What is best to eat for health and longevity? Expert opinions vary from high fats diets to plant-based only diets and everything in between. In practice, I find a ‘one size fits all approach to food and diet unhelpful. One thing is clear though – chronic illness is increasing. Diabetes, autoimmune conditions, fatty liver, obesity and many cancers are all on the rise. Many are also unwell with fatigue, gut troubles and/or aches and pains, but have yet to find a name for their condition.
What is making the human body so vulnerable to poor health? The proposed culprits often include processed foods, environmental toxins and our ‘stressful’ lifestyles. Reducing processed foods with clean eating and avoiding sugar is common practice. While this does help, many find symptoms persist. Chemical residues in the air, water and in food are also on the hit list, and with good reason as these burdens the liver. Burning both ends has become commonplace and even if there is some balance between work and rest, blue light from screens can much up our circadian rhythm making our overnight rest and repair mechanisms less effective.
So back to food. A high fat, very low carb diet gets the body into a metabolic state called ‘nutritional ketosis’ and helps people lose weight and reduce high blood sugar levels. As does intermittent fasting. But there are some who find no change, or even worse, a regress in their health and symptoms. Conversely, I have found high carb, very low-fat diets can promote weight loss and improve health conditions too.
In my practice deciding on a dietary path for an individual is both art and science. Through the science lens, their health conditions and symptoms, medical test results and current findings in nutrition research point to a diet most likely to get results. What my clients like to eat, their food beliefs and their gut feeling on what may work for them is the other half of the equation. With that said following is a summary of some dietary approaches that I have seen be effective in different cases:
Processed foods are everywhere and it can be a challenge to avoid them. Clean eating describes a diet based on whole foods, such as; vegetables, fresh fish, meat, poultry and eggs, herbs and spices, whole-grains, fruit, legumes, nuts and seeds. Anything else is a processed food, including instant coffee, most condiments and most slices of bread and crackers.
There is often disagreement around alcohol. Some say preservative-free wines are ‘natural’ and cite the Mediterranean diet as evidence of the benefits of wine, while others hold that alcohol (ethanol) is a toxin and a burden for the liver. The latter is certainly true (your liver works double-time to break down the alcohol to protect your brain cells from damage). As a health professional, I encourage my clients to drink less, or better yet, replace alcohol with a health tonic that can help the liver do its myriad of tasks better.
Take away: The first step towards a healthier body is replacing processed foods with whole foods. If you already eat a whole food diet but still struggle with health problems or weight loss read on.
Experts agree we need plants in our diet. Vegetables are linked with many health benefits including reducing cancer and increasing longevity, but there is much disagreement on how much and what types of plants to include. Generally, a plant-based diet will be high in vegetables (including starchy ones), fruit, legumes, nuts and seeds. Animal products, such as dairy, eggs, meat, chicken and fish are limited and make up a smaller part of the diet.
Many people feel a boost in energy and vitality when they move towards a plant-based diet. Those that feel worse often have digestive health issues that need to be addressed before the nutrients and fibre can be assimilated properly again. For people with years, or even decades of poor health the digestive tract and organs are often in poor shape. If you’re not thriving on a plant-based diet seek an experienced health professional who can go through your case and design a specific dietary protocol for your situation.
Take away: If a plant-based diet appeals to you, go for it. If your symptoms are not improving (or are getting worse), then it’s likely you need a different approach. Ask an experienced health professional for help.
KETOGENIC DIET AND FASTING
A ketogenic diet is a high-fat, adequate-protein, low-carbohydrate diet that favours fat burning for energy. Normally the body burns carbohydrate for energy, but when carbohydrates are restricted (< 20 – 25g per day to start with), the body breaks down fat instead, creating molecules called ketones. These ketones are used to produce energy inside our cells.
Fasting is another approach where desired effects can still occur without carbohydrate restriction. A common fasting protocol is restricting the non-eating window overnight to 14-16 hours and eating for 8-10 hours during the day. Sometimes not eating for a few days or using a fasting-mimicking diet (FMD) is appropriate for an individual (there are numerous protocols that can apply in individual situations).
I have found a ketogenic diet to benefit many of my patients with diabetes, IBS, fatty liver and obesity. Fatigue and aches and pains (e.g. joints and period pain) can also improve. Sometimes a patient will say they have already tried a ketogenic diet but it didn’t work for them. When I review what they ate and make some adjustments they often find it does work. Food intolerances are often at play. There are also cases where a ketogenic diet hasn’t been the right approach for the individual.
Unfortunately, a lifetime in ketosis hasn’t been studied yet either. So once someone has achieved their health goals I encourage them to review their future eating style. Sometimes cycles of non-ketosis may help improve metabolic flexibility and relieve any food boredom creeping in. Remember if you transition out of ketosis (i.e. increase the carbs) but keep eating lots of fat your health will regress.
Take away: A ketogenic diet is indicated in many health conditions. If you’ve tried keto and found no benefit it’s possible food intolerances were in the way. It’s also possible another dietary approach would suit you better.
Having an experienced practitioner review your case can speed progress and ensure you are on the right track. We are all different and the amount of carbohydrate, protein and fats we need also varies. If you would like to make a booking please see the details below: