He recommends his patients to eat whole foods and stop their intake of potential food allergens – lessening inflammation and therefore allowing the body to heal itself.
One of his patients suffered from very painful psoriatic arthritis, and with immunosuppressants not making any difference to his condition, he decided to follow Dr Hyman’s advice: his pain and swelling were gone, he felt more energized, his mood improved, and he lost 15 pounds.
The effect of this diet isn’t necessarily limited to chronic illnesses. Most people accept feelings of fatigue, depression, headaches, allergies and skin problems as a part of everyday life. They aren’t forms of illnesses but can still make people feel terrible.
Our food industry has advanced to the point where it has to be emphasized that food products are natural, chemical- and additive-free – when this is what we should be eating in the first place! For many, adopting whole foods completely will prove some difficulty – but whether you are presently suffering from bad health or not, eating a more wholesome diet will make a huge difference to your energy levels, and staving off any illness in the future.
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