What does a “healthy diet” look like?
I don’t mean a short term diet to accomplish a goal like losing weight. I mean the everyday ins and outs of what you eat on a regular basis.
Is it possible to continue to eat healthfully as a way of life? And does the Christian faith have any impact on how we eat?
People have a lot of opinions on what “healthy diet” means
I’ve spent a lot of time over the years thinking about and experimenting with diet–from brief stints with the “Standard American Diet” to keto to Paleo to vegetarian and everything in between.
I knew diet was important–and perhaps one of the most foundational parts of health.
Maybe you’ve heard that health starts in the gut. Our bodies are created with an amazing capability for self-healing, but if we’re not providing them with the building blocks they need to heal themselves, their capabilities are going to be greatly diminished.
But it was hard to know which was the best or “right” diet. I ate gluten free for a long time because I knew I got stomachaches and general digestive discomfort when I ate too much wheat.
There are health “experts” who claim that all gluten is bad for everyone, and it certainly does seem to come with some detrimental effects. But what about the fact that Jesus calls himself the “bread of life”? Surely something that has provided the backbone of so many diets through the centuries couldn’t be inherently bad.
And there were aspects of Paleo that made sense to me. I’ve done the Whole30 a couple times and went full Autoimmune Paleo Protocol when I found out my body was making thyroid antibodies. But as a creationist, I reject the premise that this was how the first humans ate hundreds of thousands of years ago.
Vegetarianism was appealing because it was more cost effective, and I knew humans were vegetarians when they were first created. But why did God tell Noah and his family they could eat meat after the flood? And why did I never feel fully satisfied without animal products?
What, actually, is a healthy diet?
It seemed something was missing.
On multiple occasions my mom (who is a naturopath) told me I should look into the Weston A. Price Foundation. It didn’t make sense to me at first, but as I looked into it in a little more detail, I realized it held the answers for me.
Weston A. Price’s principles aren’t a diet, per se. They can fit into a range of food choices and what works for you personally. But it is a framework for choosing the best options for optimal health.
Although we’re not perfect, these are the dietary principles I strive to implement in my home–for my own health and the health of my husband and children.
About Weston A. Price
Weston A. Price was an American dentist in the 1930s who noticed increased dental issues in his patients (especially children) and suspected nutrition deficiencies may be to blame.
He and his wife set out to research the traditional diets of people groups around the world, and they noticed some interesting similarities.
First, the people who followed their cultures’ traditional diets tended to be healthier and have no dental issues. But when they switched to more modern “convenience” foods, their health quickly declined.
He was able to make side-by-side comparisons within people groups where some families had switched to modern food processing and others had retained their traditional diet. And he saw drastic effects even within the first generation to shift away from traditional foods.
Second, he compiled a list of dietary similarities that were consistent across all the cultures he studied.
How to Make the Shift to a Healthy Diet
Before we get into the principles themselves, I want to talk for a minute about how to actually start eating in a way that is better for you and your family.
I believe that specific diets can be helpful for short periods of time for specific reasons (for example the Whole30 is a fantastic reset, and I did the Autoimmune Paleo Protocol when I first discovered I had early signs of Hashimoto’s).
But I always come back to a more balanced way of eating, very similar to the Facebook post I’ve screenshotted here. This philosophy works for making the transition to healthier eating, and it also works as a longterm philosophy of eating.
It has served me well; I am at a healthy weight and have not held onto any extra weight from my pregnancies.
In my own words:
- Eat regularly, every 3-4 hours.
- Buy whole foods and make other foods from scratch whenever possible.
- Make your meals before you get too hungry.
- Make incremental changes as you are ready and able. Don’t try to force it.
- Make a date with yourself to do your grocery shopping and stick to it.
- Don’t take unhealthy foods home and you won’t eat them.
- Eat until you’re satisfied; no more and no less.
- Drink plenty of water, preferably half your body weight in ounces.
- Healthy food is delicious! But don’t be orthorexic–so obsessed with the “right” way to eat that you’re afraid to be flexible. Keeping our bodies healthy is important, but it should not become an idol.
Weston A. Price Principles for a Healthy Diet
Now let’s get into the specific principles of a healthy diet. The following are the principles developed by Weston A. Price himself and the Weston A. Price Foundation, which has continued his research.
Want to keep these principles in an easy-to-see place so you can keep them top of mind? For a pretty printable version, check out the Pioneerish Kitchen module in my free Pioneerish Micro Homestead Toolkit.
1. No Refined or Denatured Foods.
This is the one that I personally find the most challenging. In our busy lives, quick and easy food on the go can be so tempting. I am constantly working to improve on this one, and it requires forethought and planning to make sure you have healthy choices on hand.
At its core, this tenet means no refined sugar or high fructose corn syrup, white flour, pasteurized or reduced-fat milk, refined vegetable oils, or artificial additives.
2. Include Animal Foods.
While the Weston A. Price principles can work with a vegetarian diet (provided you’re taking measures to supplement with any missing nutrients that you’d usually get from animal products), none of the traditional cultures Dr. Price studied were completely vegan.
I struggled with this one for a little while. Why, if we were created as vegetarian, would we need animal products for optimal health? Then my husband starting doing some research into genetics and genetic entropy and learned some interesting theories about the effects of the reduction of the gene pool to just Noah and his family.
Our best guess is that God probably allowed humans to eat animals after the flood for two reasons: First, plant composition likely changed so that they no longer offered human bodies all the nutrients they needed. And second, the human genome was probably no longer able to efficiently extract all its nutrients from plants.
Hence God’s words to Noah that humans could now eat meat.
It’s also worth noting that traditional cultures use the whole animal–what some people refer to as “nose to tail.” That includes fat and organ meats, which are important sources of necessary nutrients.
3. Focus on Nutrient-Dense Foods.
The diets of traditional cultures are much more nutrient dense than that of the average American, including four to ten times the amounts of minerals and both water-soluble and fat-soluble vitamins.
4. Eat a Mix of Raw and Cooked Foods.
All traditional cultures cooked some foods and ate some portion of their animal products raw.
5. Eat Plenty of Fermented Foods.
Remember what we said about health starting in the gut? Much of your gut health comes from beneficial bacteria, and fermented food is an excellent source. Vegetables, fruits, dairy, and meat can all be fermented.
6. Soak, Sprout, or Ferment Seeds, Grains, and Nuts.
Have you ever heard that some people who can’t tolerate gluten have no issues with sourdough? That’s because grains, seeds, and nuts contain anti-nutrients that the human body can’t digest.
I find it very interesting that many foods excluded on the Autoimmune Paleo Protocol (AIP) for healing your body of autoimmune diseases are foods that, in their natural state, truly can be harmful to the human body.
Soaking, sprouting, and fermenting these foods counteracts the anti-nutrients and unlocks the nutrients so our bodies can digest them.
7. Focus on Healthy Fats.
The amount of fat you eat can vary based on what feels best for your individual body and genetic makeup. But the majority of the fats you consume should be saturated and monounsaturated fatty acids.
8. Balance Your Omegas.
Traditional diets create an almost 50/50 split between Omega-6 and Omega-3 fatty acids. Conversely, the vegetable oils prevalent in the Standard American Diet are extremely high in Omega 6 fatty acids. This Omega imbalance compromises health in a variety of ways.
9. Salt to Taste.
Real salt is good for you, and all traditional diets use it. Just make sure it’s real salt and not hyper-processed!
10. Use the Bones.
The easiest (and most common) way to use the bones is with nutritious, gut-healing, health-boosting bone broth.
11. Prepare for Pregnancy.
Traditional cultures focus on the health of childbearing couples–both male and female. They recognized that nutrient-rich foods and appropriate child spacing ensured the health of the next generation.
Traditional Cultures Teach Us What Constitutes a Healthy Diet
Sometimes it can be hard to sort through all the noise our information-saturated world throws at us. But it’s clear that the Standard American Diet isn’t doing us any favors.
When we look to the way traditional cultures have eaten over the ages, we find a way of eating that leads to optimal health and preserves future generation.
Not a “diet” in the short-term sense of the word, it is a sustainable template that you can apply to whatever your personal goals and preferences.
For more on healthy, natural living and for a printable list of these principles that you can put up somewhere you’ll remember them, go to the Pioneerish Kitchen module of the free Pioneerish Micro Homestead Toolkit.