Our Natural Diet

 

The following chapter is from Our Natural Diet: Optimal Nutrition for Health, Looks and Life.  This is intended to be a 'proper' diet, health and nutrition book, based upon sound scientific evidence rather than the usual hype, fad and fashion found in so many modern diet books.  The foundation of the book is in the science used to write Human Evolution, Diet and Health, but whereas that book was only intended to be informative, Our Natural Diet deals with how to integrate the science of health and nutrition with what we have readily available to us today.

 


Our Natural Diet


"Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being,

and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity."

- World Health Organisation

 


For Health

A key principle of this book is that health is the foundation for everything. If a diet lacks quality then eventually cravings will reign supreme and cause problems. Either the cravings cause the person to revert back to a less healthy existence, or else the person doggedly suffers their cravings and their quality of life is harmed as a result. Health is as much about the mind as the body, and shortcomings in the health of one will eventually affect the other. Having a good diet is about ensuring the body is supported by good nutrition, and that there are few, if any, compromises as far as our health is concerned. 

   Although this book is naturally focussed on diet, it should be absolutely clear that overall good health requires sufficient physical activity, and a limitation of negative psychological stressors. Health is also affected by environmental and genetic factors, and an awareness of these can be of some use. Some people will expose themselves to chemical hazards whether they work in polluted cities, in industrial manufacturing plants, or even on modern farms. These are the compromises we make in order to provide homes, food and security, but the penalty can be respiratory disorders and worse.  Fortunately, improved measuring techniques and increased awareness of environmental pollutants is helping reduce the magnitude of these problems. 

   It is a particularly wretched aspect of human nature that if someone we know has a negative experience; some individuals will use this as their excuse to denounce all aspects of health and medicine.  Part of the problem lies in our nature to project the experiences of others onto ourselves. In research we would argue that 'data is not the plural of anecdote'.  One person, as an individual, is an inordinately complex organism, and whatever befalls one, or a hundred, or even a billion, might not happen to us personally. 

   We have probably all seen a cold or flu be passed amongst colleagues, family members or friends, but not have it affect us, only to succumb the next time one goes around. We cannot make perfect predictions or guarantees, but we can do everything to tip the balance of health in our favour. Some people contract fewer colds than others, or are affected by them for less time.  Some people recover from heart disease, and some people contract cancers which are effectively treated, allowing them to pursue a full and rich life. In the grand scheme of things, if life can be better for being healthy, with us feeling more full of life, more energetic, less lethargic, and less susceptible to illness, then we probably owe it to ourselves to pursue this. If food tastes good and life feels better for the process, then there cannot conceivably be a downside.  

   The growing popularity of diet and health books, health and fitness magazines, health products and health and fitness clubs, demonstrates we are interested in this.  Many of us like the idea that wecan obtain some higher level of living, in which health is more than just the absence of disease, but rather is a condition of being in which we can thrive and really feel better in ourselves.  There is a magnificent difference between simply being free from illness and actually thriving.  If we eat the right foods, enjoy a physically active lifestyle, reduce our daily stresses, sleep just enough and surround ourselves with a healthy environment, we should be able to enjoy life to the full.  There are no magic pills or potions, no real superfoods and no short-cuts to any aspect of health.  But that is not to say achieving full health is anything but straightforward, enjoyable and easily achieved.

 

For Looks

No animal in the wild would be alive if it had not been born with a system of internal cues to aid survival.  There is no lion that chooses to eat meat because he thinks he ought to do so, and no wildebeest consuming grass simply because all the other wildebeest are doing so. 

   Our continuing survival is the result of homeostatic mechanisms that respond to change.  If we feel hungry, we eat, if we feel thirsty we drink, and if we need salt then we desire salty foods (we also excrete dilute urine, so that the overall balance of water to salt improves).  Perhaps people like to be told what to eat and how much to drink because we do not realise how much better it is to be guided by our instincts.  But then, our experiences and what we have available also influence our desires for food.  So many modern foods, including processed meats or grains, are high in energy but low in nutritional value, meaning we overeat but can remain under-nourished, making us want to eat more.  If we seek out more of these nutrient-poor foods, then we end up with a lot of energy going in that is stored as fat, but lacking in the nutrients required to support our immune systems, promote a healthy appearance, and help us to feel energetic rather than lethargic.

   If someone wishes to lose weight, it is fairly easy to shed any excess on a more natural diet, and very difficult to gain fat, simply because the foods are very high in nutritive value.  On the other hand, if someone wants to increase their muscle mass or tone-up, that is just a matter of performing the right amount, type and intensity of resistance training, whilst ensuring the diet delivers sufficient proteins and enough energy.  All such things are easily managed. What is more, there is some evidence to support the idea that the sorts of foods recommended in this book are the sorts of foods most beneficial for promoting healthy skin, hair and nails, too.

 

For Life

It is intended that any changes this approach to diet promotes will facilitate real, noticeable benefits.  Broadly, the foods recommended here are fresh fruits, fresh vegetables, fresh meat and fresh fish.  Some foods are delicately recommended against, and where these were initially staples of the diet it is essential their substitution is a gradual process.  Some people might find it perfectly straightforward to overhaul their diet, if this seems necessary, whereas others might find that meal choices become limited.

   This should not be the case, as the sorts of foods recommended are full of flavour, but if preparing them and eating so much of them is a novelty, then it is better to do this gradually rather than all in one go. One should not be preparing the same food every night of the week, and nor should one have to consult a recipe book for every meal.  The happy medium might come from sticking with some of the foods that are less than ideal, whilst gradually experimenting and introducing the healthier alternatives, prepared in different styles and including some new foods.

   There are no styles of cooking that need be avoided, but generally an increase in healthier cooking methods and a reduction of less healthy ones would be reasonable.  For example, Italian meals based on fish or chicken, particularly with a tomato-based sauce, are far healthier, more flavoursome, and richer in nutrients than the more basic breads, pastas and pizzas, but there is no reason to totally rule anything out.  A similar approach will work for all other world cuisines, so from the outset it is important to appreciate that the recommendations are towards innovation and experimentation, rather than outright restriction or avoidance. 

   As already discussed, it would be ridiculous to have a recipe book to accompany this one, as it would suggest confinement into however many recipes could be thought up.  Really, almost any meal can be made healthier, and understanding the recommendations within this book will help ensure any recipe in any recipe book is as healthy as can be. When this is not realistic, because the recipe really does have so few redeeming foods, then eating it less often seems the most reasonable approach.



  

I give lectures and courses around the UK on subjects relevant to endurance athletes, coaches, personal trainers and therapists.  Details of these can be found here.

 

 

The Books

 

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