What's the Best Diet? Raw, Vegan, Vegetarian, or Paleo?
Over the past 15 years, I have experimented with food in many different ways. I have challenged my body with all of the major diets in the world; from growing up with the Standard American Diet (SAD) way of eating to being a hard-core raw vegan, and now a full-flesh eating paleolithic, I have gathered a lot of knowledge through research and tuning into the voice of my own body.
The experience of different diets has increased my awareness of how certain foods affect my body. As a teenager growing up in the Midwest, I experienced stomach-aches on a daily basis whenever I ate any type of meat, so I decided I would stop eating it and was then labeled "the vegetarian" in my family. I now know that the issue was not just eating meat but it was the fact I was eating factory-farmed meat instead of the organic grass-fed beef I am able to enjoy at this time in my life.
After college and moving to California, I became a true hippie and joined in the "Vegan Revolution." Taking on the raw vegan way of eating was a huge shift for me. It was one of the most amazing experiences for my body, both physically and mentally. Through two years of eating almost all raw and one hundred percent vegan, I was able to cleanse my body of the many toxins that built up from years of living in the Midwest on the SAD and also from when I was a very unhealthy vegetarian who ate mostly a low-fat, high-carb diet.
At this time, I also became conscious of how food affected me physically, mentally, and emotionally and learned for the first time about the ethics and politics of our food system. At the present moment, I have been following the paleo lifestyle and once again, feel absolutely amazing! Eating paleo has completely cleared up my digestion, gives me more sustained energy and cured me of major sugar cravings. I know this is what my body needs right now and it feels good to honor what it is saying to me. I am a firm believer that every body is different. Through my own experiences and learning, I now realize each person is unique and only they can truly understand what foods are best to fulfill their health and well-being in life.
Here is a brief breakdown of some of the most talked about styles of eating that have gained popularity over the past few years:
The paleoithic diet has become increasingly popular over the past year through it's association with CrossFit. But, this way of eating has been around for thousands of years. The main idea behind this diet is that you eat foods in their most natural state, such as meat, eggs, vegetables, tubers, berries, fruits, nuts, seeds and healthy fats (cold-pressed coconut oil and ghee). You avoid eating dairy, legumes, all grains, and processed foods because nature does not provide these foods in a way that is easily attainable to eat.
The paleo lifestyle heavily promotes eating organic foods, grass-fed beef, free-range poultry and eggs, DHA fish oil, substantial amounts of healthy fats, UN-processed foods and no sugar. It also encourages individuals to be active and find time to enjoy the outdoors and become one with their body. Two of my favorite leaders in the paleo movement are Diane Sanfilippo of Balance Bites and Mark Sisson of Mark's Daily Apple.
This diet has been practiced for centuries throughout the world but gained popularity in the States during the 1980s with the first edition of Diet for a Small Planet by Frances Moore Lappe. She combined the idea of not just eating healthier for your body, but also for the planet. Strict vegetarians do not eat any type of meat, such as beef, pork, poultry, wild game, or fish. They still consume byproducts of animals, like eggs, milk, cheese, yogurt, and kefir, which are a form of protein. Tofu and various grains are also heavily encouraged with this diet. Taking on a vegetarian lifestyle usually leads people to become more aware of our Country's food system and is a great way to transition into a vegan diet.
Becoming a vegan is not just about the food you eat but it is also a lifestyle. Vegans abstain from consuming any kind of animal product or byproduct. Therefore, the bulk of their diet consists of vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, grains, fermented foods, and soy-based products (soy should be consumed in moderation). They also choose to not wear clothes manufactured from animals (fur and leather) and use products not tested on or exploitive of animals.
Veganism has gained popularity over the past ten years and goes beyond what you put on your plate. There are many organizations teaching about the effects factory farming has on the planet and showing the world what is going on with our over-consumption and mass production of products. Veganism has also become popular among athletes. To learn more about vegan athletes, check out the awesome article by fellow Breaking Muscle contributor, Danette "Dizzle" Rivera.
This style of eating consists of foods that are one hundred percent raw, mainly fruits and veggies, or food that is not heated above 118 degrees. Eating mostly raw is usually related to being one hundred percent vegan, but there are many people who follow a raw foods diet and also consume raw, organic, unpasteurized milk, and raw meat and eggs.
Practicing a raw foods lifestyle is a great way to detoxify and cleanse your system. Because the food is not being cooked or heavily processed, your body will assimilate all of the nutrients, enzymes, vitamins, and minerals for quicker absorption and energy. One of my favorite raw food chefs is the creator of Kristen's Raw.
With any style of eating, I also promote choosing organic fruit and vegetables, organic grass-fed beef, organic free-range poultry and eggs, and products that source organic and fair-trade, minimally processed ingredients. Be smart when shopping and do your research on companies and products and always make sure to support your local organic grocery store and farmer's market as much as possible. Practicing a healthy lifestyle through the foods you eat will transfer to a better over-all well being for your body, mind and soul.