There are so many different diet options available in modern society, and those of us who are lucky enough to be able to pick and choose what we eat face a plethora of choice: Vegan, Vegetarian, Mediterranean, Paleo, Ketogenic, Carnivore - it’s almost endless.
I think a lot of people feel that they have to pick one of these diets and just stick to it, but unless you have allergies or ethical reasons that steer you away from certain foods, you absolutely do not have to choose just one specific diet. The most important decision you can make when it comes to diet is to choose the Qualitarian approach.
It’s actually a really simple concept: whatever food you choose to consume as part of your diet, make sure it’s the best quality possible. If you’re eating meat: try and eat organic, free range meat that’s preferably from a local supplier as opposed to a supermarket. With vegetables, try and eat seasonally and sustainably, using organic produce wherever possible. When it comes to fish, you can always rely on products with an MSC logo on the label, as this means it was sourced responsibly and from the wild, as opposed to farmed. Overall, you should try and stick to natural, whole foods that don’t contain any additives, preservatives or refined sugars - if you do all of the above, you are going to live a much longer, healthier life, and I’ll go into the reasons why.
There was a time, not too long ago, when all of the food humans ate was organic - it was the norm. Synthetic pesticides were only really introduced into agriculture in the 1940s/50s, bringing along a new era of high crop yields for farmers, and greater profit margins for supermarkets. These pesticides might kill off pests and disease, but they also have seriously harmful effects on the land and people/animals exposed to them.
For those who are using pesticides regularly - predominately farmers and people working on or near the land that is sprayed - there are both immediate and long term health effects. Immediate effects include irritation of the eyes and nose, rashes and blisters on the skin, nausea and dizziness. More worryingly, the long-term effects include the development of cancer, tumours, liver and kidney damage, infertility and birth defects, to name a few. In fact, the World Health Organisation recently released a shocking article that showed an average of 18,000 agricultural workers die from pesticide poisoning every year.
When it comes to eating produce that has been exposed to pesticides, even if you wash your fruit and veg, you will still be ingesting small amounts of these harmful toxins because they become systemic during the growth period - this means they are incorporated into the fruit and vegetables while growing. Although you are only consuming a small amount, the toxins slowly build up in your body as they take a very long time to break down - usually they get lodged in with your stored fat.
There haven’t been many studies into the long-term effects on ingesting pesticides due to the fact that the EU and USA regulates the amount of pesticides present on the crops when harvested, deeming the levels as “safe” for human consumption. However, there have been recent studies released that show the long-term consumption of non-organic produce can lead to reduced sperm production in humans. The fact that we still don’t know what other long-term effects this low level exposure has on us is super scary.
Something that has been more widely researched, however, is the negative impact that processed foods have on your health. Food is classed as being processed if it’s been altered to make it taste different, last longer or make it more convenient - basically, if it is no longer in its natural state. The more heavily processed the foods, the more severe the impact will be on your health - heavily processed foods would include things like soft drinks, sweets, pasta sauces, hotdogs and sweetened breakfast cereals - things that have lots of additives and artificial flavours. There’s been a lot of research into the effects of these types of food on health, and the results are really frightening: if you regularly consume these foods, you will have an increased risk of cancer, and be more likely to develop heart disease and diabetes.
To just look a little deeper into the cancer side of things: a five-year study undertaken by the British Medical Journal found that every time their 100,000 participants increased their consumption of heavily processed foods by 10%, their was a 12% higher risk for cancer.
I urge anyone reading this to try and play it safe by only eating foods that haven’t been tampered with: wholewheat breads and grains, refined-sugar free cereals and sweet treats, fresh vegetables and fruit [make your own delicious sauces for pasta from scratch! I love this vegan pesto recipe for making my pasta dishes taste molto delizioso!!!], and wherever you can, try and make a conscious decision to eat organic.
For me, since deciding to try and eat only organic foods, I’ve mainly been eating vegetarian and vegan dishes, with the occasional bit of mackerel and salmon thrown in for good measure. This is simply down to cost. Organic food is about 50% more expensive than non-organic, which will put a lot of people off. But I believe spending that little bit extra to aid health and longevity is worth it, and by eating more veggie-based meals, the cost is manageable for me because vegetables are a lot cheaper than meat! This approach certainly is a bit more of a commitment, and if I’m going out for dinner, or eating at my parents’/friends’ houses, I will still eat meat and non-organic products, because these things in moderation aren’t going to do any serious harm, but for the rest of the time I do try and keep it organic whenever I can.
So when it comes to diet, whatever you choose to eat, maybe think about trying the Qualitarian approach to reduce health risks and increase your lifespan - we have so many options available to us that we can make a conscious effort a lot more easily than perhaps even 10 years ago. And if buying organic isn’t a viable option for you, just try and opt for the natural, whole food approach - choosing wholewheat pasta as opposed to white next time you’re shopping for instance - even the smallest of changes will make a big difference to your health.
If you have any questions or dietary experiences you’d like to share, please get in touch!