If you think about it, the food you eat can tell you a lot about who you are. What your values are, lifestyle is and your heritage.
Food is a consuming part of our lives, something we think about and engage with multiple times a day, and the decisions we make each time we eat something hint towards our emotional state, goals, and preferences.
For some, their diet chooses them – it’s a religion they were born into, their heritage. For others, it’s something they chose based on ethical decisions, medical and health reasons or even for vanity.
You are what you eat is more than a statement of being healthy or unhealthy it speaks to who you are as a person. As part of “You are what you eat month”, 6 people who keep different diets share how they eat and how it’s shaped them.
The Paleo Diet, by Rovania Naidoo
How long have you been on a Paleo diet?
Since February this year
What is the Paleo diet?
The Paleolithic (Paleo) Diet takes you back to basics, eating foods that made our ancestors strong and lean. These are foods that have fuelled our bodies for centuries, that have not been farmed or processed in any way, and therefore can be absorbed in their raw form. If you can eat it or buy it in a raw form, you can enjoy it on a Paleo diet. It’s a balance of protein-rich foods (meat & fish), and vegetables and fruit. The Paleo diet excludes grains and processed foods.
What made you go Paleo?
On a personal side, most people would argue that I’ve been ‘blessed’ with an overactive metabolism. I have, much to most people’s dismay, always tried to gain healthy weight. This meant I was always carbo-loading. Turns out gaining weight is just as hard as losing it – we all just have different goals to strive toward. Over the years, my carb (pasta, rice, and bread) binge would continue, and my energy levels would fluctuate furiously. I would feel sluggish after meals and often experience mood swings (especially being hangry!)
Professionally, I have worked in the Infant Nutrition space for the past 6 years which allowed for me to understand the connection between health and diet, and believing in health through nutrition.
Adding the two up – I began focusing on what I ate and understanding the impact of these food choices. I spent time researching wholefoods and better sources of nutrition which led me to the Paleo lifestyle. It seemed to me to be the most balanced and sustainable way of eating. I’ve always been a massive foodie so the fact that it allowed for carbs, fats and sweetness was a no brainer!
How has the Paleo diet changed how you view food?
I am now far more aware of how foods affect me mentally and physically. Overall, I have a new-found respect for raw, wholefoods, given all that we are able to gain from simple food sources.
What surprised you most about the Paleo diet?
I was most surprised that I did not crave carbs like pasta and bread and junk food like crisps and biscuits. I was always a snacker (and not the good kind) so I expected the transition to be a lot harder than it was. The beauty of a Paleo diet is that everything can be substituted and you won’t have to worry about the taste. I’ve often heard people say it probably tastes like grass or cardboard (not sure why they know those tastes) which is the major misconception. Taste has been one of the drivers of this diet, and a bonus is that it’s easy to prepare dishes.
What’s your favorite Paleo dish?
Being a previous carb-comrade and someone who burns food quickly, sweet potato has to be one of my favorite things. It’s a great complex carb and a source of iron, calcium, magnesium and B Vitamins which help support our immune system and brain function. They’re incredibly versatile as savory and sweet options in a Paleo diet. My favorite snack is warm Sweet potato smeared with cashew nut butter and showered with cinnamon and raw walnuts – yum!!
What should someone know before going on a Paleo Diet?
Like any lifestyle change, always be prepared. Get to know what you are getting into and train yourself to think that it is far more than just a diet, but more a way of life. Become aware of what you are eating- ask more questions and read more labels. Paleo is really easy if you commit to it and get into habits of preparation – I’ve found some of my harder days were those where I was out of routine and did not prepare meals/snacks. This can be difficult in a social environment if you are not prepared or familiar with other alternatives.
Lastly, something we should all know and always remember…and that is to be kind to yourself.
The Vegetarian Diet by Stephan Griesel
How long have you been on a vegetarian diet?
I have always preferred veggie meals but since my wife and I moved to the Netherlands we have been following a more vegetarian diet.
What is the vegetarian diet?
The vegetarian diet replaces meat products with vegetarian options and consumes more plant-based products. There is a range of products in the grocery stores here in Netherlands which is really affordable compared to South Africa. It is almost as if they encourage you to go vegetarian, which makes it really easy. The restaurants always have vegetarian options available, which is great. My breakfast normally consists of oats, with soya milk or soya yogurt. Lunch would normally be soup or meal with legumes or a healthy sandwich. Dinner would always be some kind of protein. We like tofu and mix it up with veggies on quinoa, bulgur or couscous.
What made you go Vegetarian
I have always preferred veggies over meat products. It all started with a meat free Monday and then moved on to daily vegetarian dishes. My compassion for animals also plays a big role.
How has the Vegetarian diet changed how you view food?
I love eating; it’s probably one of my favorite things I look forward to every day. Following a more plant based diet, it just feels like I am living a healthier lifestyle.
What surprised you most about a vegetarian diet?
That you are able to get your proteins from plant-based products. It was probably one of the things I was most concerned about.
What’s your favorite vegetarian dish?
Bean burgers! You can mix them up and try all sorts of different combinations. You can use chickpeas instead of an egg to make the mixture firmer.
What should someone know before going on a vegetarian diet?
Check your proteins! You need them!
The Vegan Diet by Jessica Kotlowitz
How long have you been Vegan?
I have been fully vegan for about 2 and half years.
What is the Vegan diet?
Veganism is more of an ethical belief system than a diet but vegans eat an exclusively plant-based diet and do not consume any animal products: no meat, chicken, fish, eggs, dairy products or honey. Veganism also includes other practices which aim to minimize animal suffering and environmental destruction such as avoiding leather, fur, wool and silk clothing and only using cosmetics that are not tested on animals and do not contain animal by-products.
What made you go Vegan?
Through my profession, I had spent a lot of time researching the health benefits of a plant-based diet and was so convinced by the huge body of positive evidence out there that I decided to give it a try. At first, I cut out meat, eggs, and chicken but still ate fish and dairy but eventually, I cut those out too. My intention was not to go vegan, but rather to change to an unprocessed whole-foods and plant-based diet for health reasons.
I felt so amazing eating this way and saw such huge improvements in my weight and health that I decided I never wanted to go back! After a few months of eating a plant-based diet, I also started educating myself about the environmental impacts of animal agriculture and the cruelty that goes on in factory farms where animals are raised for food and clothing and decided that I didn’t want to support these practices.
I slowly started switching to cruelty-free cosmetics and started checking labels for leather, wool, and silk whenever I went clothes shopping.
How has the Vegan diet changed how you view food?
This way of living has been extremely healing for me. I used to view food as the enemy, as a temptress that I was constantly trying to resist. Now, I view food as nourishment and as a way to not just heal myself, but to heal the environment and save the lives of animals. There is a feeling of a bigger picture and I no longer eat just to satisfy my own wants, but rather I make conscious decisions and bear in mind how my food choices affect those around me and our future on this planet.
What surprised you most about a Vegan diet?
How much I get to eat! I was never a huge fan of meat, eggs or chicken and always loved vegetables, fruits, grains and legumes so the transition to this way of eating was fairly easy for me. I knew I wouldn’t struggle with enjoying all the glorious variety of plant foods but what I didn’t realize is that most of these unprocessed plant foods are so low in calorie density and so high in nutrients that you can basically eat yourself into a food coma at every meal without ever gaining weight! I’m not talking about unhealthy binging here, but as someone who loves food and loves to eat, it has been so much fun for me to finally throw portion control out the window and just enjoy my food without worrying about overeating and gaining weight! My patients definitely love this idea too and I have seen so many of them lose weight without much effort by just focusing on unprocessed plant foods.
What is your favorite Vegan dish?
I have so many that it’s hard to choose! I rarely cook the same thing twice because I just love experimenting with all the different combinations of vegetables, grains, and legumes out there. Now that it’s winter, I would say that my favorite dish is a warming red lentil curry made with coconut milk and lots of fragrant spices. I usually serve this with some brown basmati rice and fresh coriander. Yum!
What should someone know before going Vegan?
Definitely do your research about how to eat a balanced vegan diet, which foods to focus on and how to get in enough calories. If you are just eating lettuce all day, you will not only be bored and unsatisfied but you may start to feel weak from hunger. So definitely include all your different food groups in addition to your veggies and don’t be scared to fill up on wholesome high carbohydrate foods such as fruits, beans, whole grains and starchy vegetables. Avoid eating highly processed meat alternatives and refined carbohydrates and most of all, get experimenting in your kitchen!
The Kosher Diet by Zissy Lewin
How long have you been kosher?
Since birth, I come from a religious Jewish family and Kosher has always been a part of my life.
What is the Kosher diet?
Kosher is the Jewish Dietary laws. It covers far more than just foods we can and cannot eat and is a core part of Judaism.
Under a kosher diet, there are foods that can and cannot be eaten. Wholefoods like fruit, vegetables, unprocessed grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds are inherently kosher. There are specific meat and fish types and products that are kosher as well as dairy products. We do not eat any shellfish or crustaceans.
However, the Kosher laws also extend to the way goods are produced and prepared, which is why all processed foods need to bear a Kosher sign on them even if the ingredients used are kosher. The sign indicates that it was produced under supervision and according to Kosher law and that there is no cross-contamination with ingredients that are not Kosher.
We also do not eat or prepare certain foods together ie. We do not mix meat and milk and will wait a few hours in between eating the two.
How has the Kosher diet changed how you view food?
As I have always been kosher, it hasn’t necessarily changed how I view food. It has however, shaped my relationship with food. Keeping Kosher makes you a lot more conscious of what you eat, how it was made and ingredients in packaged foods.
The biggest impact being kosher has had, is my love for baking, cooking and making literally everything from scratch. There are not a lot of Kosher restaurants, so going out to eat or trying new cuisines isn’t always a possibility. This means the big majority of meals I eat are homemade, I eat little processed foods and when I see a dish or food that I want to try out, I’ll figure out how to make it instead of finding a place that sells it. I’ve also become great at figuring out substitutions and how to make dishes that fit within Kosher.
What surprised you most about a Kosher diet?
The Kosher laws have been the same for centuries so there’s nothing surprising to me. However, I think most people would be surprised to learn that Kosher kitchens will have completely separate dishes for meat and milk, and an entire category of Parev foods, utensils and dishes which are neither milk not meat. There is also a misconception that for food to be Kosher it has to be blessed by a Rabbi which is not true.
What is your favorite Kosher dish?
My favorite traditional Jewish food is challah with hummus and matbucha.
What should someone know before going Kosher?
If you’re choosing to become Kosher, there’s a big chance you’re not changing a diet but your lifestyle. Kosher is a huge part of a religion and within that religion there are different sects which have different customs. Part of Kosher and the way we keep it is tied into what customs your family chooses to keep. Know the difference between what is actual Kosher Law and what is a custom. Also Familiarise yourself with the different Kosher signs as well as resources like guides, forums and Facebook groups where you can find reputable answers to your Kosher questions.
The Halaal Diet by Shakera Ghoor
How long have you been Halaal?
All my life as we are Muslim we only eat Halaal.
What is the Halaal diet?
This is the prescribed diet we follow as Muslims, so what food and drinks are permissible according to Islamic law.
What made you go Halaal?
I was born Muslim
How has the Halaal diet changed how you view food?
You are definitely very aware of how food is prepared especially when eating out because we need to avoid any contamination with other non-Halaal food. You also always look for a Halaal stamp when purchasing food items
What’s your favorite Halaal dish?
Poached eggs on avo toast
What should someone know before going Halaal?
If you are Muslim it will be a part of your life and you will get used to looking for Halaal foods and what is permissible and what is not. If you are unsure, rather don’t have the foods and contact the supplier because sometimes certain medications also have animal products in them which are not Halaal.
The Gluten Free Diet by Jade Wright
How long have you been Gluten Free?
I have been on a Gluten Free diet since early April 2017
What is a Gluten Free Diet?
It is gluten free
*Editors note: A gluten-free diet is a diet that excludes the protein gluten. Gluten is found in grains such as wheat, barley, rye, and a cross between wheat and rye called triticale.
What made you go Gluten Free?
I have always had problematic skin – psoriasis etc. and eliminating gluten and wheat really help with that.
How has the Gluten Free diet changed how you view food?
I feel a lot healthier being gluten-free, my body definitely appreciates it!
What surprised you most about a Gluten Free diet?
The expense. It is so expensive living a gluten-free lifestyle – the food products you buy like Gluten Free pasta is ridiculously priced. It makes simple cheap meals a lot harder to come by, especially when you were pretty partial to a good old Caltex pie as a quick snack.
What’s your favorite Gluten Free Dish?
Chicken and butternut curry with rice!
What should someone know before going Gluten Free?
Make a budget and gluten and wheat is hidden in a lot of things, take the time to read the labels!
Zissy is the co-founder of Nutreats. She likes to make things, do things and wear things.