The Best Diet For You!! It sounds like something you might win on a game show – in my mind I hear it said like “A New Car!” Like it’s the mythical prize that people might win with the spin of a wheel. It’s like unicorns or other mythical animals – we all want to find it, and yet it remains elusive. Actually the problem in finding the best diet for you is not that you can’t find it, it’s that you’re looking for it to be validated by an outside source, instead of by the only source: you.
I think the thing that we forget in our frantic search for the newest, best, shiniest, most promising diet is that the people who created the diet in every case created it to be best for a whole bunch of people, but not necessarily for you as an individual. I think in general we fail to recognize how wonderfully, beautifully unique we all are – and that includes right down to our meat and bones. To our physiology and what makes us tick. It also means that there is some fluidity in “best diet” that has to happen even for each of us through our lifespan. The best diet for me when I was 18 wasn’t the same as the best diet for me now in my 30s, nor will it be the same when I’m in my 60s. Just as I as a human am (god willing) changing and evolving, my body is also changing and evolving. What does all of this mean? It means that the only person who can discover the best diet for you, is YOU, and you will have to revise and edit that best diet over time to stick to what your body wants most of all.
There is a best diet for you and it’s unique to you – to how your body processes nutrients and to the demands you place on it. The greatest part is that you can discover it at home.
Discovering Your Best Diet:
The great news is that there are some things that are truly good for everyone, so lets start with that.
The Basic Best Diet:
- Lots and lots of veggies. Everyone and their brother agrees that every healthy diet should have a bunch of vegetables in it. This is where the bulk of our vitamins, minerals and nutrients come from along with our fiber and antioxidants. Vegetables are the powerhouses of the food world – don’t ever skimp on these. If you can only make one small change to your diet, make that change be an extra veggie with each meal.
- Eat Variety. Eating kale is awesome. Eating lots of kale is also awesome. The only bad thing about eating lots of kale is that kale only has the nutrients that kale has, you know? You’re not getting tomato nutrients from kale, or salmon nutrients, or beef nutrients. So even if you’re eating awesome foods, if you only eat one or two different ones then you’re automatically limited. Throw off those limits and learn a little about squash or star fruit or mung beans. There is a limitless array of choice out there – why be dull? Your body and health will thank you for the variety even as your taste buds do a little dance with the excitement of all the new flavors. It can be scary at first if you’re expanding from a highly limited diet, but keep trying. Try new foods at least three different times before you make a decision about them and keep an open mind to new flavors. Don’t automatically dismiss the new and different.
- Eat Clean: I’m guessing it comes as no shock to anyone that preservatives, artificial colors, artificial flavors, artificial sweeteners, and other food additives aren’t actually food. They don’t add any nutritional value and there isn’t any great reason for you why they should be added to your diet. They make it easier for companies that manufacture food to keep it shelf-stable, stop it from molding, make it slightly addictive or make you crave it – but none of those things make it any better for you and let’s be clear – your food should be all about you. Likewise genetically modified food is usually modified so that it can grow more easily or spoil more slowly or do something differently so that it’s easier to use as a commercial product but that has nothing to do with how your body uses it. All of these pseudo-foods are no part of the best diet for anyone.
- Get a Little Nutty: Nuts and seeds are packed with good oils, fiber, and protein and are a fantastic food for just about everyone. They are high in minerals and represent a tremendous source of balanced nutrition for just about every type of person or constitution out there.
- Not Too Sweet: It’s pretty obvious to everyone that sugar packs on unnecessary calories and leads to inflammation, diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and lowered immunity. This can’t be a dietary staple no matter what – it isn’t that good for anyone at all, although real sugar and other real sweeteners are better than the artificial variety.
- Moderation: Food is our basic source of nutrients, vitamins and minerals. We need it to survive and we enjoy it for pleasure. Food also is a tremendous amount of work for your body and creates a number of breakdown products that have to be dealt with in your daily processes of metabolism. Research has shown consistently that the key to a longer, healthier life is actually a little bit of moderation in the food department. Eating less actually helps you live longer and healthier because you’re not wasting so many of your body’s precious resources on food processing. Consistently people who eat fewer calories live longer lives with less chronic disease.
Adding Variables to Your Best Diet:
Now for the parts that everyone seems to fight about. Some diets say you should eat a ton of meat, some say little to no meat, some say fruit is too much sugar, others say fruit is the best thing in the world. And what about fats? My god there are so many ways to get your feathers ruffled over this. So let’s talk:
- Meat: Just the word sounds like a controversy waiting to happen. I am actually a huge fan of meat, but it’s one of the things that you really need to adjust to your body type. My constitution is lean and muscular so for me meat is essential to keep my body running – the best plan seems to be small servings of meat regularly and generally higher protein – but even that means small amounts of meat, not slabs of it. For people with heavier constitutions a diet that is lighter on the meats may work out better to minimize the impact of the high calorie and fat density that comes with animal products. The paleo diet advocates insist that meat should be a main component of every diet, and that’s true if you’re actually living a paleo lifestyle involving lots of physical activity and days filled with heavy athletics, but if you’re a desk jockey that may not be the best plan for your arteries or your saddlebags. The other extreme of vegetarianism or veganism is also incredibly hard to do right and requires tight unwavering attention to your nutritional status, which many “vegetarians” (read: carbetarians) neglect to uphold.
- Dairy: For centuries and across many cultures dairy products have been a valuable source of proteins and fats in the human diet. For most of those centuries the animals were grass fed (not grain fed) and were obviously not treated with chemicals, hormones, and antibiotics. Likewise the actual milk wasn’t bleached, preserved and processed to the extreme. Also people centuries ago were not likely as sensitive to foods as we seem to be today. Now the benefits from dairy depend largely on the quality of the dairy you’re able to get and your body’s own reaction to it. I personally am a proponent of clean, organic, grass-fed dairy just as long as you’re not sensitive to it. If you’re not sure if you’re sensitive to it then read about uncovering your hidden food sensitivities here. Just to thow another wrench into the dairy debate there is the question of raw milk or not (I say yes, but there’s lots of controversy). For more information on raw milk you can do some reading here.
- Fish: Fish are obviously fantastic food, or at least they used to be. They’re high in omega 3 fats and a great source of protein and many of the minerals that are found in good concentrations in a sea environment. They’re also, however, repositories for heavy metals and toxins because the ocean is a soup of heavy metals and toxins. I certainly advocate fish, but sticking mostly to younger, smaller, non-predator fish like anchovies and sardines could be a good idea, save the predator fish for rare treats. This is simply because predator fish eat smaller fish and end up concentrating all of the heavy metals and toxins that those fish had in their bodies, so the levels of toxins are much higher than in smaller fish that are lower down on the food chain. If you’re pregnant, be especially careful with ocean fish – in the UK the guidelines are fish no more than once a month (!!) Farmed fish also aren’t a great alternative because they’re usually grain fed (which means the fats from these fish aren’t omega 3 fatty acids, they’re omega 6 fatty acids just like grain fed cattle). Also they’re no less toxic, and sometimes more so, than their wild-caught brethren.
- Fruits: It seems like fruit shouldn’t be controversial, but it is. Many diets advocate limiting sugary fruits because they contribute to a high sugar diet. Fruits, however, are a valuable source of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants – right up there with vegetables. My general guideline is one fruit per two veggies and I’ll limit the carbs and sugars by limiting grains and sweets. If you are already diabetic you may need to limit fruits for a while until you shift to a no- or low-grain diet and cut out the sugars and artificial sweeteners. Once your blood sugars have dropped back down to normal levels and stabilized there then you can start to re-introduce the fruits.
- Grains: Right now grains are the big bad. Grains are basically just complicated sugar for your body and excessive consumption has been linked to diabetes, obesity, fertility issues in PCOS, insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome as well as Alsheimer’s disease, which is now being called “diabetes type III.” Grains include wheat, corn, rye, oats, rice and all of the less-used alternative grains like quinoa, amaranth, spelt, buckwheat, teff etc… There isn’t really anyone that I feel should be eating a high grain diet and in general I trend toward the fewer-the-better. Grains provide a lot of calories without too much nutrition – especially our favorite super-starchy grains like wheat, corn and rice. There is some fiber and nutrients if you’re eating whole grains, but all in all the starch is the main component. Starch is what you make your body fat out of. In general, minimize the grains and your waist line and blood sugars will thank you. Gluten is a whole different topic, but certainly if you haven’t taken the time yet to figure out if you’re gluten sensitive, now is the time to do it.
- Fats: Your body needs fats and thrives on them, but there’s still the question of which fats and how much. General guidelines – good fats come from nuts, seeds and vegetables; grass fed animals, and wild-caught fish. Bad fats come from the deep-frier, processing plants (hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils) and grain-fed animals. Every body needs good fats and should avoid the bad fats, but how much of the good fats is a question for you. Again, listen to your body. Fats help you feel full and satisfied, build healthy skin and connective tissue and help to nourish your neurological system, but also add a fair amount of calories to your diet.
Phew. Did we cover everything? If I left out any major categories let me know and I’ll add them in. The bottom line is eat real food that grows from the earth, not a chemical company and always listen to your body. If eating a certain way is supposed to be healthy but doesn’t feel good for you then it’s most important to listen to you. If you know certain foods make you gain weight or make you eat more then those aren’t the best for you. Eat for YOU.