Nowadays there are so many diets claiming to have the answer to long life and good health.
There is the paleo diet, the Nordic diet, the raw food diet, macrobiotic diet, vegan diet, vegetarian diet (some who eat fish, some who don’t; some who eat eggs, some who don’t; some who eat dairy, some don’t) the carnivore diet, the keto diet, the tartar diet and so on and so forth. And everyone is jumping on the gluten free bandwagon. After all, it can’t hurt to cut out gluten, right?….(or can it? Suddenly gluten is the new culprit in society. But not all gluten is bad (unless a person is truly celiac or extremely gluten sensitive). For most people issues with gluten or flour products depends on what form the gluten is in. For example, sourdough bread is different than regular bread and the gluten is less harmful. Everything is dependent on the way food is prepared, on where the wheat is grown, on whether the grains are organic or not etc. In fact, gluten never used to be such an issue as it is today. And a lot of that has to do with the quality of the wheat and also the over use of pesticides and chemicals that affect our guts and digestive systems. Also, it has to do with the way bread is prepared today compared to the olden days. In the past, people made bread like sourdough, fermented, and nobody used modern instant yeast. But the way bread is made today (with instant yeast, rising in 2 hours and baked immediately), definitely can compromise the digestion and gut health, and therefore many people do find gluten irritates them. Some people think that sprouted breads are healthier: well, sprouting grains is good, but if those grains are then mixed with extra gluten to hold them together, it can result in overconsumption of gluten which then makes the bread harder to digest. It is a double edged sword. In general, I should mention that most grains are useable if prepared properly. A huge part of the problem today is the idea of instant food: instant bread (within two hours, start to finish, commercial bread or even homemade bread can be ready), wheat that is grown with pesticides and lots of chemicals to make it dry faster etc.). If grains are used correctly, they can be a very beneficial part of our diet. Sprouting them, soaking them, fermenting them….all these are healthier ways to prepare and consume grains, allowing us to digest them more easily so they do not create problems. So not necessarily is gluten the main culprit. It is the quality of wheat and the quantity consumed and method of preparation.
It is worthwhile to note: many people on a gluten free diet are consuming junk foods: baked goods (such as breads, cakes, cookies etc.) made from tapioca starch, potato starch, rice flour and lots of sugar and even oils. Many processed gluten free foods are very unhealthy and have very little nutritional value and far too much refined sugars or sweeteners and unhealthy fats. In fact, many people gain weight on a gluten free diet if they consume all the junk foods out there. So, if one does have to be gluten free, it is important to eat a healthy version of a gluten free diet and as much as possible to avoid sugar laden foods and highly processed products or empty calories with little to no nutritional value. It is also best to try to consume gluten free whole grains wherever possible (quinoa, buckwheat, brown rice etc.).
Everyday seems to bring a new diet claiming to heal all the ills of society and even to help for weight loss. People are constantly looking for some magical diet to cure everything and to insure health and longevity. Western society always wants a quick fix.
And, of course, we are told constantly that we need to eliminate all refined sugars and all refined grains and we need to cut back on salt and cut down on animal products, or even eliminate dairy products. And somehow everyone likes to believe that one diet can be the solution for everyone in the world.
There may be a place for some extreme eating at certain points in time to balance our systems. For example, if a person ate too much sugar and developed type 2 diabetes, cutting out refined carbs and sugar to an extreme can bring healing. But the idea is to regain balance in our bodies. Maimonides said that if one goes to a certain extreme, they need to go to the other extreme to bring balance. But only for a short while, not permanently. If one cuts out certain foods for too long, often the body then reacts negatively when you try to reintroduce that food. Nothing taken to an extreme is good.
I must mention that I am not a fan of totally a raw food diet either. I do believe some raw food is good but I believe our digestive systems have changed from thousands of years ago and our constitutions have changed and we no longer can handle too much raw food on a constant basis. In cold climates, raw food is not at all a good idea in large amounts because raw food is harder to digest and when the weather is cold, we need warm or hot foods to keep our bodies warmer and functioning better. So raw eating in a very cold climate is not a balanced way of eating. I do know there are people who claim they have been healed from various medical conditions with a raw food diet, and there may be room for such a diet in certain illnesses, but in general I do not believe a raw food diet is healthy in the long run for the average person. If someone lives in a hot, humid, tropical climate, there is more room for eating raw foods. But even there, I think we need some balance. I do believe balance is the key to promoting a balanced mind, heart and body.
Perhaps there is a place for some raw diet if a person is healing from certain severe or chronic conditions, but that should not be a permanent situation. It can be balancing initially, in contrast to the way a person ate incorrectly for many years, but after time one needs to balance one’s diet completely and not be extreme in any one direction or new problems surface. Often people on raw food diets have high sugar levels from way too much fruit. Eating an overabundance of fruit is not healthy in general: according to Maimonides (Rambam), fruits are not so healthy , are only good in moderation and only certain fruits, but they are certainly not to be eaten to excess. So again, here is the idea of balance. Anything taken to excess can be damaging in the long run. Eating everything in moderation is the key to health.
Yes, sprouts can be healthy (but not all types: some are actually dangerous and raw sprouts can harbor bacteria or other problems). And yes, salad can be healthy (although even that I take with a grain of salt because romaine lettuce lately has a big problem with e coli bacteria, and certainly the quality of many salad greens is no longer what it used to be). Just existing on sprouts, salads and fruits is not a properly balanced diet. I also must say that people on a totally raw food or totally vegan diet are usually , or eventually, lacking in vitamin B12 (which can only be acquired via diet with animal foods like meat, chicken, eggs and dairy, and when you think about it, if G-d created things in such a way that some nutrients can only be gained by animal products, that to me indicates there is a place in a healthy diet for some animal foods). If one insists on a vegan diet, take a B12 supplement and incorporate foods like miso and tempeh, although those foods are not enough to provide adequate B12 without vitamin supplementation. The fact that most vegan diets cannot supply enough B12, is a good indication that in general one should not be totally vegan to the exclusion of any animal foods.
Many vegans or raw foodies end up lacking vitamin D among other things as well. (nowadays with the coronavirus, we know how important vitamin D is. If you live in a hot, sunny climate, get outside to absorb the sunshine and increase your vitamin D. Wearing sunscreen all the time can prevent absorption of vitamin D so it is good to get outside without sunscreen for 10 minutes a few times a week, if possible. If you don’t live in a sunny place, check your vitamin D levels to see if you need supplements). I am not opposed to a vegan diet if people understand how to be responsible and make sure all nutrients are provided in an optimal way. The problem is many people are not responsible and do not bother with many things and therefore run the risk of some sort of malnutrition which can affect many things, including cognitive function and proper hormone levels. This is especially true of children who are often picky eaters and do not get enough nutrition only from vegan foods.
Another nutrient often missing in a raw food diet is adequate protein (nuts are usually not enough protein and many people cannot even eat nuts). Pistachios happen to be a complete protein so that is a good nut to snack on. People on very limited diets often develop serious or chronic health issues, including hormonal problems (some go into early menopause or lose their periods), digestive issues, brain fog and surprisingly (or perhaps not surprisingly) all of that clears up when they introduce some animal products into their diet (such as fish, eggs or even grass fed healthy meat). If someone feels healthy and does well on a vegan diet, it can be okay. But to make a philosophy out of it or claim it is the one diet to cause people to live longer, is not necessarily correct. In fact, most people who live into their nineties and hundreds, are not exclusively vegan , with the exception of those living in loma linda California. But they also have an entire lifestyle they follow and it is certainly not applicable to everybody. Even in places like Greece or Italy, where people also live to be over 100, the diet includes some animal products, albeit in smaller amounts. It is mostly about how much of a particular food one eats. Anything which is not eaten in a balanced way can be damaging. But eating enough good quality protein is very important and actually has been shown to help for weight loss, reducing hunger or cravings for unhealthy snacks and sugar, and it gives energy and satiation. In fact, eating more good quality protein is helpful for heart health and brain health. It has been proven to reduce visceral fat in the body.
I know there are studies showing how the Esselstyn diet and the Ornish diet reverse and cure heart disease. And I am not saying they do not. But I do believe there is not enough evidence to advocate for a diet TOTALLY free of animal proteins and TOTALLY free of oils . Again, I believe it is all about balance. I think cutting down on animal proteins considerably and reducing oil consumption is going to lead to better health for most people. But I never heard that eating a bit of fish would be a problem for the heart? (In Japan people are healthy and live long and they eat a lot of fish!) Fish is usually said to be beneficial for the heart so I am not very enthused about the theory of the esselstyn diet. I also believe heart disease can be reversed even if a person eats an egg, some fish or some yogurt in small quantities here and there, and even if a person consumes some healthy oil in moderation. In other words, ,the reversal of heart disease may be based on adding more plant foods and cutting out unhealthy foods, rather than on strictly adhering to a diet which does not allow ANY animal products or oils, even in small amounts. I do not think enough studies have been done accurately to really show what percentage of animal products or oils are damaging and what percentage would actually have no effect on the heart and in fact can be healthy. Besides, every person is different, every person’s body is different, so it is not about one lifestyle being perfect for every individual with heart disease. And while Esselstyn and Ornish diets may help heart disease, they have been shown to increase other health problems such as stroke. Nothing is an absolute or perfect solution!
In the Mediterranean region of the world, people live long, healthy lives free from heart disease and they do consume olive oil and animal foods. So I think the argument for an increase in plant based foods is healthy, but not the total answer either. Nothing taken to an extreme for too long is healthy, in my opinion. Anything extreme may not be sustainable in the long run. People do not like feeling too restricted or craving things they feel unable to have. In fact, if your body really craves certain things, it is a sign you are lacking some nutrients. Not always do you crave the right things, but craving foods means you are missing something. For example, if we crave a lot of sugar, often we are missing adequate protein. If we crave chocolate, we may be missing magnesium. Sometimes we do crave what is good for us. If we crave carrots, we may be lacking vitamin A. If we crave greens, we may need the antioxidants or more magnesium. I do feel a plant based diet with healthy (smaller) amounts of animal proteins is beneficial for health.
Dr. D’Adamo started diet advice based on one’s blood type. I think there is some truth to that but it is not the whole picture either. He claims that blood type O needs animal proteins , whereas blood type A prefers vegetarian foods and little meat because they lack stomach acid to digest meat. I am not advocating his diet as I believe there are many flaws in it, but from everyone and everything we can learn something. Certainly, one can take into account one’s blood type when formulating a diet specifically for each person. But to claim A blood types should have no meat and mostly tofu is not correct. Nothing has a total answer for every person in the world. Anything claiming that cannot be true.
I do understand a keto diet can perhaps be useful for certain serious health problems. But I do not believe it is a healthy overall way of eating for a long term situation. Some people do not follow the diet properly and develop keto breath, which certainly is not healthy or normal. An overconsumption of fats is also not a natural way people like to eat in general. Our bodies, after all, do instinctively feel what is good or not good for us. Some people feel nauseous eating too much fat. I tend to be that way. I cannot handle a lot of fat. Also, people often become constipated on a keto diet because of lack of fiber so I do not believe that this is a very healthy way of eating overall. Here is also where blood type may play a bit of a role: people who are O blood type handle oils much better than people who are A blood type. An A blood type may feel very nauseous eating a lot of oil but an O blood type may thrive. And even with this idea, nothing is an absolute. I know people who are O blood type and do not feel well with much fatty food. Also, a keto diet means ingesting a lot of protein, which can overtax the kidneys.
When people try to knock down carbs and insist that keto is the healthiest way to eat, my response would be “ in the blue zones where people live to be over 100 years old, the majority eat high carb diets and do not emphasize so much protein or fats, other than healthy fats like olive oil and nuts.” I do not believe keto is a balanced way to eat over a long time period. However, I must say that there is something to the idea of cutting down on unhealthy carbs, at least somewhat. In western society, we consume far too many empty carbs (pasta, white rice, bread, cookies, crackers, cakes, chips, pretzels, potatoes etc.). We also consume far too many carbs from sugar. Cutting down on carbs and eating more protein and heathy fats is beneficial. But to completely eliminate carbs to an extreme is not , in my opinion, very healthy.
I definitely am not a believer in the paleo diet. Why? Because the entire theory is flawed from the start! We do not really know what things were like back in the so called “cave man” days (f there even is such a thing as cave men!). Our bodies have changed since then and our constitutions have changed and evolved. Even our teeth have changed. And who says the so called “cave men” were so healthy? Their life span was apparently much shorter. The original paleo diet has some good concepts, but many people have carried it to an unhealthy extreme. Many on the paleo diet advocate for natural sweeteners (but the cave men did not bake cakes!), they do use chocolate (which never existed back then) and they bake with tons of nuts (back then people ate a handful of nuts, not the huge amounts as used by the paleo community with almond flour, coconut flour etc.). Too many nuts can be problematic by throwing off the balance of healthy oils in the body. They are high in polyunsaturated oils which can increase inflammation if eaten to excess. In truth, there were more natural foods back in the previous generations (healthier fish, healthier fruits and grasses etc.). The paleo diet tends to shun all grains. I do not believe that is necessarily healthy. G-d created grains as well , and bread has always been a staple of our diets since ancient times. I do agree that many grains today are no longer like they used to be and the quality of grains are not as healthy as they used to be. That is why it is important to choose organic and healthier grains. I think spelt is healthier than wheat in today’s society. But to totally shun any and all grains? I am not a believer in that. Many, many societies, where people live to be 100 or more, live on some type of grains . Japanese have a long life expectancy and they consume a lot of rice. Mexicans and other south american people go through tons of corn. Everything has its place and time and it all depends on quality, where a person lives, how the food is prepared etc. In fact, in all the blue zones of the world, where there are large percentages of people over the age of 100, the diets all contained some sort of grains. And there are scientific studies that have been done showing that whole grains can be protective for heart health. To shun entire groups of foods in order to come up with a theoretical diet that all people should jump at, is not sound advice. I am sure there are people who have been healed with a paleo diet (but not necessarily because they cut out all grains: maybe the wheat or gluten was a culprit for them? Maybe the type of grains they ate were not healthy or not organic? Or maybe they were eating too much of other foods that were not beneficial or natural? Maybe they consumed too much sugar?) People tend to jump to conclusions without solid evidence, assuming they were cured because they cut out all grains. But is that for sure the case? Once they are healed, perhaps grains could be reintroduced and eaten without problems? Perhaps some grains are easy to digest while others are more problematic? There are differences between grains as well. so it is not all cut and dry; not all black and white.
Paleo also often advocates for large amounts of protein and fat, which may not be so healthy for everyone. Our bodies do need protein, but not in extreme amounts. In Torah, we are told that we need to eat meat and fish in honor of shabbat and yom tov . During the week we do not have to eat meat if we don’t want to. But some type of protein we need: fish, or eggs, even a bit of dairy, if it is good quality. Children also need a good amount of protein and to cut out protein for children would be dangerous, but again, it is all about moderation: not to overdo anything.
People who do choose to eat meat and chicken, even during the week, do not have to eat huge amounts at a time. We can suffice with a smaller portion. It is all about balance. A meal consisting of a huge steak is not balanced at all, nor is it the way people used to eat in the olden days. In the past people had to get a live chicken, take it be slaughtered, and generally this was not done on an every day basis. So automatically meat and chicken were healthier and consumed in a moderate amount. The meat was also grass fed and not the huge fatty steaks that we know today. Often the meat was lamb or goat, not beef. And when eating meat , we need vegetables to balance it out. Once in a while a meal filled with meat and chicken (for example, a meal of kabobs) can be okay, but it should be accompanied by various salads, pickled foods and even grilled vegetables. In Mediterranean cultures, meat or chicken were always part of a stew or used in small amounts in the meal. The only exception would be kabab, but even that was always served with lots of grilled and pickled vegetables, salads and rice or bread. Meat was never an entire meal in itself. It is also important to note: the way we prepare meat makes a difference. Boiling meat is healthier. Broiling is okay if not over done (nothing should be charred or overcooked as that creates unhealthy byproducts which can become free radicals). Frying meat is a no no. And cooking meat at lower temperatures in general can be healthier (such as overnight on a very low heat such as 250 degrees F). But again: meat that is grain fed and given antibiotics is not very healthy and should be avoided wherever possible. A small amount on occasions is fine, but generally the healthiest meat is grass fed with no antibiotics or hormones given. It is, by nature, a leaner meat. Chickens that are organically raised are healthier but also quite expensive and not always a feasible option. So how can we boost protein without compromising health and quality? It is advisable to add more plant based protein to our plates so we increase protein without fat . that does not mean we have to be vegetarian . We should just increase plant based proteins so we reduce too much animal protein and we keep our diets balanced and cleaner. Peas can be a good source of plant based protein. Milk made from peas has become a new popular drink as well. Chic peas are also very high in protein and can be used in many ways including choumos, chic pea patties etc. The Mediterranean regions of the world have used chic peas in great quantities for generations. Lentils are also very versatile.
For all the diets mentioned (raw food, vegan, vegetarian, paleo, keto etc.) there are testimonials from people, as well as research studies, that all claim people have been cured of serious illnesses through these diets. So, as we see, from one extreme diet to another, people have been healed. So all diets have their place. Every person is different. Everyone’s constitution is different. Each diet affects people differently. And, to be honest, the fact that so many varied diets help so many different people is encouraging: it shows that the Almighty has put the healing power into many different things and different diets and each one is suited for someone or something.