The 10 Dietary Commandments
We simply cannot expect to reach our full health potential, until we’ve mastered these 10 basic dietary principles by applying them daily in our lives. Diet is not the only determinant of our health, but surely one of the most important cornerstones.
Primary – 3 Golden Rules
1. God-made vs Man-made
Unprocessed wholefood holds the promise of good health. As nature intended: unadulterated, unrefined – nothing taken away, changed or added – food in its most natural form. However, nothing is natural anymore! Most produce is hybridised if not genetically modified. Our soils are depleted of vital nutrients, produce is hydroponically grown and shipped around the world before it ends up on our plate and our animals are fattened in feedlots on refined grains. The advent of industrial food processing has without doubt had the most detrimental eﬀect on our health of any other factor in the last few hundred years—and possibly in the entire history of humankind.
The main culprits of our processed diets are refined sugars (and synthetic sweeteners), flour and fats. They are stripped of their nutritional value, and in effect depleting the body of vital nutrients in an attempt to metabolise them. They are chemically changed through processing, rendering them mostly toxic. In addition, synthetic chemical additives (e.g. colourants, flavourants and preservatives) are added to processed food, adding to the toxic load our bodies has to cope with on a daily basis.
As a rule of thumb, stick to foods that are as close to their natural state as possible! If the food comes out of a bottle, tin or box, and doesn’t look like the original food, don’t eat it! A vine-ripened organic apple, picked from the tree, is far better than apple juice, as is an organic tomato superior in nutritional value to tomato sauce or tinned tomatoes.
Wholefoods literally means the ‘whole food’. We should eat all the parts of a particular food. Most of the nutrients are contained within or underneath the peel or skin of produce. It is therefore better not to peel or skin fruit and vegetables, just give them a good scrub or opt for organic produce, which is pesticide-free.
2. Right Proportion
There are only these two basic rules we should apply to our diet: a) eating unprocessed wholefoods b) in the right proportion. With all the Nutritionism hype these days, we are still so fixated on the macro-nutrients - fats, carbohydrates and proteins - that we forget the relevance of the most essential micro-nutrients, i.e. enzymes, vitamins, antioxidants and minerals. By eating unprocessed food in a balanced manner, we’ll ensure that our body gets all the nutrients it needs to function optimally.
What does balanced proportions means? To me it makes perfect sense to eat according to body composition. A human cell is on average composed of 65 -70% water, 20% protein and 10% fat – it therefore makes perfect sense to align our dietary intake according to the same proportions – see figure 1.
Every meal should be balanced with 20% complex carbohydrates, 20% protein, 10% fats and oils and 50% of our plate should be salads and vegetables. The cells of complex carbohydrates (wholegrains and starchy vegetables), fruits, salads and leafy vegetables hold water, unlike protein, fats and oils. Proteins, fats and most starches and wholegrains are acid-forming, while all vegetables and most fruit are alkaline-forming in the body. To maintain health, we need balance. Therefore, if we eat balanced proportions according to fig 1, we’ll create perfect harmony between the acid and alkaline state in our system.
Examples of the food groups:
Fruits and Vegetables – 7 to 9 servings per day
Aim for a mix of colours, always including some dark leafy vegetables. Good examples are mixed berries, kiwis, apples, pears, papaya, pineapple, avocados, celery, kale, beetroot, carrot, cucumber, broccoli, spinach and cabbage. Limit fruit intake to two fruits per day.
Carbohydrates – 3 servings per day
Wholegrains (not boxed cereals!) such as brown rice, millet, buckwheat, pot barley, rye, rolled oats, sorghum, non-GMO corn and wholewheat. Root vegetables such as sweet potato, organic potato, turnips, swede, pumpkin or butternut are good complex carbohydrates.
Protein – 3 servings per day
Vegetable protein: beans, chickpeas, lentils, quinoa, seed vegetables (broccoli, green beans, corn or peas), seeds and nuts. Animal protein: fish, lean organic grass-fed meat or venison, Karoo lamb, free-range egg, free-range poultry, natural plain yoghurt, kefir or fresh cheese such as cottage, feta or mozzarella. Protein powders, such as whey, hempseed, rice and pea protein. I highly recommend at least 1 portion of animal protein daily in the diet.
Fats and oils – 1 to 2 servings essential fats
Essential fatty acids from oily fish or seeds and nuts. Use olive oil, macadamia nut or coconut oil for cooking and tahini or butter for spreading. Avocados could be enjoyed on a regular basis. Use unrefined oils, i.e. extra virgin olive oil, sesame seed oil, avocado oil, oil from nuts, flaxseed or hempseed oil in salads. Avoid fat-free or low-fat processed foods. The fat is usually replaced with sugar e.g. corn syrup. Natural unprocessed fat is essential to our health.
Other than oxygen, water is the most important nutrient – and neglected the most in our diets. Adults should consume 35 ml of purified or spring water per kg of body weight on a daily basis. For children the requirement is 60 ml per kg body weight and for infants 150 ml/kg. Start your day with hot water and a slice of lemon and/or fresh ginger. Herbal teas and freshly squeezed fruit juice or vegetable juice, diluted with water (1:1) will hydrate the system. Note that coffee, normal tea, alcohol, sugar-laden sodas and cool drinks will dehydrate and deplete the body of vital nutrients.
Secondary – 7 Key Dietary Interventions
We should daily strive to implement the 3 primary dietary rules, but if we can manage to also incorporate the following 7 key dietary interventions, we’ve come a long way investing in our health.
4. Quality vs Quantity
Quality is more important than quantity. The quality of the food we eat—and most importantly, the nutrients it contains—is what determines whether we simply survive, or thrive. When we’re eating high quality, nutrient-dense food, we are far more likely to eat the right quantity of food to maintain ideal body weight and optimum health.
- Organic, Local and Seasonal
We should strive to only consume foods that are in-season, local, certified organic and sustainable produce that's free of chemicals, pesticides, herbicides and GMOs. Pasture-raised animal products, wild-caught fish and produce grown in rich organic compost contains all the nutrients to sustain our health – unlike their conventional counterparts lining the supermarket shelves.
Buy fresh produce in quantities that can be consumed soon, the fresher the more nutrient-dense. Buying produce at local farmer’s markets, or even better, picking it from your backyard garden, are better options than buying conventional produce shipped from hundreds or thousands of miles away.
- Balance and Moderation
We should seek balance and moderation in everything we do – including our eating habits. If we eat three balanced nutrient-dense meals per day, we’ll be less inclined to snack the whole day on unhealthy food and drink. Start the day with a good hearty breakfast – it is the most important meal of the day. Only eat when feeling hungry, but do not skip meals. Even when combining ingredients or flavouring a dish, exercise balance and moderation to achieve harmony.
Apply the 80/20 eating rule: strive to include at least 80% nutrient-dense wholefoods in your diet and accept that 20% will be refined or processed food. Don’t focus on the 20%, focus on getting the 80% right!
- Elimination / Intolerances
If you are intolerant to any specific food, it would be important to completely cut it out of the diet for at least 6 weeks, and then re-introduce. If still having reactions, eliminate for another 6 months to a year from the diet. The two main culprits are usually gluten and/or dairy. If you are intolerant to any specific food and continue eating it, it can create havoc with your health. Nevertheless, a gluten-free diet is not synonymous with good health. Gluten-free products are usually very refined and snacking the whole day on gluten-free biscuits is not health-promoting.
We easily become stuck in a food rut and only eat certain food consistently. We tend to opt for food that is affordable, desirable and easily accessible. It is very important to have a variety in our daily diet to ensure a broad spectrum of nutrients. We should include a variety of wholegrains, different beans, pulses, fresh sprouts, animal and dairy products, fermented foods, nuts and seeds and a rainbow of colours when it comes to fruits and vegetables.
6. Raw vs Cooked
Make sure to enjoy a good balance between raw and cooked food in the diet. While raw food might contain more live enzymes and certain vitamins, such as vitamin C, other nutrients require gentle cooking to make them available for absorption. To retain and unlock the most nutrients, lightly steam or blanch vegetables to the point that they turn into a beautiful, vivid colour. Steam or blanch vegetables in as little water as possible, do not overcook, and use the cooking juices and water in soups and stews. Steaming or blanching will lead to a greater percentage antioxidant activity in foods such as carrots, tomatoes, green pepper, cabbage, and asparagus, to name a few. However, do not use a microwave oven or high temperatures. As a general rule of thumb, 50% of the diet should be raw and 50% cooked. Also combine raw and cooked in the same meal: add some sprouts and fresh herbs to soups or a big handful of fresh coriander to Chilli con carne.
7. Fermented Foods
Hippocrates rightly believed that “all disease begins in the gut”. To maintain gut health, it is very important to include fermented food daily in the diet, such as sauerkraut, fermented vegetables and olives, kefir, natural ‘live cultured’ yoghurt, kimchi, beet kvass and other natural fermented beverages. These foods provide beneficial organisms to the gut that are called “probiotics”, since the ancient Greeks believed they were “for life”.
8. Spice it Up
We tend to forget that herbs and spices are superfoods, supplying very important nutrients and medicinal properties. Use fresh herbs and non-irradiated spices liberally in your cooking. The antioxidant content of oregano is 4 times higher than that of blueberries. Grill meat with spices such as turmeric and rosemary, which are very protective against the formation of cancer-causing chemicals, induced by high temperatures. Garlic, ginger, cinnamon, chilli, cayenne pepper, lemons and black pepper should all be used generously to flavour food.
Avoid MSG (monosodium glutamate), artificial sweeteners, flavourants, colourants and refined table salt. Substitute with herbal salt (e.g. Herbamare or Trocamare), celery salt, desert salt, sea salt or powdered kelp.
I’m amazed at how many people claim to follow a healthy diet, but rely on stimulants, such as coffee, tea, smoking and alcohol to see them through the day. These stimulants, including drugs and medications, are short-term fixes, causing long-term nutritional deficiencies and poor health. They will deplete the body’s stock of vitamins A, B’s and C, magnesium, zinc and essential fatty acids. Avoid over the counter “quick cures”, especially for headaches, colds and flu. They are merely masking the symptoms and only add to the toxic load in your body. All synthetic chemical additives added to food will also increase toxicity, placing more stress on the liver. Many are carcinogenic (cancer-causing) and they, along with stimulants, deplete vital nutrients from your system. There is no place nor need for these stimulants in a wholefood diet.
10. Love as ingredient
Only when food is cooked and eaten with positive energy and love, can it truly nourish and heal our bodies and souls. If you put love and time into your cooking you will give love to yourself and others. When you truly love yourself, you treat yourself with love and are drawn to food that's wholesome and good for you and the environment.
- Eat with peace and calm
An important eating practice for good health and longevity is to eat with peace, calm and joy. It's important not to rush meal times and to chew food properly. When we rush our eating it interrupts the harmony, flow of energy and time needed to enjoy and digest a meal. It is important to sit down as a family around the dinner table to eat and not to eat in a rush, in front of the TV or on the go.
- Faith and gratitude
We can achieve anything if we have faith and gratitude. Any experience and time spent in the kitchen won't be fruitful unless we have faith in what we cook. By letting go of our fears, anxiety or any controlling habits around food, cooking and eating will become more joyful and therefore nourishing.
- Mindful eating
Be present and mindful of what you're buying, cooking and eating. When you connect with your inner self it will guide you better as to what to eat and when to eat. You'll no longer feel guilty about eating certain foods nor deprive yourself of the occasional treat. Appreciate that your body is a temple and should be treated as such. Our decisions today pave the way and determine our health tomorrow.
Once we've managed to adhere to these Ten Dietary Commandments and the Ten Health Commandments, we can expect true health and vitality!