The Ultimate Guide to Your Best Diet – Part 1


What Should We Be Eating?

Originally published in Jejune Magazine


Eating is an essential process many differentiated organisms must partake in in order to survive. For humans, eating has evolved from a necessary survival instinct to something to take pleasure in and enjoy in social settings. It has become so centrally integrated into our societies, that many social, work, personal and religious functions revolve around meals. Similarly, much of our day revolves around planning, thinking about, setting up for, and inevitably cleaning up after the proverbial meal. Many people today depend on a fixed eating schedule, and are using food as a distraction from the rest of the monotony of the day. Others still are obsessed with longevity and proper intake of the healthiest diet, suffering in turn from various degrees of orthorexia. In fact, I daresay this vital function has become not just a nourishing habit, but a source of anguish and anxiety for much of the developed countries in the world. How, then, can we eat to live, and not live to eat?

The simple act of eating really does touch on many psychological, genetic and social ideas and traditions. It’s difficult to differentiate and dissect all of them to figure out the “proper” relationship one “should” have with food. Why do some people gain more weight than others when eating the exact same foods? Why is much of the developed world in danger of obesity? Why is there also an epidemic of an opposite, extreme compulsion about calories that results in anorexia and bulimia? Why do so many diet theories and dogmas exist? Which way of eating is the best? Which diet is healthy? On an individual level? On an environmental and ecological level? All of these questions highlight just how complex the concept of eating has become. I wish I had exact answers for each of them, but I don’t think anyone can definitively claim to. What I can do, instead, is to share what I do know from my background and experience in science and integrative nutrition.



Best diet for the planet


Because of the environmental impact and greenhouse effect of large-scale farming, as well as transporting goods to all corners of the Earth, this is a very loaded question. The simple answer is that locally grown and sourced ecologically “clean” ingredients, freshly prepared and eaten in according to its season, is the best for both our health and the environment. The bottom line is the less animal products we consume, the less of a carbon footprint we leave.

While vegans have been active proponents of going green for the benefit of the planet, there is now a new movement for regenerative agriculture. The main purpose is to not only stop contributing to climate change, but to reverse it and improve the soil for farming and harvesting. Twelve-time NY-Times bestseller author and functional medicine Medical Doctor Mark Hyman is a proponent of this system in his new book, Food Fix. Some of the features of regenerative agriculture are to incorporate organic farming practices such as no-till seeding, crop rotation, composting, pasture cropping, and multi-species animal grazing. The fossil fuel usage is reduced, while the food production maintains the same success, without use of hormones or antibiotics. Incorporating animals helps sequester carbon and fertilize the soil, to take the process full cycle.

Best Diet For You

The reality is that it’s difficult to accept this simple truth about fixing our food supply, for a myriad of reasons. Cultural societal norms, familial values and beliefs, education, finances, accessibility and personal health issues all contribute to our reluctance to change our dietary habits. The best advice I’ve come across is simply this: “Eat food, mostly plants, and not too much,” by author Michael Pollan.

Some people, in some stages of life, will benefit from certain types of diets that will make them feel great. Paleo, vegetarian, raw vegan, gluten-free or Weston-Price diets may be appropriate for certain individuals, for certain periods of time. Some key nutrients (vitamin B12, folate and omega-3 fatty acids)  are only available to us from animal sources, so it may be prudent to consider these sources for people who are pregnant and breastfeeding, or otherwise malnourished. While good sources of the nutrients mentioned are eggs and meats, folate is abundant in leafy greens and fortified grains, while nutritional yeast contains a form of vitamin B12. Nuts and seeds contain precursors to omega-3, called alpha-linolenic acids (ALAs). However, conversion to usable forms of omega-3 in the body is only about 5% of total ALA, so a plant-based diet should be geared to provide high sources of ALA-rich foods. Another option is to supplement plant-based diets with high-quality vitamins/minerals containing adequate sources of these particular nutrients.

Each of us must make personal decisions when it comes to what’s best for our individual health as well as that of generations to come. With that said, we can no longer close our eyes to the global issues affecting all of us. Information is seeping in via all types of media on a daily basis, and we must all take a stand. Can we continue to be selfish or should we try to make some pragmatic changes, starting from what we put on our plates?

Perhaps it’s not a simple overnight decision that can be taken lightly, but we certainly can make plenty of choices for the sake of our collective future. If animal consumption is truly necessary or important to your health, there are plenty of adjustments that will offset the overall ecological burden. For example, eating vegan or vegetarian several days a week can make a great difference.

In addition, the animal products you do choose to consume can come from more local areas, where the animals they come from are treated in a more humane way. I would recommend going to local farmers’ markets and establishing relationships with the individual farmers (see schedule of NYC farmers’ markets here). You may even visit the farms and see how things are done around there. This can also work for your fruit and vegetable needs, so you can get all your shopping done locally and seasonally in one shot. Another, less time-consuming, option for big-city dwellers is to sign up for Crop Share Alliances, or CSAs. You can invest a certain amount of money into a group of farms, and reap the benefits of the produce and/or animal products available on a weekly or biweekly basis, according to the plan tier you sign up for (usually by picking up from a local drop-off spot). For big metropolises like NYC, there are other companies that will deliver goods from local farms straight to your door, either on a regular basis or as individual orders (for example: Rustic Roots Delivery and Imperfect Foods).

For seafood and sea vegetables, sourcing and sustainability is also very important. Our oceans are polluted, and factory farming doesn’t benefit ecology nor anyone’s health. Certain “clean” companies stand by wild-caught fish, such as Vital Choice and Wild Planet.

Even if none of these options are feasible for your family or budget, opting to buy organic will go a long way to supporting the markets and produce of the future. This is important in maintaining the health and fertility of our soil, and limiting our exposure to GMOs and pesticides. Shopping organic is especially important for the “Dirty Dozen” list of foods, while the foods on the “Clean Fifteen” list tend to be the ones with the least amount of pesticides (see 2019 list here).

Perhaps the biggest challenge to overcome when faced with expert opinions and dietary theories is the limiting belief that our individual choices and diets won’t make a difference in the long run. If we view each of our choices as a drop in a huge bucket, it can seem overwhelming. But make no mistake, each of those drops can combine to make a mighty ocean that overflows out of the bucket, and replenishes our collective waters. This is beautifully illustrated by Nelson Henderson’s quote, “The true meaning of life is to plant trees under whose shade you never expect to sit.” Chew on that the next time you sit down for a meal, and bon appetit to all!


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