What is the Healthiest Diet?

I honestly don’t know. I’ve been wracking my brain, trying to figure it out and I come up with more confusion than anything else. Last night, while the boys were in Karate, I went to the library and checked out some books. As I skimmed though them, I realized many had the same theme–they described what the author considered to be the healthiest type of diet for everyone. If everyone would just switch to that Author’s diet, then we could all miraculously be healthy and well. Most of the authors promise weight loss, improved vitality, youthful energy, clearer thinking, better skin and host of other benefits.

Over the years I’ve tried lots of different dietary regimens and read about many more. I’m trying, in my own little way, as a frugal mom and a wife with my own set of health challenges, to make sense of all of the conflicting advice and expensive suggestions.

And it’s tough! I’m not even close to understanding half of it. It’s like “The Perfect Diet” is the Holy Grail of our culture. Everyone is on a quest to find it, but no one ever does. I have jumped on that band wagon and searched along with everyone else and to me it’s been just as elusive as everyone else. The one thing I think is obvious, is that the Standard American Diet, is making us sick. It doesn’t give us health, it gives us disease. 

So anyway, last night I asked myself–What do I think makes up a healthy diet? What do I think would nourish my family the best? Then I started the following list. To be sure, it’s a work in progress. I have not refined it, only come up with a handful of goals, or ideas that seem reasonable to me.

  1. Whole Grains are far better than processed grains. I believe that eliminating as many processed grains as possible can only add to my family’s health. Our main flour is brown rice flour, ground in our own electric grain mill. It’s the cheapest flour we can make (that’s gluten free) and I suspect, the highest quality. I also like oats, millet, and buckwheat. I think that serving whole grains every day, and maybe even at every meal, is a good way to go.
  2. Beans are good. My family likes beans, they’re blissfully cheap, high in fiber, protein and (I believe) are more versatile than any other protein source. I currently serve them at least 3 times a week, but would like to serve them more often. Out of 21 meals a week, I think at least 5 and maybe 7 meals should be based on beans.
  3. Fruits and Vegetables–Fresh & plain Frozen & Canned-no-added-salt-or-sugar need to take a higher priority in our meals. In a perfect world, I would grow all of our fruits and vegetables myself. That’s not likely to happen to anytime soon, so I make-do with what I can afford. I do not believe that any vegetables are bad–like potatoes and corn. I think vegetables are good, no matter what kind they are.
  4. I believe that organics are superior to conventional fare. I can’t even come close to affording them, so the only way we’ll get them is if we grow them ourselves.
  5. Honey and other “natural” sweeteners are probably better than sugar. We eat way too much sugar anyway, whether it’s natural or not.
  6. I suspect that conventional meat, eggs and dairy products are swimming in all sorts of icky things because of the terrible way animals are fed and treated in giant feed lots. I know for a fact they do not taste as good as so called “Natural” and “Organic” animal products. I still don’t know what to do about this one. Eliminate all animal products because we can’t afford the “Good Stuff” or make regular animal products a progressively smaller part of our diet. Or splurge on teh good stuff every now and then. I do know that we can’t afford the good stuff as often as we’d like to eat it, which kind of makes me sad.
  7. Eat more fish. This is a personal bias of mine. I would like to eat fish at least twice a week, and 4 times a week would be fine with me. The only thing is I can’t afford as much fish as I’d like. I do use canned salmon and canned tuna and while I worry about mercury in the tuna, I don’t worry about the salmon at all. And it’s high in Omega-3 fatty acids which is a very good thing.
  8. Everything processed is bad (except plain fruits and veggies, see number 3). Varying degrees of bad, to be sure, but still bad. Processed semi-fruit, kid-friendly, sticky sweet things–ugh! Processed meats, processed cheese, white cotton bread. All bad, very, very bad.
  9. Additives and preservatives are bad. Sodium Nitrite & Nitrate. BHT and BHA, MSG, poly sorbate something or other. And artificial colorings too, all very very bad. They trigger my kids bad behavior and make me feel sick to my stomach. I am avoiding these things like the plague. Only I’m sad because it means we don’t get to eat some things we really love, like ham and bacon.

That’s all I’ve come up with so far. Trying to make sense of this stuff is hard. It makes my brain hurt. But I’m going to figure it out for me and my family as best I can. Anyone else doing something similar? What kind of conclusions have you come up with?

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37 Comments

Filed under Grocery Shopping, Health, Homemaking, Low Cost Foods

37 responses to “What is the Healthiest Diet?

  1. mikelow

    Hey, great post.

    I too have been on a quest for the “perfect” diet for some time now—about 9 years.

    And so far as I can tell, there is no “perfect” diet. Maybe just the “best” diet at a given stage of your life.

    For example, I went on a 100% raw food diet for around 6 months. Felt great. But I had to mix my diet up to keep feeling and functioning at my optimum.

    Some weeks I found I needed more bananas. Other weeks I craved stoned fruits such as peaches, nectarines and found that as I ate these foods I felt wonderful. I had energy to spare.

    But then my body would take bit of a dive. I’d feel flat for about 3 weeks until suddenly everything would seem to balance out and I felt great for months.

    These days I’m more focused on general nutrition rather than any particular diet type. I eat to get the nutrients my body needs. These include the micro and macro nutrients we need for survival.

    I talk a little about it here: http://mikeshealthrant.wordpress.com/2008/09/12/how-to-increase-your-energy/

    It’s working for me. I feel good. But I’m still experimenting. I think our diets change as we change. The trick it to find a diet that supports us in creating the life we want to live.

    Anyway, just my two cents worth.

    Again, loved your blog entry and wanted to share my thoughts with you.

    Keep the great content coming.

    Mike

  2. Me

    Great to see you back! Just thought I’d post one of my favorite ways to use beans. It is to substitute bean flour for the regular flour in cookies. Chocolate chip work best (hopefully you have a GFCF non preservative variety you like). They are delicious and give you fiber in a treat. Let us know if you try it.

  3. Thanks Mike, interesting post. I think you’re right about different times in our lives requiring different levels of nutrition. When my body was young and new I treated it like crud and it still worked beautifully. Now I’m older and far less fit. I need a totally different type of treatment. I agree that fresh juices are the living end. If we ever get our garden going the way we want to, I will be juicing daily. Until then, we do it most often when our favorite juice veggies are on sale, like cucumber, beets and carrots. Nummy! BTW, your wife’s lasagna sounds delish!

  4. Thanks Me, interesting idea. I’ve never thought of that before. Whcih beans do you recommend?

  5. amberpeace

    I agree with you on basically all of that. I think of how people scoff and say things like “well, we’ve been eating this food for years and everything seems okay.”
    Um, no.

    Bacon and ham – do some scouting in your area for local meat markets. Just like you can find a produce market, a lot of times you can find a meat market near you.

  6. Liz

    Just to say I’ve been lurking a while and love your blog. Thank you!

    I pretty much agree with your post, and with the commenter above on different stages in your life needing changes to your lifestyle. It’s a seductive myth that one diet fits all.

    Looking at human populations across the world, with different resources available, it seems that the human body has a fair degree of adaptibility, within a certain range, which (in my non-expert opinion) sems to include plenty of plant-based foods and moderation in fats, carbohydrates and proteins (meat and plant based stuff). Although, looking at far northern diets, I wonder if that’s always true about fats and meat (thinking Inuits and the traditional Siberian/Scandinavian reindeer herders).

    And while traditional doesn’t necessarily mean its good, there’s a lot of knowledge based on trial and error that we sometimes forget in all the headlines about the latest nutritional study.

    I would also argue that some preservatives are ok – because they stop food going bad. As I know I don’t have any allergies to the common ones, I minimise them, but don’t worry too much about them. Having said tha,t we buy very little processed foods, so its not a big part of our diet anyway. As you said, its a personal choice based on your life and needs.

    The most important thing I think is not to feel guilty. It’s a process, and every step you make, however small, is a good thing!

    Just my tuppence worth.

  7. lewella

    I think moderation is the key. I, personally, don’t have a problem with processed foods or even take out/fast food as long as I make sure it only happens sparingly. (For me that’s once a month) Same goes for non organic animal foods. My problem is trying to insert more fruits and veggies in our diet and less soda.

  8. Fern

    Michael Pollan, in one of his books (probably in “The Omnivour’s Dilemma”) pointed out that different native cultures all over the world thrived on TOTALLY different concepts of what the ‘best diet is’. You might want to get the book at the library and read at least that section.

    While I avoid a lot of preservatives and processed foods, I also believe that because of them and refrigeration keeping food good longer that the rate of stomach cancer – once a HUGE problem – has dropped to virtually nothing.

    For me – I do best if any milk I have is ‘processed’ into natural cheeses, since I’m lactose intolerant. But even that is less of a problem if I’m under less stress and if there isn’t a lot of mold spores in the air. OTOH, my husband THRIVES on drinking lots of milk. Life’s just funny that way sometimes!

  9. Maggie — this sounds SOOOOOO familiar!! I’ve been struggling with the whole “all organic meats, milk, and eggs” thing for a long time and I’ve just never found a good judgement line especially since we are on a limited budget of about $50 a week for groceries. We do eat all whole grains (other than occasional tapioca starch I add to some GF baked goods), and I’ve begun to experiment with some whole grain spelt flour, because for some reason it doesn’t seem to effect me like wheat does.

    But I think the hardest thing for me is incorporating GOOD (non-starchy) vegetables into every meal. Starches I definitely have down pat! lol no problem! And I could eat eggs for nearly every meal (although I may change how I buy them since I’ve felt a serious need to go back to buying organic ones again…

    but it’s just all so hard to figure out on a small budget!! 😉 This is a good post!

  10. diashermosos

    We also try to stay away from processed meats. I would check to see if anyone locally has meat for sale. We buy one pig, 1/2-1/4 a cow, and a few chickens every year and we find them all from local farmers. Just a thought.

  11. I have also come to the same conclusions, Maggie. In fact, today, I have been repenting of my sugar addiction. Seriously! Sweets are my idol.

    Now that my husband and I are moving to a higher income bracket (or the same, but living rural!!), we can afford a little better meat. I would put my money into that. Your area has some good producers and a bi-monthly trip to a farmer/butcher might be worth it.
    http://www.localharvest.org/

    ~Anna

  12. Hee! 🙂 I step away from the computer and come back to a smorgasbord of comments.

    Yall reassure me that I’m not the only one worrying over these things. All I really want to do is do the best for my family that I can, and it frustrates me that I can’t afford to give them the best.

    For now we are still using regular meats. In the past I could afford good meats–not organic, but natural–more often than not, as long as we only ate moderate portions. Now I’m buying the cheapest stuff I can, and we’re still ony eating moderate portions and can barely afford what we’re doing.

    For eggs–I prefer a “natural” brand I get at Walmart that costs a tiny bit more than the medium eggs I used to buy, but have 100mg of Omega 3’s per egg. They taste so much better, like real eggs, so they’re the compromise I’ve made. I love eggs too.

    Anna, I totally understand repentance. I repent for not taking better care of myself and the kids, and then try my best to toss out the guilt and just start fresh. Sometimes I start fresh several times in a single day.

  13. I do eat vegetables only. In my opinion, it is better to be a vegetarian.

  14. Me

    I like to use pinto beans the most. They have the right color for c.c. cookies.

  15. Pingback: Goodbye sausage « ¿Que paso U.S.A.?

  16. Now that I’m heading towards what promises to be a rather busy time in my life (starting my clerkships and living together with my love) I’m giving much more serious thought to a good diet that keeps me vital and happy.
    I’m already a vegan and think plant-based is the way to go for many reasons including my health (I’m reading The China Study at the moment, which is doing *nothing* to make me think differently. It’s based on many years of nutritional research, and I can really recommend it) but I think I’m currently eating too much processed foods which aren’t as healthgiving as simpler, more wholesome ones. So yesterday I decided to not buy any more junk-y foods except the occasional bar of plain chocolate. No clue what it’ll do to me, but I doubt bad things will happen.

  17. Tuimeltje wrote:
    “No clue what it’ll do to me, but I doubt bad things will happen.”

    Maggie wrote:
    I couldn’t agree more. Where is the China Study? do you have a ny links to share?

  18. I have been trying to adjust diet & budget too – our challenge is to avoid soy so that the baby’s thyroid meds can work properly. It is very frustrating at times as soy has so many different names to hide under.

    In researching soy names the Weston Price Foundation kept coming up, so I started reading through the articles. It is very interesting – the idea being a more natural diet similiar to what the old timers ate, avoiding preservatives as it isn’t necessarily the fats that are bad but what the animal ate. I can’t afford to be a slavish follower but it seems much more do-able than other diets. http://www.westonaprice.org/ and Sally Fallon’s books.

    You might enjoy this site for gardening inspiration & ideas: http://urbanhomestead.org/journal/
    Could be a good family project – esp since you have some muscles on those growing boys. : )

  19. I highly recommend getting an Indian vegetarian cookbook and finding some of the ingredients used frequently within, lentils and chickpeas plus flours made from lentils and chickpeas.

  20. I’ve been seeking this elusive balance, too.

    I really think the perfect diet is probably a mix of all those things.

    We do aim for whole grains and at least 1 fresh fruit and/or veggie a day. I’m a realist and I know I can’t buy all organic. I can’t even find it here and with the cost of gas, I can’t afford to travel to get it…even if I could afford it all.

    I have alternated between vegetarian and meat eating binges for years now. Now that I’ve found a mix of the two that seems to be working I’m actually losing weight and feeling better.

    I must admit it took me sinking low physically and begging God to help me, for me to develop the true desire to balance my diet.

    We love beans!!! I’ll try to pop back in and share some of my favorites so it wont’ look like I am writing a book here…lol.

  21. The China Study is a book written by T. Colin Campbell and his son, Thomas M. Campbell II. This is the link to the book’s webpage which has some more information and the introduction as an excerpt. I couldn’t find a list of chapters there, though.

    The book starts at the beginning, with how T. Colin Campbell got into the field, how he started with particular kinds of research. Then there’s a section explaining research about specific diseases, focusing on the big ones in Western society (while there is some mention of neurological disorders, I kind of missed information on psychiatric disorders). Then there’s a bit about basic eating guidelines followed by some basic information about how to change your eating habits (though it’s not a diet book, more a nutritional information book), and I’m currently reading the section about how the public gets nutritional information and why there is so much muddying and interference that leads to general confusion (it doesn’t help that people make money off selling us medications and unhealthy foods).
    I think that’s the last chapter, before the appendices which go into some more detail for certain subjects, but I could be mistaken.

    It’s not only informative but pleasant to read as well. Accessible, I think. While I might not be the best judge (I’ve some medical and research training and am not new to reading about nutrition), it seems to be a book hat’s fairly easily read by the general public, not just by people who have specific training.
    It has some personal anecdotes, but not so many to make it seem more about the author than about the material.

    For some additional reading, here is an article in which T. Colin Campbell responds to some questions people have about the book. I’ve not read that one yet, not have I read the criticisms yet, but I probably will once I’ve finished the book and, perhaps more importantly, have an internet connection at home again.

  22. Oh, to add, while there is plenty of mention of the research in which he has participated, the information shared is not just about the things learned from those studies but about various studies done by various institutions/people in various countries over various decades.

  23. Whoo Hoo! Thanks Tuimeltje, I’ll look for it at my library. I’m not medically trained, but I’ve read a wagon-load of books on nutrition so hopefully it won’t be over my head. thanks again. 🙂

  24. If you want to experiment with beans, there is a cookbook devoted to beans with simple vegetarian recipes called The Bean Book by Rose Elliot which covers many different beans. I love the variety but several of them are curries or a bit spicy which my family doesn’t like so I have to be creative with seasonings.

    It seems this time of year, proper nutrition is on a lot of people’s minds. I recently wrote a post about our plan for eating healthy myself. I agree with you that the less additives and processing in foods, the better it is. You have a good list of eating tips here!

  25. Thanks akhomeschoolfun 🙂 I can’t currently afford to follow all of them, but they are goals worth working towards. Right now we are eating some processed sugar, some chocolate, and some regular meats (though no bad additives or preservatives). For the moment it’s either eat that way or go without and my starving teenagers are not about to go without.

  26. splintercell57

    I honestly don’t think that diets could ever work. Just eating well and exercising will do. Eating a cube of cheese and a glass of water once a day won’t help at all. Your family is eating well. That’s very good.

  27. I just wanted to recommend Michael Pollan’s book as well, and his article ‘In defence of food’. His food philosophy seems very similar to your own.

  28. Kriswithmany

    I too have been searching for a healthier diet. The difficulty for me is actually the prep time for meals. With 5 kids that will only be eating more in the future, we cook a lot of food. But with the oldest only being 9, they can’t help much. Right now, I do my best to avoid additives & preservatives as much as possible, serve lean meats, and lots of fruits and veggies. We want to grind our own wheat as well. My goal is to learn to make homemade whole wheat bread.

    I liked “The New Glucose Revolution” when I read it a few years ago. It made sense. These days I try to incorporate the ideas from there into our diet. I recommend reading that as well. I’ve heard too many people convinced by the latest diets that they couldn’t eat fruit or many vegetables because of the high carb counts. This book talks about how the preparation and what it is served with makes a difference.

  29. Raven

    Hi Maggie, I agree with all your tips but just want to take some of the guilt away: I think that when God told Peter to eat non-kosher foods in Acts, He really was declaring all food “clean” (and not solely making a metaphor about Gentiles being Christians as well as Jews). I don’t know that this applies to food that man has messed with, like your standard fruit roll-up, :), but with grocery budgets like yours and mine fruit roll-ups don’t come along very much anyhow.

    I think as long as you wash your food well non-organic produce is fine. And we get around buying organic meat by buying half a beef every year in the fall from a local rancher. Ask around, if you live in an area that is at all rural. We found our beef supplier at my husband’s work. If I could find a hog farmer, I’d be set; next year or two I hope to get a few chickens and get our eggs that way. Chickens need surprisingly little space and don’t have to be stinky, and they will help you with your garden.

    Anyway I just wanted to encourage you. I don’t think you’ll irrevocably harm anybody by doing what you have to do in the short term. God knows what your family needs to eat, and He knows how much money you have. He’s told us not to live beyond our means, so He’s totally able to protect us even if we eat the less than ideal diet.

    Great post!

  30. Leta

    Miss Maggie, you are a very smart lady. You are a self taught nutritionist.

    I have a B.S. in Public Health, which means I have more nutrition hours than an M.D. Everything you wrote is what my professors have taught us.

    Well, that, some chemistry, and that the only two “foods” to always avoid completely are HFCS and trans fat.

  31. Hey there,

    I’ve reached the same conclusions as you…somehow trying to balance it out. However, one thing that you didn’t mention in this article is trusting in God’s sovereignty. We all know people who have eaten the worst foods and indulged in other bad habits (i.e. smoking, drinking too much alcohol, etc.) who have lived long, healthy lives. We also know people who have eaten the best possible foods who have lived very short lives and even some who have had cancers, etc. God knows that it is virtually impossible for us to get away from all of the man-made chemicals that surround us. I don’t think that this is a license for us to be poor stewards and eat whatever we want whenever we want. Just as God’s grace and mercy don’t give us a license to sin. However, I do think, if buying organic everything isn’t in our budget, that God has grace for that. We pray that God would place a hedge of protection around us and our families and then, we just in His sovereignty in the matter.

    Philippians4: “4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

    Rejoice! Pray! And embrace God’s peace!

    I trust this will encourage some. Do your best and trust God with the rest.

    Warmly,
    Elizabeth

  32. Kim

    What about THE Author’s diet? Much of it is lined out in Deut. 14:2-21 and YHWH has given us all the plants, and their seed, for food. I’d suggest you read at least “The Maker’s Diet” by Jordan Rubin. That might give you some ideas.

    I 100% agree that organics are the best, but are nearly impossible to obtain financially, and in that case we have to do our research, and buy what we can, avoid what we can, and pray about the rest. There are a LOT of things I refuse to eat, simply because we can’t afford them organic, and they are NOT worth the risk of eating any other way. Corn is one of them, for example. If we can’t afford it organic, we don’t eat it.

    Local Harvest was mentioned here. It’s a start, and the idea of finding local farms that you can work with in getting at LEAST non GMO foods is WAY better than being a victim of agribusiness’ junk they sell at the grocer. Some are very open to barter, too, especially with low income families.

    And for your meats, find a local butcher shop, who gets their meats from local farmers. I am finding, too, that if I substitute ground chicken and turkey for a lot of things (we do any way, because we don’t eat pork, yet love spiced ground meat), that the costs come WAY down. I also make my meat loaves out of a ground turkey/hamburger blend.

    If you can, use a tax return to invest in a half of a steer to put in your freezer. Price per pound can not be beat, even on lean, grassfed, local beef. I’ll be paying $3.50 a lb for all of my beef this year. Grain fed, commercial hamburger isn’t even that cheap very often any more.

    We eat beef only once or twice a week at most, and usually only in the form of being added to dish, rather than being the MAIN dish. I do try to cook us a big roast once a month, though, and use up the left overs in many things like soups, fajitas, etc.

    In closing, I have found your site to be a HUGE blessing, so many, many thanks to you and your efforts. We love many of your recipes, and your ideas have helped me a lot in being more organized (a REAL challenge for me), and even more frugal. Being on a very low, single income, family of 4, every bit helps. We are blessed in many ways, and you are one of them.

    Kim

  33. Hi,

    I have also been searching for the perfect diet. I’ve tried everything and the raw foods diet makes me feel the best (I have celiac so I have to avoid gluten anyway) but is too difficult to live day-to-day. Here are some highly recommended resources for you to check into.

    Eat To Live By Joel Fuhrman
    You can get a sketch of the diet here:
    http://dietdiscernment.blogspot.com/search/label/Eat%20To%20Live%20By%20Joel%20Fuhrman

    http://www.1stholistic.com/Nutrition/hol_nutr_10-easy-ways-to-kick-start.htm

    Over 400 Popular Diets Reviewed:
    http://www.chasefreedom.com/

    Love to Eat, Hate to Eat by Elyse Fitzpatrick

  34. Hi, I think the healthiest diet is close to the Daniel diet. It’s called EAT TO LIVE, by Dr. Joel Furhman.

    It’s a scientific, common sense approach to health based on NUTRIENT DENSITY. You eat the most nutient rich foods with the lowest calories for optimum health.

    Check it out at http://www.drfuhrman.com

    God bless

  35. Hey Maggie, Merry Christmas! Hope you are doing well and enjoying some great gluten-free/casein-free Christmas goodies. 🙂 The Saving Dinner website now has a gluten-free option, did you see that? I ended up getting a Xmas menu from them because I was feeling uninspired for what to cook. Now, we are expecting a windstorm tonight–wouldn’t that be a kicker to have no power during Christmas week!? Hope you are warm and dry and snug. God bless!

  36. Lesley

    The best book for health and nutrition…
    Nutritional Traditions—from comparison studies taken on peoples diet and health worldwide– very worth the read. Packed with recipes as well, and much much more.
    A must have for every healthy home.

  37. I had been trying to answer this same question for many years, and finally, a several years ago discovered the book that Lesley mentioned. Except the actual title is “Nourishing Traditions.” It is by Sally Fallon of the Weston Price Foundation. Though it is not all GFCF (which we are, too), I have NEVER found a better source for overall nutritional information than this book. It has 700 recipes in it. And lots of fascinating nutritional info, like Lesley said. I think it retails for around $18 at Amazon. It is worth every penny, and more. If I could keep only one cookbook, (and I love all my cookbooks) this would be the one basic I would not want to be without. I once brought it to church to loan to my pastor’s wife, and it got lost. My husband actually missed me having this cookbook, and asked me to replace it right away. It is that good. (Plus, a large percentage of the families in our church now have this book and have made some of the suggested changes in it, thanks to my pastor’s wife. She owns her own copy now, too.) Check out the Weston Price website to learn some of the ideas in the book at no cost at http://www.westonaprice.org/. You also might want to read some of the reviews on Amazon to learn more.

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