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Which Healthy Diet Is The Best?

Starting on a real food diet can be rather confusing as there is so much contradicting information about. So which healthy diet really is the best?




First of all, processed food can NOT be part of a healthy, balanced diet (although big food corporations would like us to believe otherwise). Humans are quite resilient though, so for someone who’s generally healthy the occasional glitch will not hurt and is often necessary if we don’t completely want to give up our social life.

I wanted to list and describe a few different diets that most people will come across when changing to a real food diet. What they all have in common is real, unprocessed foods – and that’s what we should strive for, no matter which diet we follow.

Proponents of different diets can often be a bit stuck in their ways, claiming that only this diet is the right diet for everybody. The point to remember is that we’re all individuals and that our dietary needs can change throughout our life. Real food should be our main focus.

As a guide, we can look at what science tells us and what our ancestors have eaten and come to a few conclusions about what nutrients we need and where we can best get them.

The other important thing to remember is that some healing diets are designed to be followed short term. I’ve had experience with most of these diets with different outcomes.

The most commonly used gut-healing protocols are:

The specific carbohydrate diet (SCD)

The SCD diet is an elimination protocol designed for gut healing.

The protocol removes disaccharides and polysaccharides (complex sugars) because they require healthy digestive function to be broken down into monosaccharides and then to be absorbed.

This includes sucrose (table sugar), lactose from milk and maltose from starch digestion.

The reasoning behind this is that the absorption of these sugars is too much work for the already damaged gut wall and that unabsorbed starch will become food for pathogenic bacteria which will worsen the problem.

Removing starches gives the gut wall the chance to recover and heal.

The proteins casein and gluten are also out as they are pro-inflammatory and require a lot of work by the digestive system.

The diet does not allow: grains, starchy vegetables and most legumes, lactose containing foods, sugar and processed foods.

It allows monosaccharides as they don’t require much digestion. They include glucose, fructose and galactose (contained in soured milk products). Therefore fruit, honey and non-starchy vegetables are the main sources of carbohydrates.

The diet starts with a slightly more restricted introduction diet.

Homemade yoghurt is allowed from the start. Probiotic supplementation is encouraged. Apart from that meats, eggs, vegetables, fruits, nuts, honey, some sweeteners, cultured dairy, cheese and some low-starchy legumes are the main foods allowed on the diet.

The Gaps Diet (GAPS)

The GAPS diet is an elimination protocol that consists of three steps:

1. Diet

2. Supplementation

3. Lifestyle changes and detoxification

The GAPS diet is based on the SCD diet but with a few alterations. It could be seen as an updated version of the SCD diet.

The GAPS diet is more strict when it comes to introducing dairy, doesn’t allow any sweeteners apart from honey and also allows less legumes.

The GAPS introduction diet is also more detailed. The most important food on GAPS is bone broth because it is rich in gut healing amino acids and collagen.

Easy to digest proteins like boiled meats and eggs are a major staple on the diet and supply important building blocks.

Animal fats are another staple on the diet as they don’t require much work from the gut lining in order to be absorbed and contain important nutrients for the gut lining. All grains, starches and processed foods are excluded from the diet.

Same as on the SCD diet, GAPS allows monosaccharides as they don’t require much digestion. They include glucose, fructose and galactose (contained in soured milk products). Therefore fruit, honey and non-starchy vegetables are the main sources of carbohydrates.

Soured milk products are also allowed and even encouraged on the later stages because of the probiotics. However, any dairy products are introduced slowly.

The patients are encouraged to first follow 6 stages of an introduction diet.

It starts with just broth and meat and then slowly adds more vegetables, eggs, fermented vegetables and dairy, fruits, nuts and raw vegetables/fruits.

On the full GAPS diet baking with nuts and fruits is permitted but broth, meats, vegetables and fat should be kept the staples.

Emphasis is also placed on fermented vegetables and dairy (if tolerated) to help replenish the beneficial gut flora.

Supplementation consists of cod liver oil and fish oil for vitamin D, A and omega 3 fatty acids along with probiotics.

Detoxification of the whole body is encouraged through coffee enemas, Epsom salt baths and sauna.

Further, the patient should get rid of any toxic household and personal care products.Typically a patient is supposed to be on the protocol for around 2 years and would then be able to introduce more foods back in.

The Autoimmune paleo protocol (AIP)

The autoimmune paleo protocol is designed to send autoimmune disease into remission by healing the gut and correcting nutrient deficiencies.

Whilst following a paleo diet that excludes grains, legumes and dairy the following foods are also removed as they often cause problems for people with autoimmune disorders: eggs, nightshades, seeds, nuts, excessive fructose, non-nutritive sweeteners like stevia, additives, alcohol, NSAIDs and potential gluten cross-reactivate foods.

It emphasises quality organ and other meats, seafood, fruits and vegetables including starchy tubers, fats, cultured foods and bone broth.

Wise supplementation, especially with omega 3 is encouraged and so is mild exercise, quality sleep and stress management.

Once the patient is in remission more foods can be introduced if tolerated. If a patient is doing well on certain foods that aren’t allowed on the diet they don’t necessarily have to be removed.

The Low FODMAP diet

FODMAP stands for Fermentable, Oligo-, Di-, Mono-saccharides and Polyols which are carbohydrates rich in fructose molecules. These molecules aren’t well absorbed in the small intestine, especially in people with gut problems. This will often lead to excessive gas.

The low FODMAP diet removes any foods that have a lot of FODMAPs in them and is often used to treat IBS with Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO).

This diet is often used in conjunction with other protocols for a relative short period of time to relieve symptoms and assist gut healing.

These elimination diets have been successfully used by many people to heal from gut related conditions.

It is important to remember that they are designed as relatively short-term protocols.

Following them for too long and being scared to add new foods in can have negative consequences on the beneficial gut flora: the SCD, GAPS and low FODMAP diet all remove prebiotics in order to starve any pathogens but this also removes food for the beneficial bugs. They can also be quite low carb which can be a problem for people with adrenal and thyroid issues.

I followed the GAPS and the low FODMAP diet for quite a while and though they both helped me a lot at first, long-term it had negative effects on my beneficial microbes and left me very fatigued.

The AIP protocol is different in that respect as it allows safe starches and might be the best option for the longer term.

However, starches can raise blood sugar quite a lot and therefore people with blood sugar issues need to be careful. So again it’s very individual which healing diet is best.

For me it took a while to be able to add starches back in but I was also too careful and restricted for too long.

So it pays to play around with these elimination diets a bit. It is probably best to try a less restricted real-food diet before embarking on an elimination diet as for many people that might already resolve most problems.

The main long-term real food diets are:

Paleo

The paleo diet is based on the theory that our ancestors were free from degenerative diseases and that we have evolved to eat a hunter-gatherer type of diet.

The science behind the reasoning is that we have not had enough time to adapt to foods that were introduced through agriculture and especially industrialization and therefore most of us cannot handle these foods sufficiently in order to thrive on them.

Therefore grains, legumes and dairy are not included on the diet (I think that processed foods are out goes without saying in this article).

The diet relies heavily on grass-fed meats, seafood, vegetables, starchy tubers, fruits, natural fats and nuts and seeds. There are different versions of the paleo diet such as the perfect health diet (PHD) or the bulletproof diet.

Paleo can be seen as a template for a healthy long-term diet and lifestyle. It can be personalized according to each individuals tolerances.

The paleo movement also stresses a natural lifestyle including exercise and non-toxic personal care.

Weston A. Price foundation diet (WAPF)

The WAPF diet is based on the discoveries of the dentist Weston A. Price who traveled the world to look at the health and diets of isolated groups that were untouched by western lifestyle.

He discovered that these people were free of degenerative diseases and tooth decay.

Their diets were free of processed and denatured foods and rich in animal foods including fats and organ meats.

Their diets were rich in vitamins and minerals, especially the fat-soluble vitamins.

They all ate saturated fats, salt, fermented foods and bone broth and always consumed some foods raw.

When grains, legumes, nuts and seeds were consumed they were made more digestible by soaking, sprouting and sour-leavening them.

The WAPF diet is based on all of these principles.

It does allow grains and legumes if they’re properly prepared and raw or fermented dairy.

A lot of emphasis is put on consuming plenty of bone broth and fat-soluble vitamins in the form of animal fats, cod liver oil and organ meats.

The WAPF diet can also be seen as an ancestral template for a lifelong healthy diet.

 

Raw vegan diet

The raw vegan movement is somewhat linked to the Gerson protocol.

The basic believe is that animal products contain too much sodium which causes cancer and are also acidic which disrupts the acid-alkaline balance in the body which would lead to disease.

On top of that, the belief is that plant foods should be consumed raw as they will contain a lot of enzymes and nutrients that would be destroyed by the cooking process.

 

Science and common sense seems to support ancestral diets as the kind of diets us humans have evolved to thrive on.

Although there are some proponents of a very strict paleo diet I think both the paleo and WAPF diet should be seen as a template.

Do you tolerate grains and legumes well? Then eat them, but remove the anti-nutrients.

Do you do well on dairy? Then get the real thing (raw milk) or add the enzymes back in through fermentation.

If you don’t tolerate these foods well, following a strict paleo diet is probably better.

There’s no ancestral group of people that consumes a vegan or entirely raw diet though most groups consume some foods raw.

Scientists believe that it was the discovery of cooking which made it possible for humans to grow bigger brains.

Our digestive system is also designed to handle both animal and plant matter and in fact it’s plant cellulose that we can’t break down without the help of our gut microbiota.

Therefore there is not that much evidence to support a long-term vegan and raw diet although the arguments of proponents of the diet can be very convincing (they definitely convinced me when I first tried to heal myself through diet).

Saying that though, a lot of people tend to feel better initially as this kind of diet can have a cleansing effect.

But it is not for everybody and for me personally it made me a lot worse long term (although I had lots more energy when I started) and I’ve come across many similar stories.

Other healing protocols include:

Anti-Candida diets

There’s several twists on the Candida diet but the basic idea is to starve the yeast Candida albicans and to kill it off with anti-fungals.

The diet restricts all forms of sugars including honey and lactose and sometimes even galactose in fermented dairy. Carbohydrates are usually very restricted because of the sugar content.

Grains, however, are not necessarily out of the diet. A juice cleanse (or similar) can also be part of the protocol. It is usually combined with courses of anti-fungals.

Gerson therapy

The Gerson therapy is the nutritional protocol most commonly used for some types of cancer.

The therapy mainly removes animal fats, protein and sodium and heavily relies on raw and cooked organic fruits and vegetables and some supplements.

The patient receives superdoses of plant-based micronutrients in the form of freshly pressed juices (up to every hour).

The aim is to detoxify the body of all carcinogenic substances, starving the tumor whilst feeding the patient important nutrients and antioxidants.

Another important tool on the therapy are coffee enemas which are supposed to detoxify the liver and help remove toxins from the colon.

The diet has to be followed very strictly for a few years.

Yeast overgrowth is often a sign of general dysbiosis so trying to eradicate yeast is not the best long-term solution.

Candida diets are often very restrictive but probably not restrictive enough. Eradicating all sources of sugar will lead to a very low carb diet and possibly lead to ketosis, which yeasts actually thrive on, too. I’m sure these diets help a lot of people but for me it didn’t work. Yeast overgrowth will be treated by other gut healing protocols like the GAPS diet.

I have no personal experience with the Gerson protocol but there is a lot of anecdotal evidence suggesting that it helps with cancer.

It is a very detoxifying protocol, compared to a nourishing one and to me it makes sense that it could ‘starve’ cancer cells.

Whatever diet we choose, we should bear in mind what our bodies are designed to use in order to function optimally.

We need to consider individual tolerances and needs and not get stuck on one diet dogma.

Besides feeding ourselves, we also need to consider what feeds our microbiome optimally.

Our microbes can make or break us. There isn’t the one right diet, but there’s several real food diets that can help guide us to optimal health.

After all they all have one thing in common: real food! And that’s what we should be eating…

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