So many different ‘healthy’ diets – which one is best for my kid?

We are all interested in feeding our children the healthiest diet possible… but there are so many different ideas about what one should and shouldn’t eat out there, how do you know what is really going to be best? Is meat the healthiest because of B12 and easy to use protein or is a vegetarian diet best for baby and environment? Are fats fattening and heart clogging or essential for brain function? Where do you start?

Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/camusa/533918010/

Hybrid Rasta Mama and I have been having a dialogue about healthful nutrition. She looks at it through the prism of the Weston Price’s ‘Traditional Diet’. I look at it from an Eastern-inspired neo-Macrobiotic point of view.

I first read her piece on the ‘Traditional Diet’ here, on the Natural Parents Network and I posed a few basic questions about this diet to which so many healthy eaters here, in the US, seem to be attracted. I really like the clear, succinct way she explains the tenets of this diet, so I turned to her to help me with some of my misgivings, not least about the starting point of this diet that claims to represent the traditional diet by distilling ‘the best of’ the customary diets from all over the globe, which are in their very nature very different from each other (compare the traditional diet of hunter gatherers in Africa which is mostly roots, berries and occasional meats, with that of Mediterranean people who eat lots of fish, salads and olive oil). And though it seemingly starts from this very wide view it quickly narrows in and makes some very specific, one-size-fits-all prescriptions, such as that everybody should eat cod liver oil (which clearly not all traditional people do, nor would that necessarily be a response to the individual challenges of the environment *you* live in or a response to the health challenges you as a unique individual are faced with at this time).  Jennifer (aka Hybrid Rasta Mama) came through with some singingly clear points which bridge many of the gaps between our two approaches. Here is her second post, in response to my questions: http://hybridrastamama.blogspot.com/2011/03/traditional-diets-q-session-part-1.html?showComment=1301811541668#c786034488986848544. (You can find my questions in the comment section under her original NPN post, here).

Have I been ‘converted’? I am not sure I will start eating meat, let alone offal tomorrow, but I have found much we agree upon. My diet is informed by a need to stay alkaline, eat lots of living, green and fresh foods. I continue to be influenced greatly by my studies at the College of Natural Nutrition, in London, where I learned to tailor the diet to the person and their individual health needs, I am nourished by my Macrobiotic roots, a system I still find so beautiful, almost poetic in its approach which urges us to stay in tune with the season (which I interpret as: eat salads in summer, roots in winter, for example), with the region you live in (eat fat-rich fish if you live somewhere cold like Alaska or fresh, water- and electrolyte-filled fruit if you live near the equator) and with your body’s constitution and state of health (eat simple, vegetable soups if you are unwell or your digestion is impaired, branch-out and eat more complex foods when you are strong and energetic).

But I have also been around the health food movements long enough (all my life, really) to have seen that many different diets work for many different people. I have (literally) met people who have reversed severe arthritis (among other conditions) through a strict macrobiotic diet and others who have beaten cancer through an all-alkaline diet. I know people who swear by a Paelo Diet and others for whom a Vegan Raw Diet has changed their lives and their health pictures. For that reason and because my broad view has really left me with a relativist belief that different diets work miracles for different people, at different times, here is a list of diets you might like to explore further:

  1. The Macrobiotic Diet – Balancing your diet according to season, where you live, your lifestyle and your state of health
  2. The Weston-Price Traditional Diet – based on diets humans thrived on for centuries, millenia even
  3. The Vegan Raw Food Diet/Living Food Diet – a simple diet based on eating food brimming with live enzymes, untouched vitamins and minerals. Raw foods are  just so vital, full of energy and nutrients.
  4. The Alkalising Diet – based on the understanding that disease only spreads in an acidic body, this diet is honed to bring your body (the pH in your cells and tissues) back to an alkaline state by eating a diet of predominantly fresh green foods
  5. The Paleo Diet – is all about eating as our (way back when) ancestors did – the cavemen – on the principle that our bodies  bodies are evolutionarily adapted to that way of eating. In practice this means consuming mostly animal protein and vegetables with no grains or flours.
  6. Eat Right for Your Blood Type is an interesting theory which takes your blood type as an indication of your constitution (based on the tribe you hail from – or the type of civilisation that evolved that blood type; eg hunter-gatherers vs settled aggrarian people) and then tailoring your diet to that
  7. Ayurvedic Diet – again tailors your diet to your constitution, which in this ancient traditional Indian system they call doshas and understands not all people respond the same way to certain foods like grains, fats or sugar – some people tolerate them better than others
  8. Traditional Chinese Diet – Traditional Chinese Medicine is a rich system, perfected over centuries of practice which views the human body as a complex interaction of different energies symbolised by the five elements. Food is seen as medicine and the right diet for you will be based on the energy flow to your various organs. This is a deep system really worth investigating fully… but the link I posted here is just a dainty flavour of it. Do delve in deeper.

My belief is that, if you listen to the core of you, you will be drawn to the right diet for you – maybe not first off, maybe it will be a process of trial and error and you can certainly find some incredibly knowledgeable guides along the way (in the form of teachers, nutritionists or books) but my faith is that, ultimately, the body knows and the truth will show.

It is also true, from what I have observed, that a diet that may work for someone for sometime may not be in their best interest in the long term. For example a raw food cleanse may do your body a whole load of good for a month even a year or two (ridding it of toxins and the debris of a lifetime of meat consuption, for example) but you may – depending on your constitution, where you live, etc. – find that after  prolongued adherence to this strict vegan diet your body is clean, yes, but also stripped and depleted of certain minerals (like calcium or iron – unless you are very good at eating your greens) and vitamins (B12, for example). So sometimes very restrictive diets have an expiry date, I find.

In any case, as I said in my response to Hybrid Rasta Mama (which you can read under the comments of her two articles, linked above), I think the basic summary of what most of us interested in healthy eating agree upon is this: eat ‘real foods’ (not refined, processed, pasteurised or hydrogenised cr*p). I am convinced that if everybody on the planet stuck to this basic principle, and ditched the junk food, much of the (predominantly) Western ‘epidemic’ of chronic illnesses (from arthritis to heart disease, high blood pressure to cancer) would be abated. The rest (whether you and your children eat more meat or grains, whether you all take cod liver oil or not) are details. Easier said than done, I know (my diet is far from perfect), but at least the principle to aspire to is nice and simple: eat real food.

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Friendly disclaimer: the views in this article are my opinion and should not be taken as replacement for the advice of a medical physician. Consult with your doctor before making any drastic changes to your diet.

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Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/camusa/533918010/

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4 thoughts on “So many different ‘healthy’ diets – which one is best for my kid?

  1. What a fabulous article – thank you! I have been vegetarian for 20 years now. I had a bit of chicken in my pregnancy/breastfeeding years, and now am *most* vegan. I still am trying to find something that works for me. My stomach seems in continual revolt unless I eat only fruits, veggies, and oatmeal. Chocolate & coffee seem okay too (yay!).
    The biggest problem I find with food is that when I attempt to control my diet more strongly, my cravings become more powerful – such that I’m thinking far too much about chocolate, and turning my nose up at spinach.
    I wish I could find a nice medium.
    My children and husband are also vegetarian – they eat eggs, but really don’t like cheese or milk. I struggle with making sure they have enough of what they need, in spite of what they don’t like to eat. I wish food were easier.

    • Thank you. I agree. I said before that in some ways, I wish I had grown up surrounded by a strong, healthy food culture where home cooking from fresh is the norm and eating with your family at each meal is de rigueur. In a way, some would say, I had a better food-upbringing. My mom was a healthfoods cook and my dad is a naturopath (old fashioned definition – one who treats with nature – and he does so professionally). So I grew up with a lot of information and living examples of why eating right makes a real difference to your quality of life… but I find nowadays that I am a tad imbalanced: full of theory but lacking in joy, love and effortlessness in the kitchen. I am trying to get that back, for Anya’s sake (and my own).

      I, like you, have had to find my own comfort level with responding to what I like and cravings vs. being led by what I ‘should’ eat. My aim is to make the two correspond as much as possible – ie make healthy food yummy and naturally outgrow the need to eat junk… which for the most part I have – with some notable exceptions. I mean the idea of eating a McDonalds’ burger is repellent to me now not because of what they do to the rainforest, how treat the livestock they buy for meat or what this additive laden ‘food’ will do to my innards but because, genuinely, it tastes like doo-doo to me and I remember how I felt the last few times I ate one, say half an hour later. My body just doesn’t want that. So I am working toward what I think of as a higher food consciousness in which I am aware not just of taste but how my whole body feels after eating each food. I want to be one of those vibrantly healthy people and for me that is not just about ‘having no disease’ or having lots of energy, it is also about healthy input in resonance with who I am, with the body, with the Planet. Is that too far out there? Is that too much of a tangent?? Probably, but now you know where I am at – crazy hippy land?? – hahahah!

  2. >> I want to be one of those vibrantly healthy people and for me that is not just about ‘having no disease’ or having lots of energy, it is also about healthy input in resonance with who I am, with the body, with the Planet. Is that too far out there? Is that too much of a tangent??

    – – –

    No, I don’t think it’s too far out there. one of the things that bothers me with the “traditional” diet is that it doesn’t resonate healthily for me – with the earth, animals, or people. For me, I can’t reconcile the death/pain that comes from killing or using animals for nourishment, or the strain on our land that comes from sustaining animals for meat & dairy – when it’s not necessary for our survival. Even if it were feasible or possible to ensure that there were only just enough animals to satisfy an appropriate amount of food for each person, and that each of those animals were treated with respect, grazed only on organic fields… such that all meat was as “healthy” as it could be and all dairy/eggs were as raw & natural as they could be (which, since we don’t all live on/near farms, and not every location has laws allowing raw dairy, and people are utterly dependent on quick food, this is NOT currently feasible or possible), it still comes down to a matter of deciding to boost our own life through the taking of or abusing of lifeforce of another creature. Without need.

    There is also the very real connection between a diet rich in animal fats leading and high cholesterol which my husband has experienced, and upset stomach associated with dairy consumption, as I have experienced. The traditional diet is interesting; but not universally feasible, and not empathetic to the needs of the other inhabitants on our earth.

    Yet… there is so little joy in my food at times (other than chocolate); precisely because I am knowledgeable and worried about the damage to the earth, other animals, and my body done through the (what should be) simple act of eating… that I feel there must be a happy medium. There should be a better way.

    • I hear you. And I am right there with you on trying to find a balance that works for me, genuinely on all levels. What I don’t want is a compromise of the kind Calvin (of Calvin and Hobbes) described as an aggrement in which everyone is left unhappy/unsatisfied. I don’t want it to be either healthy body or an uplifted spirit or a peaceful conscience. I don’t know the answer yet, at all… but I suspect for me it will always be a constant process of re-balancing based on listening to my feelings and my body as they keep feeding me (no pun intended) new information. We’ll see.

      Thanks again for reading and thinking along with me.

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