No one likes to hear the word “diet”. It conjures up images of rumbling stomachs, hunger pangs, and deprivation. But there are sensible diets out there, one which allows us to our fill of healthy and nutritious foods while feeling good about ourselves because we know we are doing our best to maintain our good health.
Perhaps one of the most popular diets out there is the traditional low carb diet. Some people may feel a bit confused in that this type of diet allows us to eat what we may consider to be an unhealthy amount of fat. This could not be further from the truth. Fat is essential to our body’s health and well-being, while carbs are notorious for contributing to high levels of blood sugar and insulin. High blood sugar is known to play a part in almost all diseases of a chronic nature, from the obvious diabetes problem to dementia, cardiovascular disease, and even cancer. Less carbs in your diet naturally means lower levels of sugar and insulin in your system.
You must also be aware that, if you approach your doctor for a plan to lose weight, the first thing he will advise you to cut down on is carbohydrates. But the weight problem is only the tip of a very unhealthy iceberg. Cutting down significantly on your carb intake will bring significant health benefits, and depending on a diet of healthy fats will go even further. And, dieting itself will even become easier. A reduction in carbohydrate intake will reduce those pesky cravings, and, conversely, a diet higher in fats will do much to relieve hunger pangs. And, if weight loss is your primary goal, you should be aware that Harvard’s School of Public Health performed an analysis of over fifty-three different weight loss studies, with more than sixty-eight thousand participants, and concluded that the most successful diet were the low carb variety. The more extreme low carb diets will allow only 25 grams per day, but, as with most extreme things, this may be difficult to maintain. Many doctors recommend a more relaxed limit of 25 to 150 grams per day.
Yet another dietary restriction to bear in mind for health considerations is the low sodium diet. Americans, especially, love their salt. In 2010, the Mayo Clinic issued a dietary guideline for Americans recommending a daily intake of sodium of less than 2300 mg/day. This is approximately one teaspoon of salt.
A reduction in your intake of sodium can provide many health benefits. It can lower your blood pressure and reduce swelling in the extremities, such as the legs and ankles. It can also decrease your risk of dying from stroke, prevent the formation of kidney stones, and even slow or stop the development of osteoporosis. Sodium intake can contribute to an increase in blood pressure, but that’s not all. It can interfere with the performance of certain drugs prescribed for hypertension as well, so don’t think that just because you’re taking meds, you can shower your dinner with salt willy-nilly.
But, just because you’ve hidden your salt shaker away, don’t think you’re out of the woods. Sodium is insidious. Salt hides in some products where you would least expect it. A single ounce of American cheese contains 443mg of sodium, while a cup of low-fat cottage cheese hides about 918 mg. Carrots fresh from the garden, or a produce stand, are nutritious and delicious, but those same carrots in a can may contain more salt, and therefore sodium, than you are aware. This can be a major problem for those of us who are serious about maintaining a healthy level of sodium intake. Most processed, canned, or even frozen foods may contain stealthy amounts of salt. Be sure to read the labels carefully and opt for a no salt added option.
You can certainly see that if you are planning on following a healthy diet by restricting your intake of carbs and sodium, your best option would be to purchase and prepare your meals yourself. And one of the best diet plans out there is commonly known as the Paleo Diet. Simply put, this means you can eat what our prehistoric ancestors ate, but little else. Most anthropologists will tell you that civilization began when man settled down and began to farm the earth. Most dieticians will tell you that this began the age of carbs. Perhaps they maintained their svelte figures by working long hours in the field to produce the grains that they made into breads (and cakes, let’s not forget cakes!), but when was the last time you took to a field of wheat with a scythe. No, the Paleo Diet precedes that time, taking us back to an age when our ancestors were hunter/gatherers. They hunted for meat to provide fats and proteins, and scoured the fields for healthy vegetation. One never envisions a fat caveman, but a lean and healthy one on the prowl. We can hope to recreate this image in our mirrors if we change our eating habits.
The Paleo Diet may be one of the hardest to stick with, though, as it requires some effort. It is advisable to purchase and prepare your own food, carefully reading any label. But the ingredients of the diet are readily available. Fresh meat, poultry, and fish will provide you with all the protein you need. Choose meat from grass-fed animals. Cows were no more designed to process grain than we were! Chicken, duck, and turkey are all excellent sources of protein. Fish is also an excellent option, providing it is wild caught. And try to eat cage free eggs. For the most part, vegetables are good, as long as they’re not deep fried. Tubers, such as potatoes and sweet potatoes are high in carbs, so avoid them unless you feel you need them to provide a burst of energy. Fruits are good, but should be eaten in moderation as they are high in fructose and calories. Nuts are also high calorie snacks, so be careful – a handful is fine, a bag is not! Some people on the Paleo Diet will avoid dairy products altogether, but this is not completely necessary. Humans are the only mammals; who continue to drink milk, and the milk of other species as well, far beyond infancy. Caveman were certainly not out there milking an auroch, but the decision on dairy is up to you.
The Paleo Diet is known to be one of the more rigorous diet plans out there, but you cannot argue with its success. Whether you decide to go full caveman, or modify it to your standards is your decision, remember, the more difficult the climb, the more rewarding the view from the top.
Stay tuned for part 2 of this topic on the dilemma of being on a low carb and low sodium diet, coming soon.