20. Different (regular) diets
20. Different (regular) diets
By Alena Lien,
20 February 2021
Hey! How're you going? This is Alena and welcome to the Along Came English podcast.
I'm recording this again with my fan on at the moment - so the microphone might pick up the sound. It was quite hot today as well but I'm looking forward to cooler weather next week.
For this episode, I thought I would talk about different types of diets.
I think most people recognise "diet" to refer to a special meal plan in order to lose weight or become thinner. However, I'm actually referring to foods that are usually or regularly eaten by a person or a group - which is another definition of "diet."
So I'll explain the different definitions of "diet." I'll talk about different types of regular diets. More specifically, I'll be talking about vegetarianism, veganism, different religious diets, and gluten-free diet.
Now, these are ones that are fairly common here in Australia. However most of the information is from the internet. I've had some experience with these diets but I'm not always speaking from experience. I talk about medical-related stuff as well. So I hope the sources I used are at least somewhat accurate.
Anyway, when it comes to different diets, people here are actually pretty accommodating and understanding when it comes to different diets or different dietary restrictions. From experience, this is in part due to acknowledgement of food allergies, diseases that require specific diets, religious dietary requirements, etc.
Of course people who have dietary restrictions are in the minority, but it's fairly common for restaurants to have at least a vegetarian option or even gluten-free options, and you can sometimes... sometimes, not all the time, make changes to a dish. Otherwise, you can find a restaurant that serves food that caters to you - that are vegan, or kosher or halal.
Even products sold in supermarkets have plenty of labels to let you know what diets it's suitable for. There are also grocers that import products that may be better suited for your diet. And you can order stuff on the internet.
And if you find this interesting or helpful, please like, subscribe or follow. Also please consider supporting Along Came English.
Different definitions of "diet"
As I mentioned earlier, most people recognise "diet" - as a noun - to refer to a special meal plan in order to lose weight or become thinner. According to Wikipedia, this practice of eating food is called "dieting." It's also common to say, "I'm on a diet," to mean the same thing.
The word, "diet," can also refer to the kinds of food usually eaten by a person or a group, which is the focus of today's episode.
And interestingly "diet" is also an old-fashioned term used to refer to the "legislative assembly" or the organisation that makes laws in certain countries. However, a modern example of this is the National Diet of Japan.
But yea, if you try to google "Japan" and "diet," you're going to get results about fish, seafood, rice, seaweed, etc.
Now "diet" can also be used to refer to the regular activities of a person or group. Now I don't hear this used that often though. To me, "diet" almost always refers to food.
So when someone uses the word "diet," context will always inform you which meaning the speaker is referring to.
"What is your diet like?"
This is asking about what you usually eat, on a regular basis.
"Have you ever been on a diet?"
This is asking if you've been on a short-term eating plan with the purpose of losing weight, etc.
It is also quite common for people to ask questions like, "Do you have any dietary restrictions?" So "dietary" here is a adjective that means relating to your diet. And usually people would ask this question for functions, like weddings or parties, to cater to people who might have food allergies or can't eat certain foods for different reasons.
Omnivore and carnivore
The proper term to describe people or animals who eat both vegetables and meat is "omnivore." However, we don't typically describe human diets this way. I think it's understood that a regular, somewhat balanced, typical diet has meat and vegetables.
So yea, we don't casually say, "I have an omnivore diet." We tend to hear the word "omnivore" maybe in more scientific, academic context, but yea, usually it's used to describe animals.
A "carnivore" is a noun to describe animals that eat meat or mostly meat. This is not a term that's usually applied to humans either. Maybe in a humorous way, if you're catering to someone who might protest a mostly vegetarian dinner for example.
And recently, there is something called a "carnivore diet," which is a restrictive diet that only includes meat, fish, and animals products with the exclusion of vegetables, fruits and nuts.
Now this is very recent and I'm not sure if it's a fad diet or not.
A "fad" (not fat) is a style, activity or interest that becomes popular for a short period of time. So examples of other fad diets include "cabbage soup diet," or "baby food diet." Yea.
So I'm not sure if the carnivore diet is a fad but I've heard a few people talk about it with positive results. However there is still a lack of scientific research on its long-term effects. And I think it's meant to be for people who have persistent health issues like an autoimmune or a mental health condition even though I've heard of relatively healthy people actually trying it out for themselves.
An "autoimmune disease or condition" is when the body's immune system, which is what protects your body from germs and infection, attacks your healthy cells and cause all sorts of problems. So examples include lupus, multiple sclerosis, and coeliac disease - which I'll talk more about later in this episode.
Unfortunately there is no cure for autoimmune diseases and the condition is usually managed with different treatments. Some of them include specific diets.
So yea, a carnivore diet has recently become quite popular but I don't think it's common to call people who are on this diet a "carnivore."
Vegetarianism & veganism
Alright. Let's move on to vegetarianism and veganism.
"Vegetarianism" is the practice of not eating meat. A "vegetarian" is someone who does not eat meat. And the word "vegetarian" can also be an adjective - "vegetarian food," "vegetarian diet," "vegetarian restaurant," etc.
There's also something called "semi-vegetarianism," which is a diet that's mostly vegetarian with the occasional inclusion of meat. And in recent years, it's also become known as "flexitarian," which is a combination of the words "flexible" and "vegetarian."
There're different types of semi-vegetarian diets. A few examples...
"Pescetarian" is someone who eats vegetables and fish and/or other seafood. "Pollotarian" is someone who eats vegetables and chicken and eggs. And interestingly, "kangatarian" is someone who eats vegetables and kangaroo meat - this is clearly Australian but I've never met a kangatarian before.
Now "veganism" is the practice of not eating or using any animal products. "Vegan" is someone who practises this.
Vegans are considered strict vegetarians in that they don't eat meat, but they also don't consume any products derived from animals - such as eggs, dairy, and even honey. They also don't consume foods that may contain ingredients derived from animals like bread, chocolate or marshmallows.
Some vegans may extend their philosophy beyond food and oppose the use of animals and animals products in general for environmental and ethical reasons. So it's not just about food, it can be like a way of life. They may avoid using animal products like leather or fur. Or they may oppose animal farming because they believe it is environmentally unsustainable.
When it comes to food, vegans need to take more care, and vegetarian options are not always vegan.
In general, eggs, dairy and honey are commonly acceptable for vegetarians, but not for vegans. Even foods that are vegetarian but may contain ingredients from animals like gelatin are not acceptable for vegans.
"Gelatin" is an ingredient that actually comes from animals that's used to thicken liquids. And quite often it's used to make desserts, gummy candies, marshmallows, ice creams, even yoghurts.
Difficulties of being vegan
So yea. I can kind of understand why catering to vegans can be quite challenging because most societies in general are not vegan. There're often not many options for vegans when it comes to eating out. And people are often unaware that foods and drinks like marshmallows or even apple juice could actually be unsuitable for vegans.
When I was backpacking in Japan a few years ago, I hung out with a vegan for a few days. And yea, it wasn't easy to find vegan options or even vegetarian options for him.
Now I've never been a vegan myself but I've tried different diets over the years and I found it challenging. I had to go out of my way to find what I could eat. Some restaurants didn't have a suitable option for me. And because my diet was different to my peers, some of them were not that understanding about it and it also limited my ability to eat out with friends. So yea.
Now, a positive of being vegan is that it forces you to be conscious of what you put in your mouth and your body. It is time-consuming of course because you have to cook everything from scratch. And maybe even more expensive if you choose to buy organic produce. But it is healthier.
Additionally, you can't argue against the positive environmental impact of a vegan diet. It saves water. It uses less land. Carbon dioxide emission is significantly lower. It saves animal lives. And all this directly contributes to financial savings. And this is similar for vegetarians as well, and even semi-vegetarians - although not as much as vegans of course.
Unfortunately vegans also have a bad rap. "Bad rap" is a phrase to describe someone or something that has a negative or unfavourable reputation.
Part of it is because veganism is often associated with extreme activism. And extreme activism is often controversial, like throwing red paint on people wearing fur, or vandalising or harassing businesses that sell or serve meat. Of course you only hear the bad stories.
And there is also a negative prejudice against vegans, particularly those who are vegans for ethical reasons - rather than those who are vegans for health reasons. And some people refuse to transition to a vegan diet because they think it's a stigma. Yea, it's quite strange actually.
Vegetarianism & veganism in Australia
Although Australians are considered one of the biggest meat consumers in the world, I'd say that vegetarianism and even veganism in general has become more popular in recent years.
There're a number of different reasons for this. I'd say one of the main reasons is ethical. There have been an increased emphasis on environmental sustainability - whether this is the awareness of overfishing, risk of extinction for certain animals, environmental impacts of the cattle industry, or the awareness that animals are sentient beings.
"Sentient" means the ability to experience feelings.
There's also this increase in "meat alternatives" now, which are plant-based foods that taste like meat. Veggie burgers are not new of course, but these meat alternatives are not just for vegetarians or vegans - they're actually marketed to people who like to eat meat and now have the choice to choose a more sustainable alternative.
You can get them in local supermarkets here. And a few fast food restaurants here now have options with these meat alternative patties, like McDonald's and Hungry Jack's. So it'll be interesting to see how popular this gets.
Personally, I've never tried it, but my friends who have say they can't tell the difference.
But it is unfortunately still quite expensive compared to the price of meat in general. I've also heard it's actually not that healthy because of the fat and sodium content. However it's definitely become really popular the last few years, so maybe their prices will go down with popularity and they might offer healthier alternatives. Who knows?
Now another reason to become vegetarian is health and weight-loss. I think most people are aware that eating more vegetables and fruits is healthier for you. That and also the fact that becoming a vegetarian usually leads to weight-loss.
Now of course knowing and doing are two different things right? I've definitely heard people say they want to become vegetarian to lose weight but... maybe they need more motivation.
Health concerns for vegetarian and vegan diet
I should also briefly mention that there are some health concerns with being vegetarian or vegan.
Apart from the health benefits and general understanding that eating more vegetables and fruits is better for you, a poorly planned vegetarian or vegan diet could lead to nutrient deficiencies.
"Nutrient" is any substance that plants or animals need to live and grow, like iron, vitamins, calcium, for example. "Nutrient deficiency" is a term to refer to the body not getting enough or the necessary amount of a nutrient.
There're some nutrients that are very important for your body but you can't really get from plants, like vitamin B12, iron, calcium, zinc.
So yea, quite often vitamins or supplements are required with a vegetarian or vegan diet. However, with good planning and understanding, you can still have a healthy, balanced diet without the need for supplements.
Religious or faith-based diets
Alright. Well, let's move on to religious or faith-based diets. Their diets may be due to their philosophies or interpretations of scripture. Because Australia is a very multicultural place, there is a wide range of religions. So I'll mention some of them here.
I think most Hindus are vegetarians because they believe in non-violence against all life forms including animals. Most Hindus are what you would call "lacto-vegetarian," who don't consume meat and meat products as well as eggs.
Those that are non-vegetarians have a way of slaughtering animals and preparing meat that minimises trauma and suffering to the animal. But in general, they don't eat beef because the cow is considered a holy animal.
Christianity doesn't have any diet restrictions in general. There are of course individuals and possibly branches of Christianity who choose to forgo certain foods or drinks. I've met some who gave up alcohol or pork because of their own personal, spiritual conviction.
"Conviction" means a strong opinion or belief.
Some Christians observe something called "Lent," which is a time of fasting and prayer. And it's considered a season of reflection and preparation before Easter. It lasts for forty days and it's quite common for people to give up meat during this time.
"Fasting" means to not eat food at all or not eat certain kinds of food, for a period of time. Now this is for the purpose of spiritual observance, but people may fast in preparation for a blood test, surgery or for research as well.
Foods that conform to Jewish dietary regulations are called "kosher." And they have very strict laws around slaughtering, preparing and eating foods. However, I've heard that some branches of Christianity and Judaism advocate a vegetarian and even a vegan diet.
Now there is a relatively small Jewish community here in Melbourne. But I haven't had much experience with Jewish food. I have to admit, Jewish food is something I hear about in American culture but I really don't know much about in Australian culture. The only times I've come across Jewish food is when I've watched something about them on TV.
I did a quick google search of Jewish restaurants in Melbourne, and there aren't that many. Unfortunately they're in places out of my way but I would definitely like to check them out one of these days.
Muslims have to eat halal foods. "Halal" means lawful or permissible. Halal food is guided by a religious criteria that govern everything from how the animal is raised and fed, to how they're slaughtered and prepared for consumption.
And you may have noticed that certain products have a halal stamp on them, or certain butchers, bakeries, or restaurants have a halal stamp... halal sign on their shop window.
In contrast, "haram" means forbidden. This includes alcohol, pork, blood, meat and meat products from a non-halal animal, and seafood that is not fish.
They also observe a period of fasting in the ninth month of the Islamic calendar called "Ramadan." And this lasts for 29-30 days and they fast from sunrise to sunset.
So, we have something here in Australia called a "halal snack pack." It's a fast food dish, usually from a takeaway place, that contains halal-certified doner kebab meat, like lamb, chicken, or beef, with chips. And then you can add different condiments when you order it. It's traditionally served in this styrofoam container.
Although it's Middle-Eastern cuisine, it's actually considered Australian, as a kind of fusion. I believe it has different names depending on the state in Australia. Here in Melbourne, it's "halal snack pack," or "HSP" for short. It's really good.
Gluten-free diet and coeliac disease
And final diet, let's talk about the gluten-free diet.
"Gluten-free" means containing no gluten. So a diet that contains no gluten is a "gluten-free diet."
"Gluten" (or "gluten") is a type of protein found in wheat and other types of grains. It acts as a binder that holds your bread, and other bready products, together and gives it that chewy texture.
Unfortunately it is something that's particularly bad for people with coeliac disease.
"Coeliac disease" is an autoimmune disorder that reacts abnormally to gluten. So the immune system responds to gluten in such a way that it causes damage to the small intestine and comes with a whole bunch of other symptoms and medical complications.
Now there was this popularity of the gluten-free diet... maybe in the last decade? That's led to... unfortunately led to negative prejudices against people who follow a gluten-free diet.
Maybe it's not as popular these days because of other fad diets, but I've heard a few stand-up comedians make fun of it.
But it's actually no joke. Coeliac disease affects, on average, approximately 1 in 70 Australians but apparently most are undiagnosed.
Undiagnosed coeliac disease has been found to be linked to a number of health problems. It's linked to "lactose intolerance," which is the inability to digest lactose (or sugar) in dairy. It is also linked to "osteoporosis" - where the bones become thin and brittle. "Type 1 diabetes," where the body is unable to process glucose. "Autoimmune thyroid disease" or "Hashimoto's disease," is when the immune system attacks the thyroid gland. Coeliac disease has even been linked to unexplained infertility particularly in women. And the list goes on.
And a gluten-free diet is the best and only medical treatment for it.
I haven't been tested for coeliac disease, but personally, I also get problems when I consume Australian wheat products.
I can actually eat wheat products from other countries with little to no problems. I'm still mindful of the amount of gluten I consume, but I sometimes eat bread, pasta, noodles that are made overseas.
I have a mostly gluten-free diet here in Australia but I don't really stick to it when I'm overseas. Like, I was able to eat bread and pasta when I was backpacking the year before. Otherwise, I would have some difficulty... or I should say a lot of difficulties trying to find gluten-free foods in countries where breads and pastas are common.
And I'm not the only one. There're articles online and I've heard stories of people who are gluten-intolerant here in Australia but then have no problems when they travel overseas or eat imported wheat products.
Apparently Australian wheat has more gluten in it compared to other wheats around the world. I assume that's the problem, but I'm not entirely sure to be honest. I just hope there'll be more research and information on this issue in the future.
I should clarify... "gluten intolerance" or "gluten sensitivity" is different to coeliac disease in that there is no damage to the small intestine even though negative symptoms are similar.
But yea, whether you're intolerant or have coeliac disease, the best and only treatment at the moment is a gluten-free diet.
Alright. Well, I'll finish the episode here. Don't forget to like, subscribe or follow if you found this interesting or helpful.
Well, thank you so much for listening. Stay safe. Have a good day and I'll catch you later. Bye.