March 2, 2014 by Kai Chan
Eating healthy has become an agenda for many Americans as obesity has become an increasing problem over the past couple of decades with the culmination of the American Medical Association declaring obesity as a disease last year. As a result, dietary fads have become more popular in attempts to either eat healthier or shed a few pounds. With buzz words such as cleanses, juices, paleo diet, organic, gluten-free, what is a good, proper healthy diet?
I first heard of cleanses back in 2006 when I read about Beyonce losing 20 pounds for her role in Dreamgirls by sticking to a master cleanse diet for 2 weeks. What is a master cleanse diet? It consists of drinking water that has lemon juice, grade-b maple syrup and cayenne. Wow, that has a lot of nutrients in it! Putting my sarcasm aside, it’s a no brainer that she would lose a lot of weight by sticking to this diet for 2 weeks, but what people forget or don’t realize is that she deprived herself of important nutrients and this is definitely one of the most unhealthy ways of losing weight quickly. Since then, cleanses have become more popular and have been commercialized by entrepreneurs who started companies such as Blue Print Cleanse or Organic Avenue, that provide other types of blended fruit/vegetable juices with nutrients in addition to the master cleanse concoction. I have tried it myself a couple of times but for only 3 days at a time. You will generally lose a few pounds and have a flatter stomach after the cleanse (more ideal if you want to slim down to wear a fitted dress at a cocktail party), but keep in mind that most of the weight loss is just water weight and cleansing of your digestive track, so you’ll end up gaining everything back by the next week as you eat solids. I know people who use the juice cleanse to “detox” their bodies after a period of binge drinking and eating. This is definitely not healthy and actually more stress on your body instead of negating all of the prior binging.
Buying juices are generally pretty expensive, which is why juicing at home has become a lot more popular. Juicing is a great way to extract all the nutrients in raw fruits and vegetables without the bulk of the fiber. Some people take juicing to the next level and juice every single day for breakfast in the morning, but may end up creating the same juices every days and at highly concentrated levels. There was a personal essay on NYTimes written by a woman who juiced every day in attempts to eating healthier but recently was diagnosed with hypothyroidism. While it is uncertain what the exact cause of her hypothyroidism was, she was juicing kale every morning and also consume a lot of other cruciferous vegetables that are high in anti-oxidants and thought to prevent cancer. But cruciferous vegetables also have high quantities of goitrogens (more so when consumed raw), which causes hypothyroidism especially if you’re iodine-deficient. So the woman may have inadvertently caused her hypothyroidism by consuming large quantities of raw cruciferous vegetables because she was juicing a lot of it. For those who are not familiar with juicing, it takes a large quantity of kale in order to produce a small quantity of kale juice.
Paleo diets have become a popular health trend especially amongst athletic-prone individuals. I’ve seen plenty of guys who are into TRX or Crossfit, sticking to a Paleo diet. What is Paleo diet? It mimics the type of food that our ancestral cavemen (Paleolithic humans) ate in order to survive which is generally meat, seafood, vegetables and fruit. No carbs…since our ancestral cavemen did not develop agriculture by then. I’m generally ambivalent towards this diet because I find that my palette veer towards more Paleo tendencies in the past couple of years as I cut down on the amount of pasta, bread, rice and other carbs that I eat. However, I know that I cannot cut carbs out of my diet completely as I love noodles and bread too much to part with it. But I do think that those who stick to a Paleo diet are depriving themselves from some of the nutrients that carb foods provide. You can supplement by vitamins and such, as many vegetarians or vegans do, but it’s better to naturally ingest all of your nutrients and vitamins in real food than to take processed pills and powders. Also, it’s not like the cavemen had long lifespans. Sure they probably didn’t live long lives because they were hunted by predators and succumb to diseases but there is no correlation that their diet was considered healthy for them. They needed to eat whatever to survive. Times were tough back then…
There are some people who must adhere to certain diets because they have been intolerant or allergic to certain foods. I have friends who have celiac disease or are wheat/gluten intolerant. So it’s a no brainer for them to restrict themselves from eating certain foods. However, there are some people who think that eating gluten-free is actually healthier, which is not the case. I sometimes find myself caught in this incorrect mindset as I favor eating gluten-free chocolate cookie over a regular chocolate chip cookie. Gluten-free cookies do not taste better than regular cookies, but there is this perverse curiosity of mine to test it out sometimes. Also, many gluten-free products are still highly-processed so you may be eating refined gluten-free food.
With all concerns and caveats with the various eating habits above, is there a proper healthy diet? In my opinion, there is. My general rule of thumb is to eat sensibly with proper portions, eat foods with all natural colors of the rainbows (Skittles do not count) and diversify your rotation of food. I don’t think it’s healthy to eat too much of something, like kale every single day. It’s good to mix it up and have different foods every day or every couple of days. I also think it’s ok to have some indulgent food once in a while but in small quantities. Bacon is my jam, but I probably eat it once or twice a month now. I don’t crave it as much as I used to and my body feels great not experiencing the post-bacon food coma every time I eat it. I also think buying all organic produce is unnecessary. There are certain foods that are protected by the skins (oranges, grapefruit, bananas, etc), such that it is not affected by the pesticide unless you plan on using the skin such as orange rind. As for processed vs. unprocessed foods, I think unprocessed foods are better. I would rather have more control over what I eat than consume pre-manufactured foods. So sometimes I take it to the next level by making my own marinara sauce instead of buying canned pasta sauce, seasoning my own protein instead of buying pre-marinated meats and if I was less lazy and more patient, I would bake my own bread (thank goodness there are good alternative options in SF where they mill their flour for bread). By cooking your own food vs. eating out or buying pre-made food, you can control your sodium intake as well as preservatives too. That is how I get by eating healthy. What do you do?
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