With hundreds of diets to choose from and thousands of specialists and celebrities to listen to, figuring out what to eat can be crazy difficult. The ever changing research telling us what’s good or bad is overwhelming. Eating whole grains is good for you but gluten is horrible (gluten is in grains)! If you find yourself questioning the bombardment of information, but at the same time want good relevant information, then keep reading.
The first thing to understand is that there’s not one perfect diet that works for everyone. This is because there are variations in metabolic and hormone responses between different people and the foods they eat. As just one example of this, consider eating something as simple as a banana. For some people there is a very slow and steady rise and fall of blood sugar levels after eating the banana. For others, there may be a sharp peak and then crash. There’s also food allergies and in some cases undiscovered food sensitivities that can cause problems with an otherwise healthy food. What constitutes a good diet depends on genetics, exercise levels, body fat, and the quality of good bacteria in the intestines (gut microbiome).
With that being said, there are, however, guidelines to follow and ways to discover what foods work best for you. Instead of focusing on differences between diets, consider what almost all have in common. The first common denominator is fresh vegetables/fruits. Especially leafy greens (spinach, kale), flavonoids (citrus fruits/berries and colored vegetables such as peppers), and cruciferous vegetables (burssels spouts, broccoli and cauliflower).
Stories of people managing or even reversing major health conditions are becoming more frequent by following a diet consisting mostly of the above fruits and vegetables. This is because these foods have extremely high amounts of essential vitamins and minerals required for optimal health. Equally as important though, is the avoidance of processed foods (canned, boxed and bagged foods). Watch, Minding Your Mitochondria, where a medical physician recovered from multiple sclerosis by making an extreme dietary change.
The next common denominator is fresh and lean cuts of fish, chicken, turkey and grass fed beef. Animal meat in moderation is a great way to get protein. Over consumption of protein, however, is hard on many body systems, especially the kidneys. Too much protein can also cause chronic dehydration which can be a cause of feeling tired, sluggish and fatigued. As a rule of thumb, consuming the amount of meat that can fit in the palm of your hand 2-3 times/day is sufficient. However, remember that some peoples protein needs may be greater than others. The best example are athletes and weight lifters who will surely need more.
The final component that almost all healthy diets have in common are the right types of fats. Healthy fats are important for brain and heart health and can help fight inflammation. Example of healthy fats are olive oil, salmon, tuna, avocado, and nuts/seeds (especially walnuts and almonds). Butter isn’t as bad as it was once thought to be and in moderation can be a healthy choice, Harvard Public Health. For sauteing at higher temperatures butter will be better than olive oil. However, coconut oil is becoming a more popular choice as well. Other vegetable oils such as canola are controversial; some authorities stating that they are okay, others warn to avoid them. My thought is that they probably aren’t horrible, but with so many other choices, why bother with it.
Notice that I didn’t mention breads, cereals or pasta. This is probably the biggest area where specialists disagree. Some popular plans right now are keto and paleo which entirely avoid grains (read my post; Whats the deal with gluten?). They instead get their carbohydrates from fruits, vegetables and starches such as sweet potatoes, quinoa and brown rice. For managing serious health conditions, autoimmune diseases or trying to lose weight, avoiding grains is probably a good option. For food lovers who aren’t gluttonous, opting for whole grains in moderation is completely fine.
There’s one final thing to consider; Refined foods and the overfed state. We should mostly focus on what we can and should eat. However, it’s crucial to understand the consequences of eating the wrong things. Refined and processed foods have been termed hyperpalatable (taste really damn good), and are addicting. Additionally, they cause hormone responses that make us feel more hungry. This of course causes overfeeding (leads to obesity, low energy levels, contributes to diabetes and more). Eating mostly whole foods outlined above will cause your body to naturally feel satisfied without overeating. For more on this, check out my post on; Refined foods and the overfed state.