I'm going to get up on my soapbox here....this topic came up recently on one of the Lyme forums I belong to and I think it's REALLY important to get this one right!
For a long time I was very confused by all of the conflicting information out there: high-protein/low-carb versus low-fat/high-carb, vegetarians and vegans, sustainability, organic farming, and trying to do the right things for the environment. And what about those messages that have been drilled into us for decades, like the USDA guidelines and the food pyramid, for goodness sake???
Who to believe?
I have only recently figured things out (at least as far as I'm concerned). For me, it was a three-step process. I thought it might help if I explained the process by which I arrived at my current state of certainty about which diet is the best. Please note that the following is the truth only in my humble opinion....and I already know that I do not know everything!!
The first thing that helped me is that, in the past, I followed the Atkins diet for a very long time (years) and I KNOW that I felt better on that diet than I have ever felt, before or since. So I had that personal experience to go by.
In addition I was diagnosed with celiac disease in 2008, which means I cannot eat anything containing gluten. See my Gluten Free Living and Gluten Free Recipe blogs for more info. Of course, the fact that I felt good on the Atkins diet makes sense, because it's very low gluten, if not gluten free (depending on how strict one is).
By the way, it seems that being "gluten free" has become sort of a new fad diet in this country, mostly because of Elisabeth Hasselbeck and her book, I suppose. And many people follow it rather casually, "cheating" now and then by eating gluten-y snacks.....but anyone with celiac disease or gluten intolerance CANNOT cheat, unless they want to be very, very sick.
For any of you reading this who are actually gluten-intolerant or have celiac disease, I must point out that you CANNOT eat rye, barley, wheat (including spelt, kamut, bulgur, cous cous, etc) or ANY grain that is in any way related to these. You cannot eat (most) oats either, because of contamination issues - farmers typically grow wheat one year, oats the next, on the same fields and they are processed with the same equipment.
There are certified gluten free oats grown by conscientious farmers who understand the cross-contamination issue, but a few rare celiacs (like me for instance) cannot even eat certified gluten free oats, because we react to the protein called avenin (molecular structure similar to gluten) which is in oats.
For those of you who are just eating gluten free because you've heard it's healthier, you can do whatever you want...be gluten free during the week and eat gluten on the weekends without (obvious) consequences.
I don't have that luxury.
And for those of us with Lyme disease, it turns out that being gluten free and low carb helps! Gluten causes inflammation, which should definitely be avoided, and carbohydrates/sugars feed the spirochetes, so it's important to eat low carb if you have Lyme.
So my experience with the Atkins diet plus being diagnosed with celiac disease was step #1.
Then I started reading, both online and in books, about the theory that we should eat the way our ancestors ate. This makes sense to me, as a scientist....we should eat the way that man "in the wild" eats. So how did our ancestors eat? How do hunter-gatherers today eat!? Well, they weren't (and aren't) vegetarians, that's for sure! Or they would have died in one of the Ice Ages....very few plants grew in Europe during those times!
The so-called Paleo Diet seems to be the right one; it makes total sense to me. And the proponents of this diet have proven to me that they've actually done their homework. For instance, they compare the gastrointestinal system of a carnivore (wolf or dog) to that of man, and to that of a herbivore (cow). Guess what? We are designed to be carnivores. But we CAN eat some plant foods without harm, just as dogs or cats can. It's just that MEAT (or eggs, nuts, fish) should make up a large portion of our diet (sorry for offending the vegetarians and the vegans, but there it is).
Please understand that farming (agriculture) is a VERY recent development; humans have only had agriculture for about 10,000 years. Our bodies did NOT develop eating the foods that we eat today.
It turns out that the food pyramid is simply a very successful marketing ploy created by people trying to sell grain.
Of course, this is the explanation for celiac disease and gluten intolerance....the human body is not built to process grains of ANY type. Nor are ruminants like cows....the modern practice of feeding corn to cattle actually makes them ill. But it gets them to market weight in half the time, so who cares, right? :(
I personally believe that the modern human diet with its emphasis on grains is at the root of the obesity epidemic. If grain gets cows to fatten up twice as fast, what do you think it has done to us??
And once again, avoiding grains is important for those with Lyme, since grains are high carb!
Figuring out that humans really ARE carnivores and that ALL grains are bad for us was step #2.
Then recently I bought the book, The Vegetarian Myth, and I was simply blown away when I read it. The author (a former vegan) explains in great detail how monocrop agriculture (the huge fields of wheat, soy, corn, etc) is destroying our planet, because it is depleting the topsoil at an incredible rate, much faster than nature can replace it.
Now you must understand....one of my graduate degrees is in Soil Science, so this is a subject that I UNDERSTAND. And this woman is RIGHT. Many soils take hundreds or even thousands of years to develop, and the monocrops are destroying our topsoil at an incredible rate. And when it's gone, we will STARVE. Unless we change the way we eat.
Cows are supposed to eat grass, and WE are supposed to eat the foods that the hunter-gatherers (our ancestors) did: meat, fish, nuts, eggs, greens, root veggies, berries, etc. Nothing else... and definitely nothing processed!! Farming in a small, local way is not a bad thing; growing vegetables and fruit, as long as we do it in our own small plots in a sustainable way, and raising free-range poultry and grass-fed cattle who are allowed to graze freely as God intended will NOT harm the environment.
But whatever you do, DON'T eat soy!! 91% of the soy grown in this country is genetically modified, and it is TOXIC. Read what happened to hamsters in just 3 generations after they ate GM soy:
So not only should we eat Paleo, but we need to stop purchasing food that has been trucked for thousands of miles and only eat what grows locally, and completely STOP eating grains and soy!
Reading that book was step #3.
NOTE: for anyone who may read The Vegetarian Myth, you have to have a healthy level of skepticism and skip over some of the weirder portions, because the author goes off on political tangents (for example, she's very anti-male-dominance and her anti-male rants distract from her truly important messages about saving the planet). In other words, be as smart as a donkey and just "eat the hay and leave the sticks", as one friend of mine (a good ole boy from Oklahoma) used to say.
So, now I am convinced. I have gone Paleo and totally grain free (fortunately I created a few recipes for grain free biscuits and bread, etc., made with coconut and almond flours). I've started losing weight, even on PREDNISONE! And I need to lose weight.
NOTE: Those of you who need to gain weight should not lose weight on the Paleo diet. You will likely gain until you reach a healthy weight.
I do hope this post has been helpful to someone, and has not increased the confusion level out there. I just felt I should explain how I decided on the "right" way to eat. Of course, for both weight loss and in an effort to avoid feeding the Lyme bacteria, I try to eat low carb, and so limit my intake of fruit and sweeteners such as agave and coconut nectars.