We are looking at steps that we can take to improve everyday health but I do consider there to be some “ideal diet”guidelines to be working toward. Diet of course meaning what you eat as a lifestyle not a short term food change to lose weight. I do believe this is a bit of a one-size-fits-all eating solution because it will benefit everyone although food allergies or other issues may cause adjustment.
A recent review on some popular American diets shows that many of the diets have basic similarities but we tend to look at the differences instead of the similarities.1
Figure 1. The theme of optimal eating. Diverse diets making competing claims actually emphasize key elements that are generally compatible, complementary, or even duplicative. Competition for public attention and a share of weight-loss/health-promotion markets results in exaggerated claims and an emphasis on mutually exclusive rather than shared elements.
So when we look at similarities this is generally what we get:
The Whole Food Mostly Plant-based1
-Mostly whole fruits and vegetable
-Beans and legumes
-Moderate whole grains
-Moderate healthy fats like nuts, seeds, avocados, olives, and healthy oils
-Meat and dairy moderate to sparingly, focusing on lean meats and fish
-Sugar and salt sparingly
-Keep away from too many refined oils and super processed foods
Pretty straight forward. No counting points or calories, expensive supplements, cleanses, and the rest of the list of requirements for all those other fad diets. Many current diets incorporate at least parts of this but we really need to stop treating it as a “diet” and put it into everyday choices that make a lifestyle. This is a long-term plan that can lead to long-term health.
Now I know at this point, there are a lot of people that roll their eyes and say they will never give up their steak. Or that they would want the last bite of food they ever take to be smothered in cheese. I’ll be honest, I love milk. And meat. But for health purposes, meat and dairy really need to be minimized compared to the amount of plant-based food we eat.
So now to those long-term magical benefits that will make you throw out your favorite yogurt flavor and embrace fresh spinach:
-reverse heart disease 4
-stroke and hypertension prevention 3
-general benefits that people usually find like weight loss, clear skin, greater energy, etc
There is a bit of a debate about the role of animal protein in diet, mostly about the studies that only show associations of protein and disease and not hard evidence of causality. But nutrition and how our body processes food is a complex system. Just try to eat less and focus on eating lean meats and fish. Healthy fats like omega-3’s can be obtained from eating things like flax seed but they are most readily available by eating oily fish like salmon or trout.8
If you have chronic health conditions or a family history of them, you may want to change your diet faster. But the pace is yours to set so go for it! Just take it a step at a time.
- Katz DL, Meller S. “Can We Say What Diet Is Best for Health?” Annual Review of Public Health. Mar 2014; 35: 83-103. (A general diet review. Lots of cited research. Read online here.)
- Fung T, van Dam R, et al. “Low-carbohydrate diets and all-cause and cause-specific mortality: Two cohort Studies”. Ann Intern Med. Sep 7, 2010; 153(5): 289–298. (20 year cohort study. Read online here.)
- Van Duyn M, Pivonka E. “Overview of the Health Benefits of Fruit and Vegetable Consumption for the Dietetics Professional”. J Am Diet Assoc. 2000; 100:1511-1521. (Cited literature review. Read online here.)
- Ornish D, Brown SE, et al. “Can lifestyle changes reverse coronary heart disease? The Lifestyle Heart Trial”. Lancet. 1990 Jul 21; 336(8708):129-33. (Diet change as part of the overall lifestyle change for experimental group. Read online here.)
- Cooper A, Sharp S, et al. “A Prospective Study of the Association Between Quantity and Variety of Fruit and Vegetable Intake and Incident Type 2 Diabetes”. Diabetes Care. 2012; 35:1293–300. (Review of cohort studies. Read online here.)
- Fung T, Hu FB, et al. “Major dietary patterns and the risk of colorectal cancer in women”. Arch Intern Med. 2003;163:309–314. (Looking at the “western” diet. Read online here.)
- Fung T, Schulze M, et al. “Dietary patterns, meat intake, and the risk of type 2 diabetes in women”. Arch Intern Med. 2004 Nov 8;164(20):2235-40. (Looking at the “western” diet. Read online here.)
- “Why not flaxseed oil?”. Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide, Nov 2006. Web. 7 Jan 2015. (Read online here.)