Food is an essential part of sustaining life. It gives us the energy and nutrients to develop physically and mentally – to move, work, play, think and learn. The body needs a variety of the following 5 nutrients – protein, carbohydrate, fat, vitamins and minerals – from the food we eat to stay healthy and productive. It’s also important the quantity of these nutrients we consume – this is what a ‘balanced diet’ is.
A balanced diet is important because it provides our bodies with the proper nutrition needed to work effectively. Without good nutrition, your body is more prone to disease, infection, fatigue, and poor performance. Children with a poor diet run the risk of growth and developmental problems and poor academic performance.
Rising levels of obesity, diabetes and metabolic syndrome in America are prime examples of the effects of a poor diet.
This leads many to the million dollar question – What Is The Best Diet Plan?
In this article, I am going to give a quick overview of some of the most popular diets – diet myths – diet facts – and my top ‘diet’ recommendation and tips for a healthy lifestyle.
POPULAR ‘DIETS’ TODAY – A QUICK OVERVIEW
Keto-diet: Extremely low – almost no carb; Moderate protein; High fat diet. The Keto diet has been hailed by followers of the diet and some experts in playing a role in the prevention and treatment of metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, Bipolar disorder, Obesity, Dementia & Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, certain cancers, and Poly-cystic Ovary Syndrome.
The possible benefits of the diet are impressive, but there are a few potential downsides to be aware of. One it is hard to stick to by many due to the drastic change in diet. It can cause dehydration and flu-like symptoms in the beginning if not careful to hydrate well and supplement your electrolytes. Other potential risks include kidney stones, several vitamin and mineral deficiencies if not careful, decreased bone mineral density, and gastrointestinal distress.
Mediterranean diet: Inspired by the traditional diets of people who live around the Mediterranean sea, it emphasizes eating primarily plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts. Replacing butter with healthy fats such as olive oil and canola oil. Using herbs and spices instead of salt to flavor foods.
The Mediterranean diet is known to be heart healthy (due to it’s focus on healthy fats and avoiding saturated fats) and having a high concentration of cancer fighting antioxidants (due to increase in fruit and veggie intake). It does also promote the consumption of one to two glasses of wine almost daily – which may not be advisable for people taking certain medication, those with elevated triglycerides or who have pancreatitis.
Paleo Diet: A diet based on the types of foods presumed to have been eaten by early humans, consisting chiefly of meat, fish, vegetables, and fruit, and excluding dairy or grain products and processed food. Followers say it will help minimize your risk of chronic disease (based on the premise that those ancestors didn’t suffer from the ones we now face) and lead to weight loss. It is also a diet rich in potassium, healthy fats and high in protein.
Although the diet is very popular, it is also very controversial. Eliminating entire food groups can mean essential nutrients and vitamins are not included in the diet – such as calcium from dairy and vitamins/minerals from legumes. Lastly, elimination of whole grains may mean a decrease intake of fiber, which is beneficial to gut health.
Vegan Diet: Veganism is defined as a way of living that attempts to exclude all forms of animal exploitation and cruelty, whether for food, clothing or any other purpose. For these reasons, the vegan diet is devoid of all animal products, including meat, eggs, honey and dairy. A vegan diet is high in antioxidant foods, cholesterol-free and low in saturated fat. The downfalls to this diet is vitamin and mineral deficiency and lack of protein if not careful.
Vegetarian Diet: A diet abstaining from the consumption of meat, fish, fowl flesh and may also include abstention from by-products of animal slaughter. A vegetarian diet is similar to a vegan diet but not as strict. (see vegan pros and cons)
Raw Diet: Composed of mostly or completely raw and unprocessed foods. While most raw food diets are completely plant-based, some people also consume raw eggs and dairy. Less commonly, raw fish and meat may be included as well. A raw diet is a low-sodium diet and free from added sugars, preservatives, and unhealthy additives and is consistently high in the superpower nutrient fiber. The downside to a raw diet is the high potential for gas and bloating from all of the fibers. In addition, it is harder to get the necessary amount of healthy fats and protein needed. Lastly, it is a very restrictive and fairly unrealistic diet for people to follow.
Intermittent Fasting:An eating pattern where you cycle between periods of eating and fasting. It does not say anything about which foods to eat, but rather when you should eat them. There are several different intermittent fasting methods, all of which split the day or week into eating periods and fasting periods.
Many have claimed that Intermittent fasting has a multitude of health benefits such as improving glucose homeostasis and insulin sensitivity, boosting energy levels, increasing growth hormone (GH) production, reducing inflammation, decreasing oxidative stress, lowering triglyceride (TG) levels and blood pressure, increasing and protecting brain function, increasing resistance to age-related diseases like immune disorders, cancer, heart disease, stroke, eye disease, Alzheimer’s and promoting longevity! The potential drawbacks to IF is hunger during the fasting period, increase in cravings and reduced energy which can lead to irritability and un-productiveness. People tend to binge in the evening which can cause pain, gas and bloating in your stomach and not to mention, inhibit weight loss. If Intermittent Fasting is taken too seriously and excessively restricts energy and protein, there’s a real risk of nutrient deficiencies, electrolyte abnormalities, and issues with fertility and reproduction in women.
POPULAR DIET MYTHS DEBUNKED
“Eating fat make you fat!” : This is probably the most common misconception and it comes from years of marketing support for low-fat and fat-free products. The research shows this is simply not true. Processed high-carb and processed sugar-laden foods are the culprits of weight gain and the health complications associated with obesity. Once you eliminate the processed carbs and sugars, and focus on high-quality fats in foods like avocados, salmon, nuts, seeds, legumes and full-fat dairy, your body stops storing all the excess glucose as body fat. Moreover, eating fat keeps you satiated and curbs cravings, naturally suppressing your appetite, so you’re likely to consume fewer calories overall.
“Carbs are the enemy!” : This is the next most popular misconception and it’s also driven by years of marketing support for low-carb diets. The truth is, carbohydrates are not the enemy. In fact, carbs are an essential part of a healthy, balanced diet. Carbs are your body’s main source of energy. Carbohydrates convert to glucose, which our brain and muscles use to function. ANY calories eaten in excess of what your body can store gets stored as fat–no matter if those calories come from doughnuts, protein shakes, or avocados. The key to anything is ‘moderation’ and of course, choosing HEALTHY carbs (i.e complex carbs) such as high-fiber carbohydrates like beans and whole grains and avoiding carbs from things like Doughnuts and cake (i.e. simple carbs).
“Eating before bed-time will make you fat!”: This is only true if you are 1. Eating more calories than you burn in the day and 2. Eat high-carb, high-fat foods before you go to sleep as they are not only higher in calories but are harder to digest. The biggest issues with eating close to bed-time is sleep disruption and having G.I. upset like heartburn or indigestion.
“Sugar gives you diabetes!”: Many foods naturally contain sugar – especially fruit. Sugar itself isn’t bad – but in excess can cause weight gain and therefore, risk of obesity and diabetes. It’s better to avoid processed sugar and artificial sweeteners for your health sake. Always go for the real deal!
“Salt is bad for your heart!”: Too much salt can cause bloating and increased risk of stroke, heart failure, osteoporosis, stomach cancer and kidney disease . But our bodies need sodium. Luckily, we get about 75% of our total salt intake from processed and prepared foods like soups, condiments, mixes, cheeses, and canned goods. No need to seek out low-sodium or sodium-free items and focus on restricting sodium from your diet (unless instructed by a medical professional to do so). Just avoid topping off your food with more salt from the shaker and add flavor with pepper, herbs, and spices instead.
“Protein is just for muscle!”: As an essential nutrient composed of building blocks known as amino acids, protein is not only a component of muscle, but also of bone, joint, tendons, ligaments, hair, antibodies, hormones, enzymes and LDL (bad) and HDL (good) cholesterol. The nutrient supports a healthy immune system, can regulate blood glucose and plays a role in body composition. The nutrient also helps keep you full and your metabolism boosted. Most people get enough protein without even trying. The Recommended Dietary Allowance is approximately 0.4 – 1 grams per pound of body weight (depending on body composition and activity level). Some, however, may find it difficult to meet the daily protein requirements with their daily diet. That’s where protein powders and shakes/smoothies can come into play.
“Breakfast is the most important meal of the day!”: While what you put in your body matters, in terms of breakfast in relation to weight loss, the jury is out. A 2016 review of 10 studies looking into the relationship between breakfast and weight management concluded there is “limited evidence” supporting or refuting the argument that breakfast influences weight or food intake, and more evidence is required before breakfast recommendations can be used to help prevent obesity. With the rising popularity of fasting diets and concerns around the sugar content of cereal and the food industry’s involvement in pro-breakfast research – and even one claim from an academic that breakfast is “dangerous”, it’s hard to discern fact from fiction. What we do know is breakfast is considered breaking of an overnight fast. Typically, if you’ve fasted for at least 12 hours from the last time of eating, consuming nutrients is most likely vital. If you eat super late or in the middle of the night (like me lol), then skipping breakfast won’t be too much of an issue and in fact it may benefit you in order to get that fasted state at least once a day. We also know WHAT we eat is important – so whatever you do eat for ‘breakfast’, make it count!
“As long as I do lots of cardio/exercise, I can eat as much as I want!”: While exercise is great for overall health and can aid in weight loss, nutrition constitutes about 80% of a healthy, effective diet. In terms of weight loss, focusing on your diet is more important and effective. That is not to denote exercise as that is also a key component to good health and weight loss!
“I have to count calories in order to lose weight.” – While counting calories can be an effective tool for some to stay on track with how much they eat – for some, it can cause more stress and unnecessary, sometimes unhealthy focus on quantity/numbers than quality of food, which is what is most important. I did find it helpful to use a calorie counter/fitness tracker in the beginning just to get an idea of the basic calorie content of the most common foods I eat to be conscious of it but then my focus was on eating healthier and listening to my body and enjoying life. When I did use a fitness tracker, I liked the MyFitnessPal app – they have almost every food, drink and condiment you can think of to track.
“You are what you eat!” – In terms of weight loss, burning more than you consume is a good strategy. So yes, you can eat fast food and processed sugary foods all day long and lose weight as long as you burn more than you consume. However, the link between good nutrition and healthy weight, reduced chronic disease risk, and overall health is too important to ignore. Ever heard the saying, ‘put good in, get good out?’. By taking steps to eat healthy, you’ll be on your way to getting the nutrients your body needs to stay healthy, active, and strong. As with physical activity, making small changes in your diet can go a long way, and it’s easier than you think!
Diet is important because your body requires fuel to function and is much easier to tailor than exercise for weight loss. It takes less time to swap out higher calorie dense foods for lower calorie dense foods than exercising “off” excess calories. That is what the 80% diet, 20% exercise split recommendation is all about. Diet plays a larger role in your health and weight loss, but that doesn’t mean exercise is not an important part of a healthy lifestyle and diet regimen!
SO, WHAT IS THE BEST DIET PLAN?
Now that we’ve gone over some of the most popular healthy diets today and some of the most popular diet myths and the facts – I am sure you are wanting the answer to the ultimate question. What is the best diet!? It’s simple…the best diet is WHATEVER WORKS FOR YOU! A long my fitness and health revamping journey, I have seen so many different diets and exercise programs out there to lose weight and get healthy. I have seen many people just like you and me have both successes and failures with each one. There is a reason you have experiences and research findings to back both sides of the argument for each diet out there. That’s because we are all unique! While we may have similar things in common, in general, what works for one person may not work for another. For some, the best diet is no diet. That is what I have found for myself. When I count calories, track food or restrict my diet in any way my cravings ramp up and I eat much more. It just doesn’t work for me! But the best way to find out what works for you is to try it! I do recommend doing further research and consulting with your physician first, but ultimately, you can’t knock it ’til you try it! In the meantime, if you want the basics of weight loss and being healthy, read further to get my top tips that I use to stay healthy and fit!
MY TOP TIPS FOR HEALTH, FITNESS AND WEIGHT LOSS – THE PERFECT ‘DIET’ REGIMEN
1. Drink plenty of water! – at least 8 glasses of water or more depending on activity level! (see my article on The Health Benefits of Water for more insight on water’s importance and how to get more of it!)
2. Be active as much as possible – get moving! “A sedentary lifestyle is the new smoking”: This has been a saying for some several years now with the increasing advancements and uses and jobs within technology. The Los Angeles Times interviewed Dr. James Levine, director of the Mayo Clinic-Arizona State University Obesity Solutions Initiative and inventor of the treadmill desk in 2014. Levine summed up his findings in two sentences.
“Sitting is more dangerous than smoking, kills more people than HIV and is more treacherous than parachuting. We are sitting ourselves to death.”
3. Exercise at least 3-4 times a week – usually a combination of strength training and cardio is best! But things like walking and Yoga are also highly effective. (See my article on Yoga for Strength for more insight on how Yoga can be an effective work out for you!)
4. Get the necessary amount of complex carbohydrates, lean protein and healthy fats daily! Eat more whole grains, fresh fruits and veggies, whole fat dairy, legumes, nuts, seeds and grass-fed organic meat.
5. Get good quality sleep! – It’s recommended about 7-9 hours for adults! (See my article Ways on How to Sleep Better for more insight on it’s importance and tips for more Zzs!)
6. Take a quality probiotic – which helps with overall G.I. health and digestion (See my article on the Benefits of Probiotics and my recommendation for a good probiotic to try)
7. Practice mindfulness, meditation and other techniques to reduce stress – Do you feel like you’re prone to putting on more weight when you’re stressed, even if you’re eating the same amount of food as you always have? Too much cortisol can impact your metabolism, causing more weight gain than you would normally experience. This also makes dieting more difficult. In addition, when you are stressed you are less likely to exercise and more likely to experience “emotional eating“.
8. Limit simple, processed sugars and processed foods as much as possible (doughnuts, cookies, fast food etc.) But it’s OK to treat yourself every now and then!
9. Get hobbies outside of your job to keep your mind and body busy. I truly believe “idle hands are the devil’s workshop”. You tend to eat out of boredom and make bad decisions when you have nothing to occupy your mind and time with. Find hobbies that you enjoy and keep you busy in your free time! If you do not have money to buy things for certain hobbies, you can always volunteer. Some hobbies are very cheap also – just look around!
10. Stay away from the scale and focus on measurements and how you feel. I can’t tell you how stressful and frustrating the scale can be. If you’ve been on any kind of weight loss journey in your life, I am sure you understand what i mean! So many factors can play into your “weight” – from muscle mass, to fat content, water weight, gassy bloating, backed up colon, hormones etc etc. In addition, if you work-out, the scale is even more deceiving! In the end, to avoid the stress that can in itself cause weight gain, just avoid the scale! Focus on your measurements and how you feel to determine weight loss and health. 🙂
11. Treat yourself! Take care not to restrict yourself too much as this can be counter productive by increasing cravings and withdrawal effects. It is important to be realistic when starting on your healthier diet journey. You want this to be a life long change – not just a temporary change that you can’t sustain. Slowly reduce intake of sweets and increase intake of healthier foods over time. Try to swap out unhealthy sweets for healthier alternatives – such as dark chocolate vs. milk chocolate. And treat yourself on occasion! It will only help you in your fitness and health journey. 🙂
THE TAKE AWAY
Food is a life source and diet plays an extremely vital role in your health and weight loss. If you found this page, it’s most likely because you are in search of helpful information to be a healthier you! Research is a great start and I commend you for finding yourself here. Great job :). The next step is to put your findings into action! Remember…results don’t happen overnight but you should start to FEEL the difference in your energy and overall health when you eat a well balanced diet.
If you have any questions or want to share your diet and weight loss journey or have more diet related health tips for my readers, please comment below!