I have started to feel like proponents of different diet styles are almost as polarized as our political climate now (and no, I won’t be getting into that!) Those who believe whole food, plant based is the ONLY way to be, battle the Paleo proponents and Keto proponents daily..bacon anyone? (But there is also a version of Keto that is vegan…how does that fit in??) Then there is the Carnivore diet, Intermittent fasting diet, Mediterranean and on and on. Even for someone in the field, it can be very confusing!
To make matters worse, it’s not just bloggers and cookbook sellers who claim their diet is best. Some very well respected professionals from MDs to nutritionists espouse different diets. For example, Dr. Mark Hyman, Dr Michael Greger, Dr. Weil, and Dr. Neal Barnard, are all physicians I admire and follow regularly for health and diet information. However, they all have at least slightly different takes on diet. So what’s a gal (or guy) to do?
So, What Should I Eat?
My opinion, after coaching hundreds of different people of different ages, sexes, activity levels, etc. is that there is no one diet that is best for everyone. I also tend to think that there is no one diet that is the healthiest for overall health. Those two statements are not synonymous for several reasons.
If you LOVE a good steak, I think you would find it hard to say that you would be happy forever on a diet that NEVER allowed it. I personally could be very happy never eating steak again, and it’s possible I won’t. Since I don’t think it offers any health benefits that I can’t get elsewhere, I am not going to seek out even a grass-fed, hormone-free steak.
But if I am coaching someone who does love steak, I might see if they are open to the idea of limiting how often they eat it. Perhaps when they do choose beef, suggest they select a healthier grass-fed steak, instead of a hormone-infused beef steak. Or, I might suggest that for a period of time, they avoid steak or beef, but not say you have to stop eating it forever.
I have also coached people who have tried a diet style, from Keto to Vegan and said they just didn’t feel good while they remained on it. These feelings can be very natural for the first days or even a week or two of following a new diet. However, if you have been on a style of eating for weeks and you feel worse, not better, it is probably not right for you.
Is there a psychological component? Probably, but that doesn’t matter. A new way of healthful eating should ultimately make you feel better, not worse. And I think it is likely that different body chemistry makes different diets somewhat better than others for YOU.
What Foods to Avoid
However, I also think there are foods that are rarely good for you. Most health professionals agree on certain things such as limiting processed foods, sweets, and sugary drinks and eating more fruits and vegetables, legumes, and quality protein.
However, even “bad” foods can have a place in your diet. Soda is an example. Most of the time, I would say that it is not a good choice, but if you are at mile 75 of a bike race, dehydrated and bonking, and the only options at the aid station are water or Coke, I think the Coke would likely help you finish the race whereas with water, you may be unable to finish. I’d rather see you drink a better electrolyte drink with calories, but if that isn’t an option, I’d go for the Coke.
Preventable Causes of Disease
The ongoing Global Burden of Disease Study (GBD), is arguably the most comprehensive study to examine the causes of death and disease worldwide. Using data from dozens of epidemiological (population) studies covering 195 countries, it quantifies rates of death and disease from major diseases, injuries, and health risk factors.
In 2018, researchers who analyzed GBD data collected over the past 30 years published a comprehensive report on the health effects of diet, and found that poor diets cause more deaths globally than tobacco, high blood pressure, or any other health risk.
Specifically, the 2018 analysis of GBD data linked one in every five deaths worldwide — about 11 million people in 2017 — to poor diet, and found that diet exerts the biggest positive and negative effects on risk for cardiovascular disease (CVD), followed by risks for cancer and type 2 diabetes.
A recent review of the study found that in terms of preventing disease, eating enough healthy foods mattered more than avoiding all unhealthy foods. For example, the review found the most CVD-related deaths were linked to a lack of whole grains, nuts and/or seeds, and fruits . The only “unhealthy” too much sodium. However, the only “unhealthy” food that seemed to matter a lot was too much sodium (generally found in most processed foods).
Bottomline, I think we have to find a healthy eating style that will fit with our lifestyles and beliefs. That might be Vegan, Mediterranean, low carb etc. I think it is better to focus on ways to make our eating healthier, than it is to try to be overly strict in our eating. For most of us, eating is a pleasure, and often a social activity. I am not saying throw out nutrition, but rather, find a healthy way of eating that works for you most of the time and focus on getting more generally accepted healthy foods like vegetables, nuts and seeds, as well as high fiber foods like legumes. Bon appetit!