Saturday, September 20, 2008

The New Diet

By Diana Hsieh

In late June, I blogged about the cow share I bought from Isle Farms, in order to obtain a supply of raw milk, i.e. milk straight from the cow, without any pasteurization or homogenization. In that post, I said:

As for why I'm going to so much trouble to obtain raw milk, I have two reasons. First, it tastes much better. It's deeply satisfying in a way that its equivalent of pasteurized, homogenized whole milk equivalent is not. Second, it's part of an overall change in diet. I'm consuming more protein and certain kinds of fats, and I'm trying to avoid stuffing myself full of goodness-only-knows-what from processed foods, particularly carbohydrates. I'm also interested in trying natural grass-fed beef, likely from this local supplier, as I have worries about the inappropriate feed given to cows intended for consumption. (I'm also interested in more natural forms of other meats like pork, lamb, and chicken.)
Since that time, my diet has evolved even further in a "paleo" direction -- with fascinating results. My cholesterol numbers are much improved. I've lost weight, even while gaining muscle. I no longer suffer from strange energy lows. I've made significant gains in strength and balance. My tastes in food have changed -- radically. I can easily ignore feelings of hunger for hours on end, even through vigorous exercise. I've lost all my cravings for sweets. Best of all, I enjoy what I eat immensely -- and I don't miss the rest.

Overall, I feel so much better than I have in years -- if not ever.

I'm utterly fascinated by all that I've been reading -- and experiencing -- with these changes in diet. So now I'm going to inflict bestow them on you: I aim to blog on issues pertaining to diet and health on Saturdays.

Let me start with a brief description of my own diet at present. I'll delve into some of the details and reasons in future posts.

My general goal is to approximate -- to some reasonable degree -- the hunter-gatherer diet that humans were adapted to eat by a few hundred thousands of years of evolution. That diet changed radically with the invention of agriculture 10,000 years ago. It has changed even more in the last 100 years or so. Today, the major effect of that change is the consumption of far more refined carbohydrates -- particularly in the form of sugar and flour -- than most humans bodies can handle well. For many, the result is the infliction of the "diseases of civilization," particularly diabetes, obesity, and heart disease. Today's dominant view that such chronic health problems are caused overconsumption of fat (and of calories in general) is not -- and was never -- supported by science. As Gary Taubes painstakingly documents in his stellar book Good Calories, Bad Calories, that view was pushed on us by a few determined dogmatists, with a good dose of help from the federal government, without regard for the facts.

So what do I eat? My diet consists of plenty of meat, eggs, dairy, nuts, vegetables, and limited fruit. I do not eat pasta, rice, bread, or sugar. (I'm not eating potatoes at present, as they're very starchy. However, I'll likely return to eating them in moderation and on occasion this winter.)

I usually eat a good hunk of meat at least once if not twice per day. I eat beef, lamb, pork, chicken, and buffalo on a regular basis. I also eat seafood once or twice per week. I go out of my way to buy high-quality meats from animals not treated with hormones or antibiotics. Such meats are more expensive, but they taste much, much better than the barely-edible crap sold in regular grocery stores. I also rely on eggs, greek yogurt, and cheese as sources of protein. I'm not a fan of soy.

I consume lots of fat. I enjoy deliciously fatty cuts of meat like ribeye steaks. I braise vegetables in raw cream. I drink unskimmed raw milk, and make my own greek yogurt from it. I usually eat cheese and raw nuts at least once per day. In cooking, I use olive oil, bacon fat, butter, and coconut fat liberally. However, I studiously avoid all modern vegetable oils (e.g. canola oil, corn oil) and transfats.

I eat lots of vegetables and some fruits. I try to eat a wide range of vegetables, within the limits of what's in season -- or better yet, what's ripening in my garden. I limit my fruits because they often contain quite a bit of sugar -- although berries are better on that score.

I avoid anything made with sugar or high-frucose corn syrup. On rare occasion, I will sweeten something with raw honey or maple syrup. I don't drink juice or soda. I avoid all artificial sweeteners too, as I think they tend to create an expectation of and desire for sweetness.

I also avoid grains, particularly wheat. I avoid white flour like the plague -- and contrary to contrary to popular belief, whole grains are just as bad. On rare occasion -- meaning less often than once per week -- I'll eat a slice of sprouted bread or a small bowl of overnight-soaked oatmeal. (The sprouting and the soaking are supposed to make the grain more digestible. However, I find that if I eat more than a wee bit, I can feel the ill effects.)

So that's what I eat, with only very rare exceptions. Notably, I do no counting or balancing or weighing. I'm not particularly concerned with the macronutriet composition of my meals. Instead, I have two basic goals: (1) to eat real, whole, unprocessed foods, and (2) to avoid foods that spike my blood sugar. These two categories strongly overlap, but they aren't quite the same.

Six months ago, I would have regarded such a diet as a major deprivation. However, that's not how it feels now. It's very easy -- and very rewarding -- to eat well. As for the science supporting my new diet, that will have to wait for another Saturday.

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