What is a healthy diet?

When chronic fatigue syndrome affects someone in your care, it is challenging to come up with ways to support your whole family. For me, changing what we ate played a big role in my son’s recovery, and created a health foundation for the rest of my family which continues to support us today. Finding a healthy diet that works for your family requires some research, experimentation and fine tuning. Here are some approaches and perspectives which may support you in finding what works for you and your family.

There are many diets touted as healthy these days, paleo, Mediterranean, keto, vegetarian, and vegan. These diets contain variations such as high carbohydrate, low carbohydrate, high fat, low fat, raw and so on. Within these dieting communities, there are many exceptionally healthy people who have achieved their good health by removing highly processed foods from their diet and replacing these with wholefoods. For some, diet is the complete answer, for others it is a piece of the puzzle.

I am not qualified to recommend how you should eat. This article is about what you may wish to consider and discuss with your health professional if you are planning to change your diet for health reasons.

All the diets I have mentioned above have one thing in common: they all recommend removing heavily processed foods and eating wholefoods. This resonates with the JERF movement – just eat real food. When implemented properly, they all aim for quality macro nutrients; protein, fat and carbohydrate. Wholefoods contain naturally occurring varying levels of the other vital nutrient type; micro nutrients. Aiming for a nutrient dense diet by focusing on quality food is the aim.

Macro nutrients

  • Quality protein – Protein should be consumed with every meal. The body does not store protein for later use, but utilises what is consumed to build and repair muscle and other body tissue. There are numerous sources of quality protein, the best proteins are those that contain all the essential amino acids (the building blocks of protein) in a bio-available form and have low potential for toxicity. Here are some to consider:
    • Fish – oily deep-sea fish like mackerel, sardines and tuna are often recommended
    • Meat – unprocessed meat like beef, lamb, chicken and other poultry
    • Eggs – Preferably free range
    • Dairy – If tolerated. As intolerance to dairy is common, I suggest establishing whether it is a food you should avoid or embrace.
    • Legumes – If tolerated and properly prepared. Be aware they may not contain all essential amino acids, and therefore may not be whole protein, and generally need to be teamed with grain to ensure whole protein in a single meal. If you are using legumes as your protein source, I strongly encourage you to find good quality information on how to ensure whole protein in your meal.

Sources of protein

  • Fats – Fats are essential to good health. But not all fats are created equal. The quantity of fat to consume depends on which diet you decide to explore. Keto is a high fat diet, while other diets are more moderate in fat consumption.
    • Good fats – The fats to include in your diet are those which are available with little to no processing involved. For example, fats which are in wholefoods such as avocado, nuts, fish and meat (free range) are healthy fats. Minimally processed healthy fats include coconut oil, olive oil, ghee, butter and macadamia oil.
    • Fats to avoid – The fats to avoid are artificial trans fats, obtained through heavy processing. Despite common perceptions they are inflammatory and linked to disease. These fats include; soybean oil, peanut oil, corn oil, safflower oil, wheat-germ oil, canola oil, sunflower oil, cottonseed oil, grape-seed oil and rice bran oil.
    • Cooking with fats – Fats can become unstable when heated. So even using a ‘good fat’ may not be the best idea when cooking at high temperatures (see cooking temperatures for fats here)

Sources of fat

  • Carbohydrates – This macro nutrient is much maligned. Carbohydrates are sugars and starches and like fat an important energy source for our bodies. Carbohydrates can be found in very healthy fibre rich foods, like vegetables, fruits and grains and they can also be found in some dairy. Carbohydrates are also in nutrient poor, highly processed foods which make up a large percentage of the standard western diet. Over consumption of these carbohydrates contributes to many modern diseases such as type 2 diabetes, cardio-vascular disease and other inflammatory illnesses. Cutting out the highly processed carbohydrates and replacing these with healthy carbohydrates will improve your overall health. Carbohydrate foods which can be poorly tolerated include grains, legumes and dairy. If aiming to reduce inflammation, you may wish to consider removing these from your diet and see if you notice an improvement.

Sources of carbohydrate

Micro nutrients

Micro nutrients, also referred to as vitamins and minerals are essential for wellbeing. These are required to facilitate body function and structure, supporting your immune system, eye sight, blood and blood vessels and muscle, bone structure and more. Micro nutrients are found in wholefoods and in supplements. If you are considering taking supplements, discuss this with your health professional as the forms and dosages of vitamin and mineral supplements need to be well understood. Some vitamins may not be well absorbed by your body, for example not everyone can readily convert beta-carotene (found in carrots, pumpkin and other orange coloured vegetables) into vitamin A. They may do better getting vitamin A from meat, as meat has vitamin A in a more easily absorbed form. Again this is a subject for you to discuss with your health professional. Eating a wide variety of good quality wholefoods is a good approach to getting the micro nutrients your body requires.

When considering the best diet for you and your family, ask:

  • What are the possible benefits of improving our eating habits?
  • Is there value in removing foods which are often poorly tolerated?
  • What is a practical first step we can take?
  • Is this a nutrient dense diet?
  • Does the balance of macro nutrients work for the family? (try and adjust)
  • Are the nutrients bio-available?

A certified health coach can be a valuable support in addressing these considerations, find more information here.

Recipes using wholefood ingredients will be added to the Activating Wellness website periodically. Subscribe to our mailing list to become part of the Activating Wellness community and receive email notification whenever new recipes are published.

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