By Emily Trevisan
For Laura Brennan, an office assistant in London, the choice to be vegetarian was a moral one. She thought she should be capable of killing any animal she was eating.
“I really couldn’t kill another animal to eat it, not unless I was living on a subsistence level farm and was raising the animals myself.”
The more reading she did on the meat industry only strengthened her resolve that this was not a way of life she could support. But now some research suggests that eating too much soy, a staple in Brennan’s diet, may cause Alzheimer’s disease, cancer and infertility.
Brennan said she is not sure if she should cut soy entirely out of her diet yet. She said she still eats soy and drinks soy milk, but has also been trying almond milk.
Brennan’s choices to be vegetarian and eat soy are not the only options people agonize about these days when thinking about their diets.
From enjoying soy to eating like a caveman again
Vegan gourmet Chef J.P. Alfred does not believe in eating meat or cheese, not only because he finds it unethical to eat animals and animal products, but he also said people are not meant to use that kind of energy digesting those foods.
“That’s why people always pass out after a big Thanksgiving meal,” Alfred said. “We are not meant to do that.”
J.P. Alfred is the owner of Peace Pies, a restaurant that serves raw, local, vegan, organic food free of soy and gluten. Alfred presents his food in gourmet fashion and promotes it as a healthy lifestyle to get more energy.
Aside from the fact that Alfred eats grains and omits meat from his diet, his approach to food is similar to the Paleolithic diet, also called the caveman diet. This diet advocates eating only fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, fish and grass fed game.
Sue Diessenbach, a nutrition biochemist with a clinical nutrition counseling practice, sees many problems with these types of restrictive dietary decisions.
“If you are going to be vegetarian or vegan, it is a lot of work and education to do it right,” Diessenbach said.
The former nurse also said that the problem with the caveman diet is that it excludes grains, legumes and dairy, all of which she says can be good and part of a balanced diet. But Diessenbach does like the eating natural food aspect of the diet.
“The closer food is to its natural form, the better the body will handle it,” Diessenbach said. “Flour does not come from a tree.”
Diessenbach says during digestion the human body breaks food down to the molecules, the vital components and very essence of food, so it can be used as fuel. She said the kind of food people use for fuel matters, especially those with an active lifestyle.
Former SDSU football player Josh Ullibari talks about special diets and food that power athletes for work outs and an active lifestyle.
“All calories are not created equal,” Diessenbach said. “100 calories of Oreos is not the same as 100 calories of an apple. What you need to eat is real food. Ask yourself, should I be eating this?”
When to buy Organic
Diessenbach also advocates eating as organic food whenever possible. And she is not alone. Nutritionist and dietician Amy Harris agrees.
Harris said there is the dirty dozen, some foods which through the farming process end up with more pesticides used on them then others, such as strawberries, apples, peaches, celery, grapes and lettuce. Harris says that buying these foods organically is ideal because chemicals and pesticides are not good for the human body; but either way these foods are still healthy.
“The importance of eating fruit outweighs whether or not it is organic, especially if it is washed,” Harris said.
The nutritionists weigh in on why diets are poor
Diessenbach said a lot of beliefs have emerged about food because people have more health problems that may be related to their diets. She said it started after WWII, an era of abundance in which supermarkets were established, especially supermarkets which carried non-perishable food in cans containing preservatives and other chemicals. The nutritional biochemist said since then people have eaten less fresh, real food and processed food has just become cheaper and more available.
“Before that people ate more real food and were more active,” Diessenbach said.
And it is no coincidence that people experience more food sensitivity as more chemicals are added to food, she said.
“People are less likely to be allergic to natural foods,” said Diessenbach.
Clinical nutritionist Tara Coleman agrees that the availability of processed food has now changed the way a lot of people eat, adding that unhealthy fast food and ready to go meals have helped fuel the $3 trillion diet industry. People who create a new successful-looking diet want a chunk of those profits, she said.
“All diets say the same thing but try to differentiate slightly to sell more books and more products,” Coleman said. “People love food and they love giving opinions and talking about it.”
Coleman says the important thing to consider when feeding yourself is to eat a healthy well balanced diet and to try to listen to your body.
“People are always looking for a one size fits all universal solution, but what works for the person next to you may not work for you,” Coleman said. “Look at yourself individually to figure out what’s best for you.”