Alternative Eating Lifestyles

Sonya Balasubramanyam

It is not diet, it is a way of life.

The word ‘diet’ for most of us is not a happy one. It’s usually associated with thoughts of self-denial, unrequited cravings and tests of will power – all to achieve what we believe is our perfect weight or body size. In the last decade there has been a subtle and growing shift from the focus on ‘losing weight’ to ‘gaining health’.

Many alternative eating lifestyles have emerged, based on a variety of premises, each one with a different approach and emphasis. Take the Mediterranean Diet for instance. It is geared towards preventing heart disease by cutting down on cholesterol and triglycerides. The focus of this diet is on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, legumes, lean meat, fish and poultry. And of course, true to the origin of its name, it allows for the generous use of olive oil, instead of butter, and a lot more spices and herbs, instead of copious amounts of salt. It also allows for drinking wine, particularly red wine, in moderation.

A far more unusual, but very popular (particularly in the West) lifestyle choice is the Paleo or Caveman Diet. This is a diet that extols the virtues of what our ancestors, from over 10,000 years ago ate, and didn’t eat. Also known as the Stone Age Diet, it suggests that it is possible to lose weight and avoid a multitude of health problems, including cancer, heart disease and diabetes by sticking to this high-fiber and protein diet. This means lots of fruits, vegetables, fish and lean meats.  It also includes eggs, nuts and oils like olive and coconut. What it tells you to avoid are grains, legumes, dairy, salt, refined sugar and oils.

A diet that has been all the rage for a while is the Vegan Diet. This is one kind of vegetarian diet that excludes all kinds of meat, fish, eggs and dairy products. There are many reasons why people choose this diet. For some there are the moral implications of eating meat, for some others it is about the environment and, of course many consider this diet to have varied health benefits.

Another school of thought is that heating food destroys all its goodness, a belief upon which the Raw Diet came to be. As the name suggests, following this diet is all about avoiding cooked, processed and for many followers, non-organic food. This means lots of organic, raw fruits, vegetables, nuts and grains. Food can be warmed, but its temperature must not go above 47 degrees centigrade. The more adventurous who want to expand the food groups include unpasteurized dairy foods and even raw meat, fish and eggs.

For a lot of people, a particular diet sometimes is not a choice, but a necessity. An example being a Gluten-free Diet! Gluten is a kind of protein that is present in grains like wheat, barley, and rye. This protein is harmful to people who are allergic to gluten or suffer from celiac disease. To follow this diet one must avoid the three grains themselves and any other food that contains them.

There are many other diet plans floating around the food world. Choosing one carefully after weighing the pros and cons, your own health, and consulting a doctor or dietician is always the ideal way to approach a dietary lifestyle change.