Gretchen Spetz, MS, RDN, LD
I'm on a Diet...Part 3: What Do All Good Diets Have in Common?
Paleo, keto, pescatarian, vegan, low-FODMAP, Atkins, South Beach, Mediterranean, carnivore, low fat, high protein...how many diets are out there anyway? Are they good or bad?
It seems like there is a new diet trend every other day, and it can be challenging to figure out what's worth trying and what's not. First and foremost, you want to ask yourself the F.E.A.D. questions (for more information on this, check out What's the Best Long Term Diet for Me?).
There are a few characteristics that separate the sham diets from ones that will promote good health and quality of life. Here is what to look for:
75% of the diet consists of plant-based foods: Nutrition research demonstrates time and again that a plant-based diet (veggies, plant-based fats, nuts, seeds, legumes, and whole grains) is essential for health. Why? All the fiber is essential for feeding good gut bacteria. Without this fiber, the good bacteria die and the bad bacteria thrive. This will set you up for chronic inflammation, GI problems, and a host of other negative health issues.
All meals contain protein: It is essential to get adequate protein every day. Your body uses protein to repair and rebuild itself. You do not store protein like you store carbs and fat. You have infinite storage for carbs and fat, and the only protein store is your muscle mass. Tapping into your muscle mass so your body can repair and rebuild itself sets you up for losing strength and decreasing how many calories your body burns in a day. Clean, minimally processed, and anti-inflammatory sources of protein include organic or free-range poultry and eggs, grassfed meats, wild-caught fish and seafood, organic soy products like tofu and miso, beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds. A good guideline for a portion size at a meal is 1/4 of your plate should be made up of protein. The palm of your hand is a good size estimate for animal proteins.
Fat doesn't make you fat: If you grew up during the 1980s and 1990s like me, you probably remember the Snackwells cookies and how everything Mom bought seemed to come with "Fat Free!" prominently displayed on the front of the package. Turns out, the lowfat guidelines of yore were misguided. Fat - with a focus on plant-based fats - plays an important role in hormone synthesis, satiety, and blood sugar control. Yes, fat contains more calories per gram than carbs and fat, but using healthy fats like extra virgin olive oil, avocado, and coconut oil in cooking or as a condiment will make your meal more nutritious and satisfying.
Variety is key: It is SO important to vary the foods that you eat so your body can absorb a wide range of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other phytonutrients. When we eat the same things over and over again (I'm looking at you, chicken breast and broccoli on the figure competitor diet!), you run the risk of becoming deficient in micronutrients. Aim to get at least 6 servings of fruits and veggies every day (more veggies than fruits!), and choose different protein sources at meals and snacks.