Being of a Paleo persuasion, there are many foods I completely avoid that other diets insist are healthy. "High protein tofu," "healthy whole grains," "heart healthy vegetable oils" or "all natural agave nectar" are all foods I steer clear of.
But fear not, my vegan and vegetarian brethren. I have no beef with you! This post is about solidarity. Let's focus on the things that all diets worth their weight in sea salt can agree on. Here are six tenets that all good diets share:
1. Avoid added sugar and the industrial foods containing it.
Adhering to this rule will rid your diet of a lot of the rubbish that plagues the standard American diet: soda, processed snack foods, sweetened condiments and sauces, baked goods, most branded beverages and fast food, to name a few things. I think we can all agree that the excess of refined carbohydrate in our modern diet (primarily from sugar, wheat and corn) is a major culprit of the increased prevalence of obesity and diabetes in our culture.
2. Processed meats from concentrated animal feeding operations are unhealthy, not to mention unethical and unsustainable.
While some people consider all meat products to be unhealthy and unethical, even we omnivorous Paleo-folk can agree that processed meat and meat from factory farming is less than ideal and is potentially detrimental to our health. Let's just say we can rule out baloney sandwiches for everyone.
3. Eat real food.
This sounds simple but it applies to all diets. Whether you're on a strict autoimmune Paleo protocol eating bone broth and organ meats or on a raw vegan diet of sprouted nuts and wild berries, it's essential to focus on whole, real foods in their natural state — unadulterated by chemicals, genetic modification or hormones.
4. Don't overcook or burn your food.
If you cook your food, it's generally accepted that slower, gentler cooking is healthier than cooking at very high temperatures. There's plenty of evidence that charred food is carcinogenic and that overcooking diminishes nutritional value. Favor light steaming, slow-cooking or gently sautéing your precious real foods to get the best out of them.
5. Diet in moderation.
Exceptions aside, all diets should treat extremism as the enemy. For example, you can ostensibly be Paleo while eating two pounds of bacon and a whole jar of almond butter every day. Clearly this is unhealthy and downright foolish. If it seems extreme, unsustainable or too good to be true, it probably is. All diets have room for flexibility and scope. This goes both ways — enabling a spectrum from very healthy on one end, to very unhealthy on the other. It's up to the individual to discover their own sweet spot, preferably within the realm of sanity and social acceptability! Focus on the principles, beware of the dogma. And never let perfection get in the way of improvement.
6. Other lifestyle factors are just as important as diet.
Sleep, stress management, exercise, relationships, vitamin D, happiness and a good attitude are absolutely crucial to optimal health and longevity.
There's not much point in a super clean diet if you're a heavy smoker, sleep three hours a night and don't wear a seat belt. Ultimately, health is a destination with many travel options. We all try and find our own way there, often via different means. But there are no shortcuts. It's the accumulation of all the tiny, seemingly trivial diet and lifestyle decisions made day after day, year after year, that lays down our true path to optimal health.
"Form a habit. Forge a lifestyle." - The Paleo Model