Paleo. Raw food. Free range. Clean eating. Real foods. Traditional. Organic. Hunter-gatherers. Sprouted grains. Natural. Unrefined. Conventional.
These are some of the buzz words of the health and nutrition scene these days, and there are enough of these buzz words floating around to make your head spin. What do they all mean? What is the best approach? How do I get started? Why should I worry about it? Who in the world has time for all that?
We know that eating healthy meals is important, but in our fast-paced world, convenience is usually the rule of the day. We also want foods that actually taste good. Depriving ourselves of our favorite meals just doesn’t seem fair. Life is hard enough as it is. Why make ourselves miserable trying to stick with a boring complicated diet?
I personally don’t believe in diets, self-deprivation, or 100% avoidance of anything (unless you have a legitimate food allergy or sensitivity). My life is hectic and busy and I barely have time to eat food, much less create elaborate fancy foods that take hours to prepare. But I understand how important it is to eat healthy, nutritious foods. I’ve seen how much my food choices affect my energy levels, performance, and overall wellness, so I’m willing to do what I can to make the best choices.
But how in the world do we even know what the best choice is? There are so many fads and noise out there that it can be difficult to figure out the truth and determine what would actually work for our bodies and our lives. I wanted to break down some of the most popular approaches to healthy eating so you can be more informed about the options and decide for yourself what will work for your particular lifestyle and family.
Most likely it will be a blend of several different popular approaches. I’ve found that for most families, especially ones with two working parents (or single parent households), it can be really difficult to strictly follow all the “rules” in a complicated eating plan. There has to be some flexibility and adjustment to do what works best for you and your unique daily situation.
The one important connection that all of these approaches include is an avoidance of processed or overly processed foods. It is really convenient to have our pantry full of boxes, bags, and cans, but most of these foods have been mixed and modified and altered to have very little nutritional value. Many “food” items and additives that we once considered safe have now been proven to be quite dangerous to our health. By choosing foods as close to their original “from the Earth” form we are providing our bodies with the nutrition we need to help us live our best life and avoiding dangerous toxins and chemicals that can cause serious illness and disease.
By bringing factories and labs into our food system we have made our lives infinitely easier when it comes to food preparation. But with this ease of lifestyle, we’re now finding that we’re trading easy meal preparation for our health. Which is a terrible thing to trade away! My goal on this blog is to discuss realistic ways busy, working families can create healthier lives. Our food choices will likely never be perfect, but we can make improvements and implement small changes to make sure that our families are as healthy as possible.
I’ve broken down the basics of all of the major current approaches to healthy eating to give you some basic information that you can use to decide what will work best for your family and unique situation. I’ve also included a number of links to further reading and websites that can teach you much more about each approach.
Plant Based Whole Foods Diet
This approach to eating includes a diet filled with fruits, vegetables, tubers, whole grains, and legumes. This diet specifically avoids or minimizes meat, dairy, eggs, and highly processed or refined grains, sugars, and oils. Meals are centered around healthfully prepared starch based foods like potatoes, beans, and whole grains (brown rice, quinoa, etc) and paired with lots of fruits and vegetables. In general, this is a vegan (no meat, dairy, or eggs) approach to eating. You can learn more about this approach here: Forks Over Knives.
The Real Food lifestyle includes whole foods in their most natural, unprocessed state. In this approach you eat lots of fruits and vegetables, some healthy (Organic, whole, unsweetened, pasture raised) dairy and eggs, whole grain wheat products with minimal ingredients, wild caught seafood, local, humanely raised meats, and natural sweeteners (real maple syrup and honey) in moderation. The general rule of thumb for this approach is to watch your ingredient labels and only eat foods with five ingredients or less. And you have to be able to pronounce all of the ingredients! My favorite website on eating a real food diet is: 100 Days of Real Food
Clean Eating is often used interchangeably with real foods/real eating. These two approaches are very similar. Clean Eating seems to be the buzzword in the health/fitness arena, so you’ll hear many weight loss experts, nutritional product companies, and similar groups talking about clean eating. As with the real foods approach, the goal is to avoid overly processed foods by sticking to foods with about 3-6 ingredients listed on the label.
This approach is rich in fruits and vegetables, and includes unprocessed meats (cut/ground from the butcher, not a bag of mystery meat from the freezer case), whole grains, and usually some dairy. This plan usually includes eating 5-6 small meals per day to help keep consistent energy levels and satiation. A great resource for recipes and details on this approach is: The Gracious Pantry
Raw eating is another more extreme approach. The raw diet includes foods that have not been heated above 117 degrees Farenheit. This keeps the food in it’s most natural state to ensure the optimum levels of vitamins, minerals, and enzymes. Raw food followers eat a largely vegan diet (only foods that can safely be eaten in their raw state) including lots of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and beans. Some people follow a strict raw food lifestyle, while others choose just to incorporate larger amounts of raw foods with one of the other diet approaches listed here. To learn more about the raw food approach you can visit this site: The Raw Food Coach
The Traditional approach to eating includes foods our ancestors ate prior to industrialization. This includes items that are unprocessed, naturally raised, largely raw, and unrefined. It includes things like healthy fats (including butter, lard, and tallow), soaked/sprouted grains, raw dairy products, and fermented food and beverages. The traditional food approach avoids all processed foods and conventionally farmed (non-organic) meats, fruits, and vegetables. One of the keys to this approach is choosing very nutrient dense foods prepared the way our ancestors made them. A great resource on the Traditional Foods approach can be found here: Nourishing Kitchen and with this cookbook/book: Nourishing Traditions.
The Paleo Diet includes eating foods which the hunter-gatherers in history would have eaten. The Paleo “food groups” include traditionally raised meat/fish (grass fed, wild caught, etc), fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, healthy fats, and eggs. The Paleo approach specifically avoids dairy, most grains, legumes, refined sugars, and processed foods. You can fine more details about this approach at: The Ultimate Guide to the Paleo Diet.
Again, all of these approaches are lifestyle plans, not quick fix diets for weight loss. The goal of a healthy eating plan should not be strictly weight loss, but instead a focus on fueling your body with the healthiest, most nutritionally dense foods that will allow you to live at your highest level.
My “goal” eating lifestyle for our family includes a little bit of a mix of all of the above. I really love the idea and concepts in the Traditional Foods approach, but as a busy working mom, I don’t have the time to sprout my grains, and brew my own stash of kombucha, so I try to do what I can. I also see the importance of eating more raw foods, so I’m really trying to focus my energies on feeding myself and my family more uncooked fruits and vegetables. And bonus, raw equals easy peasy and fast, so it’s a great thing for busy moms.
The real foods and clean eating approaches are definitely more “real life” friendly for busy, working families so I tend to lean more towards following these approaches. However, at the moment, my family still eats quite a bit of processed, many ingredient foods (last nights dinner was Kraft Mac and Cheese). My goal this month is to find ways to make this healthy lifestyle just a bit easier and more realistic for my busy family and hopefully inspire you to make some changes in your own families.
I have a lot more to talk about to help us learn more about what healthy eating means, what types of food to avoid (and what to choose instead), and how to quickly and easily prepare real, whole foods that will help us step away from the boxes and bags that we rely on so dearly.