The Perfect Diet
There are several diets out there that hold claims to improved health, reduced risks of chronic health issues such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease and obesity. So really? Which is the best diet to follow? It’s easy to get lost in the dogma of a diet or start thinking that certain foods are “bad” or “good”. And while there are some ‘foods’ that are best limited or even eliminated, too much of any one food is not ideal either.
Let’s talk about a few different diets. When they are most useful and which, if any, might work for you.
Mediterranean Diet is a way of eating that strives to mimic people who live around the Mediterranean. It is high in vegetables, fruit, whole grains (not refined), legumes. Protein sources are often from seafood and legumes, with limited amounts of dairy, poultry and red meat. Fats are high quality cold pressed olive oils, avocados and raw nuts and seeds. The Mediterranean diet is well studied and has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes and dementia.
Paleo Diet is based on the idea of eating a hunter-gatherer type diet. It eliminates grains, legumes, dairy, and sugar. It allows for fish, lean meat, vegetables, whole fruit, nuts and seeds. It is a good diet for losing weight and getting blood sugars under control. It’s down side is that it is often meat heavy and people regain weight if they go off it. An autoimmune-paleo diet is very restrictive but useful if you have an autoimmune disease and you want to see if food is aggravating it.
On the converse side, a vegan diet avoids all products from animals – meat, honey, eggs, dairy, etc. A vegetarian diet allows for some dairy and eggs. From a planetary standpoint, a vegan diet is the best diet to slow climate change, as live stock create a lot of green house gasses and are a major source of deforestation. It is also an excellent diet to reverse cardiovascular disease and slow some cancer growth. However, it is critical to eat enough protein and for some, a vegan diet is difficult to maintain. Some of my patients on vegan diets, will allow themselves some animal-based proteins once or twice per week to help maintain their health.
Finally, let’s look at a ketogenic diet. This diet focuses on a majority of caloric intake from fat, with minimal carbs and protein. It has been popular in the last few years, because once you reach ketosis (burning fat to make energy) your weight can drop quickly, and you feel satiated. Again, it is easy to regain the weight if you stop this diet or sneak in carb rich foods from time to time. A ketogenic diet can be life changing for a person with a brain injury, a seizure disorder or cognitive issues, including Alzheimer’s. There is interesting research in using it in cancer as well.
There are many other diets out there. Which one is right for you? Here’s the bottom line. A healthy diet is rich in plant matter. Lots of colorful vegetables, some whole fruit. Limit processed foods, sugar, refined grains, alcohol. Eat good quality fat like cold pressed oils, grass fed butter, raw nuts and seeds. Eat whole grains. If you are eating meat, don’t make it the centerpiece of your plate, eat smaller amounts and increase the vegetable portion. And drink clean water.
And with Farmer’s markets opening this month, it is easy to find lots of local food to eat. Bon Appetite!!
By Dr. Jennifer Means ND, LAc