With the recent news stories saying the WHO (World Health Organisation) saying they now have as much research linking the consumption of processed meats (bacon, sausages, salami…) to cancer as they do for smoking cigarettes, I thought it would be good to revisit the old argument/debate between a plant-based/vegetarian (or vegan) diet vs. the all-inclusive paleo or omnivorous diet. Is one better/healthier for us? If so, which one & why?
First of all, I don’t advocate the “one size fits all” type of diet. I believe we are all different & what works well for one person may not work well for another. It may v.well be that a vegetarian/vegan diet (of a healthy kind, not just made up of cakes, biscuits/cookies, pizza & pasta!) may be best for some, whereas a healthy paleo-style (hunter-gatherer diet modelled on our paleolithic era with fish, lean/organic/free-range/wild meats, fruits, nuts, seeds & vegetables, with v.little-no cereal grains) or omnivorous diet (including grains -preferably wholegrains) may be best for others.
I think that for anyone to find out which is best for them it’s really about discovering for yourself by experimenting with both for yourself. I would suggest you try eating a paleo/omnivorous diet (with or without grains) for a 4wk or 1 month period & then try a vegetarian/vegan diet for another 4wks/1month & see which you feel better on -do you experience less bloating with one or the other? more/less energy? better/worse concentration levels? better/worse moods? It should be easy to determine by doing this.
Two further suggestions would be to try omitting milk/dairy products (over 60% of the global population has a lactose-intolerance without even knowing about it!); also increasing studies are showing/linking wheat/gluten to cognitive/memory/mood problems & again about 60+% of the elderly (65+yrs-old) are now being diagnosed with gluten-intolerance/sensitivity & in some cases with Coeliac disease (an allergy to gluten). More significantly is that many people in this age group are finding that their dementia-like symptoms clear up partially or completely just by eliminating gluten from their diet.
Also, more & more high-performance athletes like Andy Murray & Novak Djokovic have cut out gluten from their diet & find themselves performing better as a result, so for many of us (I include myself here), avoiding gluten-containing foods from our diet (e.g. wheat, barley & some oats -oats are gluten-free, however many are processed in factories that handle wheat & barley so they can be “cross-contaminated”, but this is only really important if you are hyper-sensitive or Coeliac/allergic to gluten, for the rest of us & for the most part oats are ok to eat!).
So give milk products & wheat/gluten a miss for a while (at least 3wks) & then “road-test” them, one at a time, by having a small serving e.g. a 250ml glass of milk or a yoghurt & see ifyou notice any “symptoms” during the following 3 days. If you don’t notice anything different, try another product e.g. yoghurt, cream or cheese & again see if your body reacts to it in any way. If not, then you can reintroduce it to your diet -however, bear in mind you may be able to tolerate a small amount every so often, but if large quantities on a frequent/regular basis are consumed then symptoms of intolerance may appear -these might be in the form of increased bloatedness/flatulence, stomach pain, constipation &/or diarrhea.
After you’ve “road-tested” the milk/dairy products, do the same with wheat/gluten. Have a bowl of bran flakes or a piece of toast one day & see if any symptoms/reactions appear (as for milk/dairy, or mood/energy swings or cognitive/memory problems) & again if no reaction occurs try eating more after 3 days e.g. cake/biscuits… bear in mind wheat has the highest gluten content of all the cereal grains & some people may react to wheat but find they’re ok eating barley products or regular oats (the “cross-contaminated” kind). Others may find they react to products made with white wheat flour, however can tolerate small quantities of wholegrain/wholemeal wheat flour products -this is because white wheat flour products behave v.similarly to white sugar in your body, increasing your blood sugar levels v.quickly & needing a lot of insulin to bring it down -these blood sugar swings can be contributing to the mood swings & cognitive/memory impairments associated with wheat/gluten-containing products. By eating the wholegrain/wholemeal versions the body takes longer to digest/absorb it & blood sugar levels are kept in balance more easily. This is also of significance for people with (or at risk of) diabetes.
What I’ve described above is what people call an “elimination diet” -you completely eliminate a “suspect/offending” food from your diet for a minimum of 3wks (this is because your body has to completely clear even the smallest traces of this food from your system/body); you then reintroduce a small amount of it (the reason for this is because if you have a genuine allergy to that food -or something in that food- your body will have an immune/allergic response & you only require a small amount of food to trigger a response like this); if all feels well during the following 3 days you then introduce a larger amount of the same food product -if you experience any symptoms in the 3 days following that then it may be that you have some degree of intolerance/sensitivity but you are not allergic… this may be the case for example with cow’s milk, but not the case for yoghurt or cheese, or maybe you tolerate sheep’s/goat’s milk ok but not cow’s (this can be because sheep & goat’s milk is more similar to human milk than cow’s milk is)… you can do this with any food -maybe eggs disagree with you, or certain nuts, celery, prawns/seafood… it’s up to you how much you want to explore, but one final thing to bear in mind is that any intolerance/sensitivity can change over time.
One reason why 60+% of 65+yr-olds are finding they do better without wheat/gluten in their diet is because gluten is a protein that is particularly difficult/hard-work for your djgestive system to break down & as we age our digestive systems become weaker & consequently we become more sensitive/intolerant to foods that we have been perfectly able to eat without any problems previously!
Once you have done your 2-3 months of exploring/experimenting you should have a good idea as to what works best for you -vegan/vegetarian, paleo/omnivorous, with/without milk/dairy, wheat/gluten, eggs, nuts, prawns/seafood…
As for me -in case you’re curious, I avoid milk/dairy & wheat/gluten at all times, but occasionally they slip in with the occasional yoghurt or bit of milk in a coffee, or a little cheese here and there… or a bit of cake, biscuit or bread… & I tend to stick to a plant-based/vegetarian (borderline vegan) diet, although I eat eggs occasionally & honey (thank you bumbling busy bees!). I find there’s plenty of dairy-free & gluten-free alternatives nowadays that are readily available (& more than edible thankfully) both in supermarkets & health food shops (so there’s really no good excuse!). I will occasionally have a bit of fish/seafood & meat, but it is v.much a rarity in my life these days & rather than feel guilty about it I do my best to consider it a guilty-“pleasure”/”occasional treat”! So technically-speaking I come under the category of “flexitarian”!
Many people are advocating a high plant-based diet (rich in fruits, nuts, seeds & vegetables for all… & wholegrains for some) as healthier for both indivual health, as well as more sustainable/healthier for the environment/planet… I agree… and this has given rise to the popularity of “meat-free Mondays”, or for some people to follow the tradition of Lent (fish Fridays) throughout the year… or, you could try Mark Bittman’s (New York Times award-winning food critic & bestselling food writer) approach: “Eat Vegan Before 6pm” (& after 6pm, for dinner, eat whatever you like -cakes, biscuits, fillet steak, lobster or even processed meat(s)!). This allows for the best of both worlds, a combination of healthy-eating & pure decadence/indulgence… whatever your own approach, do it/eat it because you LOVE it & don’t waste your time comparing your approach with others or judging them for theirs! As ever enjoy in joy 🙂