best natural foods

What are healthy diets - the criteria

There are many different ideas about healthy diets.

They cannot be more different. Some purportedly healthy diets emphasize raw foods, some emphasize cooked foods. Some advise to avoid salt, some say salt is healthy.

Some diet plans minimize protein and fats, some encourage eating lots of protein and fats while avoiding carbohydrates as much as possible. And so on.

Personally, I have tried a few of these diet plans and have also changed my mind about them. When I was first introduced in 1985 to the subject of natural health and healthy eating, I was much attracted to various diet plans based on raw foods.

I found the arguments - about vitamins, enzymes, "living foods" etc - convincing and I stubbornly adhered to a raw foods diet even after I developed problems like asthma and a persistent skin rash.

Then I discovered macrobiotics and thought it made a lot more sense, particularly the idea that we should adapt our diets to our body conditions and the environment we live in.

Meanwhile, I continued to view vegetarianism as the ideal. For many years, I believed it was the healthiest among healthy diets, even though I was only briefly vegetarian for about six months.

It was only more recently, around 2004, that I became convinced that vegetarianism is not the ideal and that certain animal products - such as saturated fat and cholesterol - are, in fact, good for health. This is thanks to the Western Price Foundation, which advocates following traditional diets.

In this article, I would like to share with you how I evaluate different diet plans and philosophies, to distinguish the truly healthy diets from diet fads and possibly misguided ideas.

1. Healthy diets must be natural I

I have great respect for nature and therefore my first criteria is that healthy diets must be natural.

This means, fir

stly, that the diet plan must not require you to take any man-made poducts such as, for example, slimming pills. I apply this criteria even when the product may be based on natural ingredients, for example, slimming pills containing only natural herbs.

Another example would be the hCG Diet, which requires followers to take human chorionic gonadotropin, or hCG, a hormone extracted from the urine of pregnant women. The hormorne may be natural. But the method of extraction is not. Nor is it natural to consume such a hormone.

Some people might argue, then, that cooking is not natural. I put it this way... a healthy way of eating should not require any form of technology that is not widely available. For it then means that people without access to such technology can eat in a healthy manner. To me, this is unacceptable.

Cooking is, to me, natural in the sense that even primitive people are able to cook. Same with fermentation, pickling and other natural forms of food processing.

However, I consider fruit and vegetable juicing to be "unnatural" because it requires the help of a food processor or juicing machine, which in turn requires electricity. Sure you can produce juices naturally, by squeezing with your hands or chewing and spitting out the pulp. But you cannot produce the large amounts of juices that people who follow such diet plans drink every day.

Diets based on scientific tests?

In recent years, there have been a number of so-called healthy diets that require some form of scientific analysis before deciding what foods a person should eat.

Most notable is "Eat right for your blood type", where a person is advised to eat according to whether his/her blood type is A, B, AB or O.

A similar idea is being heavily touted by Dr Joseph Mercola, who runs a highly popular health website. Called Nutritional / Metabolic typing, this requires a person to answer a very detailed questionaire (that costs US$59) in order to know what foods are suitable.

To me, such diet plans mean that without the technology of blood tests or detailed questionaires, a person has a high chance of eating the "wrong" foods. And if this were so, the human race would have perished long ago. I find such concepts totally unacceptable.

I have further reservations about such diets, which I will discuss in more detail in the respective articles about them.

2. Healthy diets must be time-tested

This means healthy diets are traditional diets that have supported generation after generation of people in communities for hundreds or thousands of years.

If a particular way of eating had been around only for a few years or a few decades, and if it had not been followed by parents, children, grand children and many generations of people, we cannot say for sure that such a diet plan can support life in the long term.

In India, for example, there are communities of people who are born vegetarians and their parents, grandparents and possibly older ancestors had been vegetarian. To me, this means that a vegetarian diet is sustainable and most probably healthy.

I cannot say the same, however, about a vegan or pure vegetarian diet. It may be true that there have been people who followed a vegan diet ever since hundreds or thousands of years ago. But these were individuals. As far as I am aware, there has never been entire communities of vegans who observe the same diet plan for many generations.

Here, I should mention that many modern "foods", including genetically modified foods and hydroponic vegetables, have likewise not been time-tested. They are claimed to be safe or even healthy yet the long-term health effects of eating such foods are unknown.

Diets that refute tradition

Just as I believe most traditional diets are healthy, I also believe that diets that refute tradition are highly questionable.

For example, people throughout the world have always been eating protein with carbohydrates - rice with meat, fish or tufu, chapati with dhal, pasta with meat sauce, steak with potatoes...

Yet those who advocate supposedly healthy diets based on the theory of food combining tell us that protein and carbohydrates should be eaten separately. They imply that billions of people have been eating the "wrong way" for thousands of years.

Likewise, humans have been eating grains as their main food for thousands of years and now we get a growing number of health experts saying that grains are unhealthy and we should try our best to avoid eating grains.

Such thinking is, to me, not only flawed but also highly arrogant.

3. Healthy diets are not the ideas of individuals

Another sign of arrogance is when one individual - whether a doctor or natural health advocate - develops his or her own healthy diet plans.

Popular examples include the Atkins Diet developed by Dr Robert Atkins, the South Beach Diet developed by cardiologist Arthur Agatston and dietician Marie Almon, and the blood type diet developed by naturopathic physician Peter d'Adamo.

Health and diet is a very complex subject and I do not believe that any one or two person, no matter how brilliant or learned, can come up with healthy diets that suit large sectors of the population. Because individuals are ultimately limited in their knowledge and understanding.

To me, healthy diets should be based on major schools of thought, rather than individual ideas. By "schools of thought" I mean, for example, nutritional science - although I disagree with its teachings but it is a "school of thought". Other schools of thought include Ayurveda or Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Here, it is important to differentiate between individuals who interpret and explain existing diet philosophies, and those who cook up their own theories.

Macrobiotics, for example, can be said to be started by certain individuals. Its history could be traced to George Ohsawa, who applied the term "macrobiotics" to apply to his teachings, or earlier to his teacher, Sagen Ishizuka.

But these individuals, as well as their successors like Michio Kushi, merely explain and interpret traditional concepts based on the orieintal principles of yin and yang. They did not concoct their own diet plans - and they certainly did not (arrogantly) name such diets after themselves.

Likewise, people like Dr Mary Enig and Sally Fallon of the Weston Price Foundation advocate certain ideas about healthy eating based on the observations of Dr Weston Price, a dentist who travelled around the world to study how diet affected people's health. Dr Weston Price did not develop his own diet plan, nor did Mary Enig and Sally Fallon.

4. Healthy diets must be adaptive

Another feature of healthy diets is that they must be adaptive, recognising that different people have different needs. Any diet plan that recommends the same foods, or the same way of eating, for everyone, will not meet the grade.

For example, diet plans based on raw foods recommend that everyone eats plenty of raw vegetables and fruits, or raw sprouts, as their main food.

In contrast, the teachings of macrobiotics say that people who live in hot tropical climates may eat more raw vegetables and fruits, and those in colder climates might do so during summer. To me, this makes a lot more sense than saying that everyone should eat in the same way.

Not adapting blindly

Diet plans being adaptive also mean that they should not be blindly adapted from one part of the world to another, without taking into consideration other factors like climate and way of life.

For example, people in Mediteranean countries have to observed to use olive oil in cooking, drink wine and have low rates of heart disease. This does not mean that other people, living in other parts of the world, will also benefit from using olive oil and drinking wine. Because their climate, lifestyle and other aspects of life are different.

Likewise it is foolish to believe that just because certain people living in high mountains take yogurt, and enjoy long healthy lives, everyone else will be healthy if they take yogurt regularly. The long and healthy lives of these people is probably due to lots of other factors besides yogurt. Besides, the yogurt they take is different from the mass-produced, pastuerized, sweetened, flavoured variety that is sold in modern societies.

4. Healthy diets must promote all round health

This may seem obvious, but it is not always the case. Instead, we often get diets with very specific objectives, usually weight loss. They may work in the short term to produce the desired results, but they may have long-term adverse effects on overall health.

For example, many weight loss diets advocate eating plenty of protein and avoiding carbohydrates. In the short term, this may lead to weight loss. In the long-term, a high protein diet will, among other things, increase the risks of kidney failure as well as osteoporosis. It also makes the body condition acidic, which compromises immunity and promotes cancer.

Weight loss diets are not the only types aimed at narrow, specific results. I remember during the 1990s, when there was a lot of concern about osteoporosis, some diet plans recommended foods like canned sardines and ice-cream as being "excellent" - just because they contain calcium.

This is a very narrow viewpoint. Unfortunately, this is the viewpoint of nutrition, which is the main guiding philosophy behind many diet plans.

Click here to understand why nutrition is not the way to healthy diets. And here to understand why I consider macrobiotics to be one of the best healthy diets.

New! Comments

Have your say about what you just read! Kindly leave a comment in the box below.


(5 articles)
Cooking oils
(23 articles)
Diet plans (13 articles)
Fiber (3 articles)
Fish (3 articles)
Grains (17 articles)
Pasta (10 articles)
Pasta recipes
(>40 recipes)
Salt (11 articles)
(11 articles)
Soy products
(14 articles)
Vegetables (1 article)
Water (6 articles)
More sections to come
Natural Cancer Cures
Flu treatments
Stop Trans fats

Criteria for healthy diets
Blood type diet - Part I
Blood type diet - Part I
Blood type diet - safe?
High protein diets
Macrobiotic diet
Macrobiotic philosophy
Nutrition - limitations and problems
Raw food diet
Raw foods diet - a personal sharing
Digestive enzmes - how crucial are they?
What's a healthy vegetarian diet?
Vegan diet - healthy or inadequate?