For many of us when we hear the word "diet," we cringe. It's a tortuous little game: What am I allowed to eat? What is off limits?
What if we could take the guesswork out of dieting and look at food in a different way? What if we paid more attention to just nourishing our bodies?
Rather than keeping up with the latest dieting trend, let's adopt a new philosophy: eat real food. That's right, real food. Vegetables, fruit, natural meats, and whole grains. No ‘food-like substances' or packaged stuff with a mile-long list of ingredients.
Whether you are recovering from chronic pain, want to get healthy, or just feel good in general, you need to go back to the basic fundamentals of health. One of those fundamentals is nutrition and giving your body what it needs to thrive.
Let's dive deeper into this philosophy of nutrition over diet and see how it can make life a little simpler.
I will also walk through a few different "diets" that emphasize these ideas so that you can make an informed decision about what's right for you.
The current state of the diet: What are we doing wrong?
In the U.S., we are obsessed with eating healthy yet our rates of obesity, heart disease, and diabetes continue to climb.
Part of the reason for this is our obsession with food and diet trends.
We're told to take shots of apple cider vinegar, drink bulletproof coffee, eat clean, or eat cabbage soup.
But, you will see that these trends, for the most part, are no good when talking about nutrition. Your body is not getting what it needs.
How do you get nutrition from your food? The answer is not to load up on supplements but rather real, nutrient-dense food.
I'm talking about the fresh stuff you find on the perimeters of the grocery store: fruits, vegetables, dairy, and meat. In general, the more processed junk you want to avoid is within the center aisles.
Experts agree that the healthiest diets share the common thread of real, unprocessed foods. This is the key to good health and longevity.
Even better, this takes a lot of the guesswork out of what to buy at the grocery store and what to make for dinner. A real timesaver, and who doesn't want that?
Once you get on board with this mindset and make it a daily habit, you will never have to "diet" again. Sounds nice, right?
Where do I start?
Granted, it's hard to break out of bad habits in favor of healthier ones. Maybe you are looking for a little bit of guidance regarding what kind of diet is going to work for you.
Below I'll outline some of the more popular diets out there that promote good health and longevity. Maybe something will resonate with you and your lifestyle.
You should know that there is no "one-size-fits-all" when it comes to diet. Everyone is different as in what works for you might not work for somebody else. For example, specialized diets such as the Keto Diet might help some to lose weight and feel great while others feel like crap and their cholesterol/triglycerides go haywire.
So, it might take a little experimenting to figure out what is going to work for you and is going to be a sustainable, long-term solution. However, when in doubt, eat real, whole foods.
Diet, no wait, eating pattern
It's generally believed that those who live in countries that border the Mediterranean Sea (Greece, Italy, Spain) eat a lot healthier than those of us in the U.S. and suffer less from cancer and heart disease.
Sure, Greek food, Italian food, and Spanish food are all different but they share the same principles. They all favor vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, nuts, legumes, olive oil, herbs and spices, and seafood. Lean meats like poultry are used in moderation as well as eggs and cheese. A little bit of red wine and dark chocolate here and there is encouraged.
Those in the Mediterranean save sweets and red meat for special occasions and celebrations. So, take it easy on these.
This way of eating in conjunction with an active lifestyle will help you to maintain good health as well as a healthy weight.
The Mediterranean Diet is not so much a structured diet as it is an eating pattern so you will need to be mindful of your intake. Calories from olive oil and nuts can add up quickly.
Find out more about the Mediterranean Diet and find a sample meal plan and grocery shopping list here.
Dr. Weil's Anti-Inflammatory Diet
Suffering from chronic pain or chronic disease? This might be the diet to focus your efforts on.
The Anti-Inflammatory Diet was developed by Dr. Andrew Weil who is a pioneer in the field of integrative medicine. This diet reflects his belief that certain foods can cause or curb systemic inflammation. Inflammation in the body is thought to contribute to heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer's Disease, among others.
This pattern of eating heavily emphasizes fruits and vegetables which contain phytonutrients to help combat disease. This diet also favors healthy fats from omega-3-fatty acids like avocados, olive oil, nuts, and cold-water fish (like salmon or sardines). You will also want to focus on filling up on healthy carbohydrates like whole grains, beans, and berries.
Dr. Weil also suggests choosing organic when possible to avoid pesticides, drinking purified water, and tea over coffee.
The Anti-Inflammatory diet allows a lot of flexibility (eating out and alcohol are permitted) so adherence may be easier than with other diets.
Check out more from Dr. Weil about his diet.
Traditional Asian Diet (or Okinawa Diet)
It is well known that people in Asian countries have lower rates of heart disease, cancer, and obesity than we do (are you seeing a pattern yet?). They also tend to live for a very long time.
It is thought that this longevity is related to the mainstays of the Traditional Asian Diet which is a low-fat eating style with lots of rice, vegetables, fruit, and fish with very little red meat.
Asian diet veggies include bok choy, bamboo shoots, eggplant, carrots, bean sprouts, and sweet potatoes. Good choices for grains include rice, noodles, buckwheat, naan, and dumplings. Feel free to go crazy with herbs and spices as well.
Surprisingly, there aren't a whole lot of guidelines out there regarding this diet and you can't always assume that what you are eating at traditional Chinese and Japanese restaurants is healthy. So be careful, especially with the white rice and soy sauce.
We've all heard about the keto diet. Eat fat and lose weight? Is this real?
The premise of the Keto Diet is to cut down on carbohydrates and fill up on fats, sending you into a nutritional ketosis. Ketosis is when the body turns stored fats into ketones. As a result, the body burns fat, instead of sugar, for its energy needs.
Diets like the Keto Diet have long been used as a therapeutic intervention in children who have seizures and other brain conditions.
However, it has been discovered in recent years that the Keto Diet can lead to serious weight loss goals.
Carbohydrates are kept to very low levels (15 to 20 net carbs per day) and fat makes up 70 to 75 percent of your daily intake. Not surprisingly, some people experience ‘carb withdrawal' in the first few weeks and feel pretty crummy.
However, after some time on the diet, you will likely start to feel better and lose weight if you're sticking to the plan and staying active.
The Keto Diet is quite powerful and when you are eating mostly fat, it makes sense that this diet can affect cholesterol and triglyceride levels. If you plan to strictly follow Keto, we would recommend that you speak with your doctor about having your blood tested before, during, and after the diet.
If you are in sound physical health and want to lose some weight rather quickly, then the Keto Diet might be worth a try.
Read more about getting started with Keto and executing it successfully here.
MIND aka Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay combines two diets (DASH is Dietary Approaches to Reduce Hypertension) to zero in on foods that affect brain health to possibly stave off Alzheimer's Disease.
So, a hybrid of two heart-healthy diets is also good for brain health. Who knew?
The MIND Diet emphasizes eating from 10 brain-healthy food groups including green-leafy vegetables, all other vegetables, nuts, berries, beans, whole grains, fish, poultry, olive oil, and wine. MIND prefers that you stay away from red meat, butter and margarine, cheese, sweets, and fried foods.
Research shows that those who had good adherence to the MIND Diet had lower rates of Alzheimer's Disease. Even those who only had moderate adherence to the diet had lower rates of Alzheimer's Disease. Sounds like a win.
This diet is not specifically geared toward weight loss but staying away from cheese, pastries, and fast food will certainly help.
The MIND Diet is nutritionally-sound and is backed by research to support brain health. Thumbs up here.
And finally, the Paleo Diet. We can't forget about that.
The Paleo Diet aims to control or prevent diseases of civilization like diabetes and heart disease.
To do that, you have to eat like a caveman. These hunter-gatherer type people ate animal protein and plants, and that is about it. They weren't chowing down on pasta or cookies or drinking milk.
Sure, you will probably lose weight in the short-term on the Paleo Diet. It makes sense since you are completely cutting out carbs.
Is this sustainable long-term? It depends. Paleo is very much in line with the idea of eating ‘real food' but remember that you are restricting grains and dairy.
Keep in mind that these restrictions also might be causing you to lose out on essential nutrients. For example, you might be getting a lot of your calcium intake through milk and yogurt but you can make up for it with non-dairy foods that contain calcium like spinach and oranges.
Paleo is perfectly fine to use short-term for weight loss but might be difficult to stick with long-term.
Nevertheless, the resources on the internet are endless if you want to try it out.
When looking at all of these diets together, what do you notice?
I notice that they all give priority to nutrient-dense, whole foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. These are the foods that will give your body the nutrition and energy it needs.
Sure, they have their subtle differences depending on your own personal goals.
Forget the fad diets that tell you to only eat packaged, processed junk. These aren't doing your body any favors.
The best diets are those that aren't a true diet; they're a way of life.
Develop positive, healthy habits now that that will carry over into everyday life. Then, you won't feel like you're dieting. Plus, your body is healthy and happy.
Also remember that you don't have to be perfect all of the time, a little indulgence here and there is perfectly okay. Remember, "everything in moderation, including moderation." - Oscar Wilde.
Meet the Author
Shannon is a nurse practitioner with an array of clinical experience. She is particularly passionate about health promotion and disease prevention. When she's not nurse practitioner-ing or writing, she enjoys reading, cooking, and yoga. You can check out her blog at https://shannonthenp.com.