By Colin DeMatteis
Food can be a reflection of culture. However, individual diets and food choices can also reflect personal choices, religious beliefs and even political leanings. Here is a list and description of just a few such diets.
The Standard American Diet: Abbreviated as S.A.D this is the stereotypical western diet. It is heavy in red meat, refined grains and sweet desserts. It is a high protein, high fat diet that has increasingly come under fire from doctors and medical professionals. There are no restrictions in this diet, but this diet has been known to contribute to obesity and other health problems. When dealing with this diet, it may be healthier to take these rich foods in moderation.
This diet, also called the “caveman diet,” focuses on what pre-agriculture hunter/gathers would have eaten. This means lots of meat, few carbohydrates, and mostly unprocessed foods. Salt, sugar, and other spices are excluded, as are most farmed vegetables. This diet is popular among body builders and anyone looking to bulk up, but it is recommended that anyone practicing this diet have at least a few carbohydrates.
Simply put, a diet that consists of all types of vegetables, fruits and grains and can include non-meat animal products such as milk, cheese and eggs. Due to the lack of meat, vegetarians often have issues getting enough protein. Animal protein contains all the amino acids necessary for the human body to function correctly. These proteins are broken down into their amino acids during digestion and used for repair and recovery of the body. However, it is possible to digest all the necessary amino acids with meat or soy products.
“Kosher” refers to Jewish dietary laws based in passages of the Torah. These laws restrict what animals can be eaten and dictate the manner in which they can be slaughtered. For instance, ruminate animals (animals that chew their cud) that also have cloven hooves can be kosher. If an animal has one or the other trait, it is not kosher. Fish must have scales and fins to be kosher, therefore shellfish and other sea creatures are not. Meat and dairy products are not to be served, eaten or stored together. Insects are also not considered kosher, There are also ritual methods to preparing the animal–it must be slaughtered by a trained individual in a manner to avoid unnecessary pain to the animal. However, there is controversy over this part of the process, as some critics argue that since the method of slaughter involves bleeding the animal to death, that it in fact causes more pain than other methods.
Also called zen macrobiotics, this diet focuses on unprocessed foods and slow eating. All food is to be chewed very well, especially grains and cereals. The diet consists mostly of rice, grains, vegetables and beans, but can also include seafood and fish. This diet places an emphasis on slow, methodical eating and discourages over-eating. There are some spiritual attachments with this diet, specifically a philosophy of moderation and balance often tied into the idea of ‘yin’ and ‘yang’–a balance of opposing forces. This diet focuses more on enjoying food as a way to influence happiness and health. Namely, macrobiotic foods is meant to contribute to balance and happiness when eaten thoughtfully.
Pescetarianism and pollotarianism are variations on vegetarianism, but they include one form of protein. Pescetarianism includes fish, while pollotarianism includes chicken. Both still reject red meat, but these diet have the added bonus of easier access to protein, and pescetarians have access to the Omega-3 Fatty acids found in fish, which help lower blood pressure among other health benefits. But, both vegetarian offshoots (and vegetarians) need to be wary of animal byproducts in other foods. For instance, some cheeses are made using the ingredient rennet. Rennet is a veal by-product derived from the stomach lining of a young calf; not necessarily a vegetarian-friendly ingredient.
A diet that denies all animal products, including meat, milk, eggs and any animal byproducts. Many people choose to adopt a vegan diet because they feel animal products are a form of cruelty, because they do not wish to endorse the commercial animal farming industries or for health reasons. Like vegetarians, vegans can have an issue getting enough protein, but tofu and soy products provide some protein. However, due to the complete lack of animal products many vegans also struggle to get enough calcium and vitamin D. Dietary supplements such as fortified soymilk help with this issue.
This diet, usually chosen specifically for health reasons, involves eating only uncooked, unprocessed organic foods. This can include meat, but any animal product requires special preparation to avoid toxicity. Additionally, the meat is usually from free-range sources. There is an additional danger with this diet: Many vegetables are poisonous when eaten raw and in large quantities. This includes otherwise benign foods such as kidney beans and alfalfa. Some on the raw food diet sometimes hold to the controversial belief that cooked food encourages health problems. However, many raw-foodists simply go on the diet to encourage weight loss.
This diet is restricted by geography rather than the type of food. Locavores eat only food grown in their local area–this helps endorse small businesses and local farmer’s markets. The definition of “local” depends on the person, but it can range from vegetables in a community garden to eggs from a local farm to milk or cattle from a nearby ranch (if there happens to be enough space). People choose this diet to help their local economy.