There are may different “diets” out there, as we all know. Many are short-term diets with goals of quick weight loss. Other “diets” are more of a lifestyle. The Primal “diet” is not meant to be a temporary, “lose 30 pounds”, and then back to how it was before kind of diet. Primal is a way of life that goes far beyond diet and, as I’ve mentioned before, includes multiple other aspects of life such as social interactions, sleep, stress, physical activity, etc. Primal often gets confused with Paleo. Although the nutrition component has many similarities (and some stark differences), Paleo doesn’t really emphasize on anything else other than the diet component. There are other well known “lifestyle” sort of diets out there. Two examples that come to mind are vegetarianism and veganism. Simply put, vegetarians don’t eat meat and vegans don’t eat ANY animal products, so this included not just meat but milk, eggs, fish, butter or any other minute ingredient that may come from an animal (the thought of that induces a certain degree of panic in me). Oftentimes people choose to be vegetarian and/or vegan from an “ethical” animal rights perspective and there is a whole movement out there regarding this that I’m not going to get into. Some people mistakenly make the claim that vegans must have superior health compared to other people since they don’t eat meat. Or vegetarians must eat a lot of veggies and so they must be healthy. Now, while I think it may be possible (but also difficult) to be healthy and vibrant on a vegetarian or vegan diet, most people I know who follow this are far from healthy as they consume mostly non-animal product junk food with a label as “vegan” or “vegetarian” (think french fries, soy based frozen food, etc). The same goes for many people following a “Paleo” diet. They sing the praises of the low-carb approach but stuff their faces with bacon wrapped burgers with or drink a morning coffee with MCT oil, grassfed butter on it and heavy cream, all in the name of “Paleo”. Then each side gets on their high horse and talks about how healthy each one is when, in fact, most are heavily lacking on the most important component of each of their diets: PLANTS.
The most important thing missing from most people’s diets, whether they practice paleo, veganism, vegetarianism and of course the Standard American Diet (SAD) is a large amount and wide variety of PLANTS.
Talking about why plants are so important seems rather dull and anti-climatic, but if people would focus on eating more of them it would result in greater health and wellness, hands down. So, why are plants so awesome?
- Plants are filling: vegetables including spinach, kale, arugula, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, etc have lots of bulk and lots of fiber. This equates to filling you up and keeping you full. This then can cause you to eat less of the bad stuff and may just help you lose or maintain weight loss as the majority of veggies are super low calorie. Calorie for calorie, veggies have much more fiber than whole grains, so if you think you need whole grains for the fiber, well, you don’t. Eating enough fiber, as we know, is associated with many positive health benefits. You really can’t eat too many veggies.
- Plants are full of awesome nutrients: all plants contain phytochemicals. Phytochemicals are compounds created by plants to maintain their health, sustenance, ward of predators, etc, but they can contribute to health when consumed by humans. Eat a wide variety of plants of multiple colors to gain the best benefit and variety of phytochemicals. On the same note, all plants contain vitamins and minerals that are vital to maintaining a healthy body. Since plants contain different vitamins and minerals it is important to consume a wide variety of plants. A diet lacking in vitamins and minerals can create hunger as it is your body’s natural way of telling you it needs more nutrients. Unfortunately, we (our society) typically don’t feed it the nutrients it needs and keep filling our stomachs with junk. This is why there are obese people who are malnourished–they keep on eating due to hunger (body wants nutrients) but are not consuming enough healthy nutrients or fiber so they just stay hungry.
- Plants are versatile: there are SO MANY uses of plants the list could go on forever. From eating them in the raw state, to steaming, dicing, chopping, blending, etc, they can be used for just about anything. I’m a firm believer that eating them in the raw state is great for multiple reasons–it’s filling, takes time to chew usually, the chewing of plants is good for oral health, jaw strength, etc. But if you need to make a shake in order to get enough veggies, then by all means do it! There are literally thousands of recipes out there for utilizing fresh plants.
What do I recommend?
I recommend eating at least 50% of the BULK (not calories because that would be pounds and pounds of plants) of your food as plants. Ideally this would be more heavy on vegetables and maybe not as much fruit (especially if trying to lose weight) but even if our society ate more fruit and less processed junk we would be generally more healthy.
The base of the Primal Food Pyramid used to be animal products, but Mark Sisson continually adapts and puts out new recommendations so this was changed to vegetables:
Fruit, in regards to the Primal Blueprint, is a “moderation” food, but if you are stuck in the rut of the Standard American Diet of processed foods, minimal fresh fruits and veggies, high carb intake from bad choices, etc, and if eating more fruit helps get you out of this pattern, then go for it!
Eating more plant based foods would benefit everybody, from Primal to Paleo to Vegans to Vegetarians to whoever. Try and stick with locally grown, in season plants to benefit the most from the phytochemical, vitamins and minerals. The closer the source, the healthier it typically is. Eat organic if possible and/or avoid consuming plants that have been sprayed with pesticides (some local plants may not be “organic” certified but ask the farmer/grower if he/she used any pesticides/chemicals–oftentimes they do not use any pesticides but haven’t been “certified” organic because this can be a lengthy and costly process to get that label as “organic”). Even better yet, plant a garden and grow your own!
So, fill up that plate with mostly plants, at least 50% of it (preferably non-starchy veggies), include a healthy protein source, healthy fat source and you will be on the road to health and helping your body function as it was intended to!