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A diet is whatever we eat, and there are literally millions of them. What each one of us eats is our individualized diet. When we say this word “diet,” many of us may think of a particular time when we might try to lose or gain weight before going back to what we usually eat. Who we are, how we feel, and how we look in size and shape are the results of what we eat, our eating habits, and all that we do and think. So, if we wish to change in any way, we probably need to change our diet—that is, what and how we eat—rather than go on a diet.

In this section, I discuss the variations in diets, their different classifications, such as vegetarian or omnivorous diets, and the common cultural diets throughout the world. I define each one and then discuss its strengths and weaknesses, along with ways to modify it or additional supplements needed to make it healthier.

Diets are influenced by a number of factors. First, the classification of the diet is based on its content. This initially was based on availability of foods indigenous to locale—what could be grown or hunted, gathered or caught. NowaDay s, it is even wiser to eat locally and minimize imported foods, which often are heavily treated to protect them from decay and germ and insect infestation, as well as to meet government regulations. However, eating locally obviously has its limitations as our foods are subject to seasonal and climatic influences.

Each culture has its own dietary patterns regarding what is eaten and how it is prepared. These patterns are very strong, as are our tastes and food conditioning. Even stronger are family influences. Thus, both our culture and our environment affect our eating patterns. Specifically, diets and habits seem to run in families, as do many of the problems that cause them. I believe that in many cases, such diseases as hypertension, heart disease, adult diabetes, obesity, and even cancer are related more to familial influences, both psychological and nutritional, than to a genetic predisposition.

Our genetics may also play a factor in our diet. Over generations, our bodies adapt to the foods we eat and our physical well-being is influenced by our ability to digest, assimilate, and utilize any food. Although the human species is adaptable, genetic mutation is a slow process. When we shift cultures or markedly change diets, we may consume foods that our body will react to rather than receive easily. Digestive problems, other sensitivities, and allergies may occur from this. We should pay close attention to how our body handles new foods and new recipes.

Our general eating patterns and habits are greatly influenced by our upbringing. Such preferences as when we eat, whether we snack, or whether we like to eat quietly or very socially may have their origins in childhood. The emotional ties between love and food or between love and cleaning our plate are deep-seated and influence our whole life. Sweets such as ice cream or milk and cookies after dinner or before bed or sweets and treats as rewards may create lifelong problems with our relationship to food. These eating patterns, likes and dislikes, develop early and are very difficult to change. (I will discuss these aspects more in the next chapter, Dietary Habits.) Each of our individual constitutions affects how we respond to these influences and how we grow on the diet fed to us. As we age, our individuality usually creates a new diet that fills our own needs; occasionally, though not often, this varies a fair amount from our family’s diet.

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About The Author
Elson M. Haas, MD is founder & Director of the Preventive Medical Center of Marin (since 1984), an Integrated Health Care Facility in San Rafael, CA and author of many books on Health and Nutrition, including ...more
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