Lately, we’ve been feeling a bit confused about which diet is best for our health, and by “diet,” we don’t mean a method for losing weight but rather the composition of the foods we eat regularly (e.g., vegan, Paleo, etc.). All have specific benefits—especially when compared to our current method, which we call the “trash compactor,” as it basically entails eating whatever’s put in front of us with no restrictions—and ethos which define them. But how do we know which is right for us? We spoke to leading chefs in each of the following fields—sustainable, vegan, Paleo, raw, local and Ayurvedic—to get the skinny on the benefits of each, simple ways to transition and delicious recipes you can easily execute at home.
Want to sample these diets firsthand to figure out which one fits you best? Organic Life and Wanderlust Hollywood are offering you the opportunity to do just that via their Find Your True Fork dinner series. Learn more here and grab the Find Your True Fork book here.
Find Your True Fork
Sustainable: Chef Anya Fernald
Anya Fernald is the co-founder and CEO of Belcampo Inc. and author of Home Cooked. She's been recognized by publications such as Food & Wine and the NYT and has served as a regular judge on Iron Chef.
"Eating in a sustainable way is really about you taking control of your own health and your impact on the environment. When you maintain a sustainable diet, you're making the decision to seek out and buy sustainably raised foods that are free of pesticides, chemicals or additives, which ultimately harm your body and the environment. When you eliminate these toxins from your body, you begin to feel better and you help to reduce your risk of disease in the future. Plus, when you eat sustainably raised food, they just downright taste better!"
"It's all a matter of how you feel. The food you eat should make you feel good, mentally and physically. You'll know it's right for you when you begin to feel your best every day. It's interesting. You don't hear people say, 'I grew up eating really healthy food, and then I discovered fast food, and man, I never went back.' That doesn't happen. It's all the other way. Choosing to eat in a sustainable way is a fundamental shift. But when you make that shift, it actually will make you feel so much better."
"Read labels and educate yourself on your food providers. Shopping at local farmer's markets is a great way to go. There, you can ask questions, learn more about the farmers' stories and better understand how they produce their foods. It's also a great way to obtain tips and new ideas on how to use local, organic and sustainably raised products in inventive ways. At Belcampo, we encourage customers to do the same when they shop with us at our butcher shops or eat in our restaurants. Ask us about how our meat is raised and processed. We love to share the Belcampo story and help educate customers. This is also one of the reasons why we created Belcampo Meat Camp. There's nothing better than inviting customers to our farm and giving them a firsthand look at our approach."
Sustainable Recipe: Pink Pickled Eggs
Recipe author: Anya Fernald
Vegan: Chef Jason Wrobel
Jason Wrobel is the host of How to Live to 100, The J-Wro Show and Simple Vegan Classics as well as the author of Eaternity. Additionally, he was the first vegan chef to present at the Pebble Beach Food & Wine Festival and the winner of the inaugural World's Best Raw Ice Cream competition.
"The main benefits of a vegan diet include getting a higher level of alkaline ingredients into your body, which helps to stave off potential diseases. Also, vegan foods contain high levels of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, phytonutrients, protein and essential fatty acids. You can enjoy a healthy, balanced lifestyle eating a vegan diet, so long as you consume a balanced diet. There's also the satisfaction of knowing that you are treading lightly on the earth, reducing your carbon footprint and extending compassion to animals. I like to think of it as a win-win-win."
"I always recommend transitioning from a standard American diet to eating more plant-based foods gradually. It allows your body a chance to detox gradually and adjust to a higher level of nutritional density and fiber from plant foods. I also recommend getting your blood work done to check your nutrient levels. For the vast majority of the human population, they can thrive on a vegan diet. I'm 20 years deep and feel incredible at age 40. So, how do you know if it's 'right' for you? Pay attention to your mental clarity, energy levels and stamina and make sure you eat a balanced, nutrient-dense diet. There is no lack of proper nutrition on a vegan diet, so long as you do it correctly and be mindful of your food intake."
"I know a lot of people who do Meatless Monday or even vegan every other day. I think conscious substitution is a great way to make incorporating vegan foods easier. For example, instead of beef in your recipes, you can use seitan. Instead of chicken, you can use tempeh. There are also some insanely delicious vegan cheeses and milks on the market. It's best to start adding more plant-based foods gradually so your palate and body can adjust. The good news is that it's never been easier to eat a healthy, plant-based diet. The foods, resources and research available are astounding!"
Vegan Recipe: Matcha Lattes
Recipe author: Jason Wrobel
Paleo: Chef Seamus Mullen
Seamus Mullen was named Time Out's Best Chef and has been a semi-finalist for The James Beard Foundation's Best Chef NYC award three times. In 2009, he was a finalist on The Next Iron Chef and often serves as a guest judge on other Food Network shows. He is also the author of Hero Food and Real Food Heals: Eat to Feel Younger + Stronger Every Day, which releases this August.
"The point of the Paleo diet is not to eat a ton of meat but to eat as closely to what our ancestors ate and, in particular, eliminating the refined and industrial foods that are more often than not at the heart of many of our ailments. This follows the idea that it's important to eat seasonally and close to the source and to avoid processed foods, refined sugars and simple carbs."
"If you have any issues with inflammation, tend to get sick frequently, would like to lose some weight, would like to increase endurance or just generally want to feel great, you're the perfect candidate for a Paleo diet."
"Replace potatoes with sweet potatoes; replace canola oil with coconut oil, olive oil or lard; replace pasta with seaweed. Eat more eggs and avocados for good fat, and reduce the amount of fruit you eat."
Paleo Recipe: Paleo Salad With Hazelnuts
Recipe author: Seamus Mullen
Raw: Chef Matthew Kenney
Matthew Kenney has been named one of America's Best New Chefs by Food & Wine and was twice nominated as a Rising Star Chef in America by the James Beard Foundation. He operates culinary academies in Venice, California; Belfast, Maine; and Miami in addition to an online academy.
"There are too many benefits to name, although increased energy, improved digestion and an overall sense of well-being are the first things you'll notice."
"I believe everyone can benefit from incorporating more raw foods into their diet. The best way to find out is to simply spend an entire day, week or month on a raw diet and take note of the results."
"Keep it simple—don't try to have all gourmet foods. Instead, focus on minimally processed, seasonal, high-quality ingredients. Start by having an avocado or a handful of nuts instead of bread, or stay with raw greens in place of cooked. It's easy: Just don't cook!"
Raw Recipe: Milk Chocolate Pudding
Recipe author: Matthew Kenney
Local: Chef Kevin Callaghan
Kevin is the founder of Acme Food & Beverage Co., which has been featured in Bon Appetit, The New York Times and more, and he recently opened a second restaurant. He is also the executive chef of The Wanderlust festivals.
"I strongly believe that supporting local farms creates a stronger, more stable farming community where you live. The less reliant we are on agribusiness, the more likely we will have a lasting and vital connection to the food we eat. Eating locally allows you to eat within the rhythms of the season. In North Carolina, where I'm from, there are very real changes season to season that have a large impact on what's on our plates and the flavors that speak to each distinct time of year. A local diet also forces you to interact with local farmers, so you are forced to understand the people who are growing the food you eat, providing you with a deep and lasting sense of place—something I find sorely missing in today's transient culture."
"Eating locally requires commitment. But the benefits are real and lasting. Believe me—I made the commitment over 20 years ago and never once regretted it. If you're up to it, these are things that are required: a farmer's market close to where you live so it's worth your time to go there twice a week, a love for cooking and variety, a need to break out of the pizza and Chinese takeout way of life and a strong desire to be connected to your community in a sincere and unaffiliated way."
"You could join a CSA program with a local farmer, incorporate going to farmer's markets into your weekly schedule or, if you're lucky enough to have a local co-op or farm stand that sells local produce, make that your first stop. Be willing to try new things, and don't be afraid to ask farmers questions!"
Local Recipe: Classic Cast-Iron Cornbread
Recipe author: Kevin Callaghan
Ayurvedic: Meredith Klein
Meredith Klein is a Los Angeles–based chef and the founder of Pranaful.
"The science of Ayurveda recognizes that each one of us has a unique nature (called a dosha in Sanskrit), and Ayurvedic eating therefore places an emphasis on choosing the foods that are best suited to our individual constitutions. When we are eating in alignment with our dosha, we are better able to digest and assimilate our food. This is essential, because a key tenet of Ayurveda is that all diseases arise from some excess of undigested food matter in the gut. An Ayurvedic diet is one of the best forms of preventative medicine around, whether you’re looking to live to triple digits or simply seeking to avoid common colds. Additionally, an Ayurvedic diet can help improve skin tone and remedy common skin issues, aid in better sleeping habits and leave you feeling more energized every day."
"The good news is that an Ayurvedic diet is accessible and beneficial for everyone, regardless of your dietary preferences. You can be vegan, Paleo, gluten-free, etc., and still enjoy the benefits of the wisdom of this ancient science. Anyone who wishes to enjoy better digestion and more radiant health will therefore benefit from introducing some principles of an Ayurvedic diet into their routine. Many people get overwhelmed by all the suggestions that Ayurveda offers, but it is an incremental science, meaning the more you do, the more benefits you’ll see. At the same time, making even just a few small changes in your eating habits can yield noticeably profound results."
"The name of the game in Ayurveda is balance. You can balance out whatever sensations you are noticing in the mind or body by introducing foods that are opposite in qualities. For example, if you're feeling overheated or agitated, focus on cooling foods like melon, coconut, avocado and cilantro. If you’re feeling anxious and scattered, eating warm, grounding foods can help to calm the body and spirit. In general, Ayurveda suggests eating mainly cooked foods, so if you experience sluggish digestion, try emphasizing more warm foods over raw foods, which can be harder in general for the body to digest. When eating raw foods, you can increase the body's capacity to digest and assimilate them by including warming spices, like ginger, cinnamon or cumin in your preparations. Focus on having a variety of flavors in your food. Most of us eat primarily sweet and salty foods, but Ayurveda suggests we include a robust spectrum of tastes in our food to support all the body's various organs and functions. Try using spices, fermented foods and homemade condiments and sauces to include a wider variety of flavors in your meals. Ayurveda also teaches us pay attention to more than just what we eat. Be mindful of when you eat and try to have your last meal as early in the evening as possible (and avoid bedtime snacking) to allow your body a full, uninterrupted digestive cycle overnight. Try to eat without distractions and chew food well to facilitate optimal digestion."
Ayurvedic Recipe: Cabbage & Kale Slaw With Chipotle-Coconut Dressing
Recipe author: Meredith Klein