How about all three?
For most people, the conventional way of eating is a grain-based breakfast of bread, cereal and perhaps dairy or fruit, lunch wherever we can get it, often laced with a lot of salt and condiments, and a big meal at night.
Sometimes that meal includes a balance of meat, vegetables and carbs. Other times it’s whatever the local restaurants will deliver, or you can bring home in a brown bag.
People can thrive on this diet, provided that they make good choices within each category, and in fact, it’s memorialized in the USDA “Food Pyramid,” which looks something like this picture.
Lately, there’s been a caveman fad, also known as Paleo—a very big trend these days, with a dozen cookbooks launched every month. Paleo advocates a diet based on animal protein but no dairy, plenty of fruits and vegetables, and the elimination of gluten—another big trend. Paleo has fervent followers, none more so than the many people who have found they can’t digest wheat gluten or some of the components of milk.
Other popular dietary fads come and go: high-protein, high-carb, low-carb, raw food, vegan, Macrobiotic, South Beach. They all have their merits and their adherents, and they all suffer from their own uncompromising stances. The fervor they require simply works against them for most of us. To fit a strict regimen into our lives is like making a New Year’s Resolution. It feels good, but doesn’t last long. Meanwhile, we get fatter and tired-er, and when we have chronic digestive difficulties, we assume that’s just how it is.
One of the most sensible sets of principles for eating is probably Michael Pollan. In his book Food Rules, he wrote “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Which means, more or less, eat the best quality food you can get, without too much processing.. Don’t overdo the quantity. Keep the proportions balanced. Now, that sounds good, and it sounds like what the conventional food pyramid indended to say, but doesn’t.
It will probably be a long time before our scientists get to the bottom of what we should eat to make our little digestive engines purr. Until then, why not be your own scientist and try an approach that looks radical, but really isn’t. Why not turn the food pyramid upside down? Here’s a picture of what that looks like.
• When you pick from the protein category, or even dairy, you won’t have to worry about limiting the fat content, or the fat you cook with, because the bulk of your meals is vegetables.
• When you greatly reduce the grains like bread, cereal, rice, pasta, and pastry, you eliminate a major source of digestive difficulties. You also automatically reduce processed foods that have who-knows-what in them.
• It’s amazing how prevalent grains are in our diet, and equally amazing how much of protein and vegetables, nuts and fruits you can eat if you stay mostly away from those grain-based calories. Get a diet tracker, maybe an app for your computer or phone, and keep track of your calories for a while to see how dramatic this is.
• A nice side effect is that you may save money even if you buy high-quality meats, fish and veggies, because chances are it’s the processed food and breads that fill up your grocery cart and empty your budget.
• The best part of all is that eating this way is so easy, because you are working with simple ingredients for the most part. Grilling a pork chop or chicken breast or hamburger, and steaming or sautéing a vegetable or two in olive oil is as simple as it gets, and takes less time than ordering out. Even the grocery shopping is easy.
Try it yourself for a few weeks and see if your waistband gets a little looser or your step gets a little lighter. Breakfast? Eggs, not toast. Lunch? Salad with everything you can think of on it, but skip the chips and bread. Dinner? The classic meat and two veg, of course—and go ahead, eat all you want.