Before you change your diet, you need to think why you are doing it.
Are you aiming at aching less, having more energy, recovering from an infection, or being fit before trying to have a baby?
Are you aiming at a healthy long life?
Do you want to lose weight and maintain a lower weight, or are you aiming at a quick weight loss, in time for a wedding, ballet audition, or sporting event?
Are you someone who takes up more than a fair share of the bus seat, or are you a stick insect, who lacks the fat reserve to deal with a bad infection?
How you choose your diet must depend on what you are trying to achieve.
How many factors?
The diet you choose may have just one factor, like just having less calories, or just less carbohydrate. It may be more complex. There is an American diet, called the 5 factor diet.
The 5 factor advises having some protein. Well yes. Protein is essential for life. We need it to build muscle, and make enzymes and hormones. Every cell needs protein and fat, as that is what the membrane around it is made of.
The second factor is to have complex carbohydrates, which means eat starch.
Starch is better than sugar for two reasons. It breaks down to glucose, whereas cane or beet sugar and milk sugar break down to the nastier sugars, fructose and galactose.
Also starch takes time to break down, giving out a steady supply of energy over a longer period of time, while sugar gives a quick spike of sugar, followed by hunger.
Also, when blood glucose rises, it turns off hunger. Blood fructose and blood galactose do not turn off the desire for food.
The third suggested factor in the 5 factor diet is to have fibre. It was discovered in Uganda that people who ate lots of cooked green bananas did not suffer from the gut problems that are so common in the West.
Unfortunately, advice in Western countries was to obtain fibre from wholemeal bread, whole grain cereals, and bran. Some people can tolerate this, but in many people the lectins in these foods lead to irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia or arthritis.
In a few, they may lead to something worse, like auto-immune kidney disease. Do have lots of vegetables, as they contain fibre, vitamins and minerals, mostly without the sugar which is an issue in fruit. Do have plenty of nuts and seeds, preferably avoiding the lectins in the skins.
Golden linseeds, cooked cashew nuts, white almonds, pale sesame seeds and macadamia nuts, provide fibre, with less lectin than brown almonds, and other nuts with a lot of skin. Cashews need to be cooked, to remove a harmful chemical.
The diet suggests having healthy fat. There are two essential fats, omega three from fish and flax, and omega six from nuts and seeds. They need to be kept in balance.
Many people have mainly omega six fats, which lead to inflammation. However, we do need some omega six for our skin and for immunity. Ideally we have both fish and flax, the first for protecting against too much inflammation, and the second for protecting against cancer.
If you don’t like eating fish or flax, the oils are available. Runny oils are easily damaged by heat. So don’t fry them. Flax and fish are more vulnerable to heat than sunflower oil. So cook fish gently, and don’t cook flax oil at all. Keep flax in the fridge.
There is a third category of important fats, the saturated fats, coconut oil and butter. These are important for keeping the gut healthy, so that the holes in it are small, and do not allow undigested food to leak through into the bloodstream.
I suggest avoiding peanut oil, otherwise known as groundnut oil, as it may contain traces of aflatoxin, a cancer producing substance in mouldy peanuts.
Clearly those with severe peanut allergy will be wary of foods containing peanut oil, for fear of anaphylaxis. Peanut oil is also suspected of contributing to heart disease.
No sugary drinks
The fifth factor is to avoid sugary drinks. This may be good or bad, depending on how you do it. Yes, sugar should be avoided, whether you want to lose weight, maintain a healthy weight, avoid irritable bowel syndrome, or prevent heart disease and cancer.
However, artificial sweeteners are worse, and there is evidence that they may lead to hyperactivity, attention deficit, weight gain, migraine, and even deadly diseases like motor neurone disease and multiple sclerosis.
Coffee, tea and cocoa contain caffeine, which leads to a sugar spike, followed by low blood sugar, which may lead to weight gain.
Healthy drinks include filtered water, peppermint tea, rosehip and hibiscus tea, rooibos tea, otherwise known as redbush tea, and real dandelion coffee, but not the instant version, which contains milk sugar.
It is easy to make passion fruit or granadilla juice at home.
Cut the fruits into half, scoop the contents into a sieve. Pour water through, and stir. The juice is neither bitter nor sweet.
No packaged foods
There is a sixth suggestion, which is to avoid packaged foods.
These mostly contain artificial preservatives, colourings, sweeteners, flavourings and other additives. There is evidence of cancer, heart disease and ulcerative colitis from some additives.
It makes sense to keep to foods our great grandmothers ate. They may not be perfect, but we are more likely to know the dangers in foods that have been consumed for a long time.
Another suggestion is exercise. I suggest exercise that you enjoy, in good company, and in the sunshine when it is available. If you enjoy exercise, you are more likely to keep it up. Indoor air is often polluted.
Try to exercise away from roads and factories, to avoid pollution. If possible, go where there is beautiful scenery to raise your spirits.
In Northern countries, many people are vitamin D deficient, which makes them more susceptible to allergy, asthma, heart disease, cancer, auto-immune diseases like multiple sclerosis, and diabetes.
Use of sunscreen has contributed to this. Allow your skin to brown gently through the summer, but avoid burning, or sudden exposure to excessive sun.
My 5 factor diet
I suggest a slightly different five factor diet, aiming at long-term health, with a likely side effect of normalising body weight.
Avoid sugars. Eat vegetables rather than fruit. Eat hard cheese, which has had the sugar pressed out of it, rather than, milk, soft cheese or yoghurt. Hard cheese will give you the calcium you need, together with vitamin K2, which sends calcium to the bones where it is needed, and not to the arteries, where it is dangerous.
Eat fish, but avoid fish like tuna, that are more likely to be contaminated by mercury or other nasty chemicals. Have flax or flax oil. Cook with coconut oil or butter. Have nuts, preferably without skins.
Just don’t have additives. Eat real fresh food, as has been done for thousands of years. It doesn’t have to take long to make.
We all need fibre, but avoid having bran, and a lot of whole grains and pulses. Eat lentils without skins, like the common red ones. If you can buy green bananas, have them boiled and mashed as a change from bread or potatoes. White sourdough bread is the easiest to tolerate.
Don’t be afraid of eggs. There is no evidence that eating cholesterol is any risk to your health. It is only an issue, when oxidised, like dried egg powder used in some processed food. Eggs contain a yellow substance that protects your eyes.
Yes, in addition to these five dietary factors, do find a congenial, sociable, form of exercise in unpolluted air and sunshine.