Which Diet is Best for You?
It can be overwhelming trying to decide which diet is best for you. After all, there is a lot of information available when it comes to what we should and shouldn’t be eating. As a functional medicine doctor, I know that diets aren’t a one-size-fits-all.
A diet doesn’t always mean you’re trying to lose weight. Some people need specialized diets because of food allergies or sensitivities, while others may need diets because of chronic illnesses such as diabetes or autoimmune disease. I even saw many patients who I had to put on special diets to gain weight because of their condition.
It may not be as simple as following keto, vegan or vegetarian, or a low- or no-carb diet. For example, I always recommend eliminating gluten and dairy out of your diet regardless of what you follow. In general the food you eat should be fuel for your body, full of nutrient-rich foods. Giving your body what it needs while following a specific diet helps give you the structure you may need to reach your optimal weight and feel satisfied. Let’s take a look at some of the popular diets.
Standard American Diet (SAD)
The Standard American Diet, appropriately abbreviated SAD, is one of the worst choices for a healthy diet. It is full of processed and inflammatory foods and typically high in sodium, trans fats, refined sugars and lacks important omega-3 fatty acids.1 Nearly ¾ of the food on the SAD is processed food.2 Unfortunately, it happens to be the way most Americans (and many people worldwide) choose to eat.
This way of eating has the ability to make you overweight and malnourished at the same time because of how much processed food is a part of this diet. The more processed a food is, the more likely it is to be high in calories, sugar, and salt, and lacking nutrients. If you eat a diet loaded with simple carbohydrates such as bread, pasta, potatoes, and sugar, it increases your risk of many health problems such as leaky gut, heart disease, or autoimmune disease.
You fight an uphill battle achieving optimal health when the available food is designed to create obesity and disease. Many Americans eating this way turn to calorie counting to lose weight, however that can be counterproductive if you still aren’t getting essential nutrients.
Gluten offers no real nutritional value and wreaks havoc on the gut, leading to intestinal permeability (leaky gut) and eventually to autoimmune disease. However, simply removing gluten and following a gluten-free diet is not enough to ensure optimal health and protection from disease.
Gluten can be found in most processed food such as bread, cookies, beer, and even sauces and condiments. It can also be found in places you may not think to look. Gluten can be in our paint, stamps, beauty products, and even in medications, supplements, and herbal formulas.
The only way you can be 100% sure that gluten is not getting into your food is to eat whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, and grass-fed meats. Many people who adopt a gluten-free diet immediately feel better because gluten is no longer wreaking havoc in their body. They also feel better because they have stopped eating processed foods.
In an effort to keep up with the current health trends, food manufacturers have begun to offer “gluten-free diet friendly” versions of those very same processed foods that are a staple of the Standard American diet. The problem is that most gluten-free products are even more refined than their gluten-containing counterparts. In fact, many gluten-free products are often very low in vitamins and minerals such as iron, b-vitamins, and zinc.
Although I advocate that everyone ditch gluten, simply eating “gluten-free” is not enough. Instead of focusing on this one thing to avoid, focus on eating the right things (whole fruits and vegetables and organic grass-fed meats and wild caught fish) when pursuing a diet free of gluten. Avoiding gluten is just a part of the holistic picture that is healthy eating.
The Keto Diet
You have probably heard of the ketogenic, or “keto” diet. It’s one of the most popular diets in the U.S., however the keto diet is not new. It was developed around 100 years ago to help children with epilepsy. It has since been shown to be an effective tool in managing type 2 diabetes. 3 Fast-forward to today, and keto is everywhere.
I am currently following the keto diet and have found the results to be incredible. I am able to enjoy delicious, whole foods without preservatives or toxins getting in the way of my health. Since I’ve already cut gluten and processed food out of my diet it was a pretty easy tweak to start keto. I’ve even lost all the weight I gained during quarantine! So what exactly is the keto diet?
What is the Keto Diet?
The keto diet is designed to put your body into a state of ketosis. Usually, your body is fueled by the conversion of carbohydrates into glucose. This happens through the insulin produced in your pancreas.
In ketosis, your liver processes fats to generate energy for your body. The keto diet switches fats into energy by depriving your body of glucose. Keto achieves this by focusing on high-fat, low-carb foods so that your liver creates an alternative fuel called ketones.
Over a long period of time, very low carbohydrate diets have been reported to lead to ketoacidosis, a state when excessive ketones produce a dangerously toxic level of acid in the blood. This can cause your liver enzymes to elevate and increase your risk of fatty liver disease.4 That is why it’s important to support your liver health while on the keto diet.
Following a keto diet has been shown to improve insulin resistance, high blood pressure, and elevated cholesterol and triglycerides. All of these impact overall heart health and heart disease in particular.56 Studies show that low-carb diets may also improve fertility in overweight and obese women.7
Following a keto diet in the short term — generally no more than a few months — may cause no problems and allow you to enjoy all its benefits. However, I suggest periodically increasing carbohydrates if you continue the diet long-term. As with all changes in your health regimen, seek the advice of your functional medicine practitioner before you begin.
The Paleo Diet
If you are trying to determine what diet is best for you it might be a good idea to look to our caveman ancestors. The Paleo diet is based on foods similar to what scientists believe were eaten during the Paleolithic era, which was about 2.5 million years ago.8
I like the Paleo diet because it places an importance on whole foods and avoids processed foods, toxins, and leaky gut-causing foods. Let’s take a look at the Paleo diet.
What is the Paleo Diet?
The Paleo diet gained a lot of popularity in recent years, especially among fitness enthusiasts because of the high amount of protein it includes. As I mentioned earlier, the Paleo diet is based on the theoretical diet of our ancestors, before agriculture. The idea is we should follow in their footsteps and forgo foods that did not exist back then, or not cultivated for consumption.
All processed food is off limits on the Paleo diet, including preservatives and additives. Added to the list of foods to avoid are dairy products, grains, and legumes. While that may seem like a substantial portion of your diet, remember that whole foods such as meat, fish, nuts, and seeds, vegetables, and fruit are the most nutrient dense foods available, and they are all permitted on the Paleo diet.
A Paleo autoimmune protocol does exist, which also excludes nightshade vegetables, nuts, seeds, alcohol, eggs, sweeteners, certain medications, and certain foods that may cross-react with gluten. As long as a variety of whole foods are eaten, the Paleo diet can be a very nutrient-dense option, as the main idea is the avoidance of processed foods and the focus on foods that come from the earth.
How is the Paleo Diet Different From the Keto Diet?
While the Paleo diet focuses on avoiding processed foods, the keto diet focuses on a particular macronutrient balance to send your body into ketosis. While there will be some overlap in acceptable foods, such as most meats and vegetables, these two diets are very different from one another in the proportion of macronutrients you consume daily.
The Vegan Diet or Vegetarian Diet
The vegan and vegetarian diets are similar, yet have one major difference – vegans eliminate all food made from animals including dairy products, eggs, and honey. Some people on a vegan diet also will not wear clothing made from animals. The vegetarian diet is one of the more popular plant-based diets. People who follow a vegetarian diet will typically still eat dairy products and fish.9
As a functional medicine doctor, I don’t recommend a vegan or vegetarian diet, including vegetarian meat substitutes. Avoiding meat can make it difficult to get enough essential nutrients including iron, vitamin B, and even protein. The beans, grains, and dairy vegetarians lean on as a food source can lead to leaky gut and increased inflammation throughout your body.
Are Vegan Diets and Vegetarian Diets Healthy?
Although adopted by many people in an effort to eat healthy and get away from the meat-centered Standard American Diet, a vegan diet is not necessarily healthy. As I mentioned, deficiencies of iron and other important nutrients such as vitamin B12, which your body doesn’t naturally produce and can only be found in animal products, are common in people eating a vegan diet and they usually require supplementation.
This way of eating does not necessarily exclude processed foods, or outline in any way what one should eat. A meal consisting of potato chips, Diet Coke, and Oreos is technically vegan. If you want to see if a vegan diet or vegetarian diet is the best diet for you, make sure your focus is on keeping nutritious plant foods as the bulk of what you eat, and avoid processed and Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) foods.
The vegetarian diet has the same pitfalls as a vegan diet. The emphasis is placed on avoiding meat rather than including high-quality plant foods instead of processed foods. People on these diets tend to lean on grains and legumes, which are problematic if you have autoimmune disease or leaky gut. The vegetarian diet allows dairy and eggs, which are also inflammatory for many people. I recommend those with an autoimmune disease omit these foods from their diets completely, at least until their gut has healed.
The Myers Way®
The Myers Way® is not so much a diet as it is a way of life. The protocol is a Paleo-autoimmune diet where you eat lean, grass-fed animal protein, along with plenty of leafy-greens, vegetables, and healthy fats.
The autoimmune protocol, sometimes called an autoimmune diet or AIP diet, is designed to help reduce the pain and inflammation that comes with being on the autoimmune spectrum. The AIP diet eliminates toxic and inflammatory foods and replaces them with foods rich in essential vitamins and minerals. Following an AIP diet can help heal your gut, reduce inflammation, and move you back down the autoimmune spectrum.
Many people have specific food sensitivities, and it’s important to know what those are. That way, you can tailor your diet to fit your body. An elimination diet is a great tool to help you identify which foods will and will not work for you. Let’s talk about an elimination diet and its advantages.
What Is An Elimination Diet?
An elimination diet is an eating plan that helps to pinpoint which foods are causing the uncomfortable, painful, or mysterious symptoms you are experiencing. An elimination diet involves removing specific foods from your diet for 30 days. Once the elimination diet is complete, you begin reintroducing these foods one by one while keeping an eye on your body’s reactions and symptoms to help identify the foods causing sensitivity.
Adding digestive enzymes while on any diet will support optimal digestion and nutrient absorption, as well as assist the body’s intestinal repair and inflammation responses. I formulated Complete Enzymes specifically for those of you with digestive issues, food sensitivities, and nutrient absorption challenges. These enzymes break down everything from protein and protein peptides to carbohydrates, disaccharides, sugars, lipids/fats, and even vegetable fibers.
Whether you choose the keto or Paleo diets, or to avoid gluten or meat, or eat completely plant-based, the first part of your best diet begins by eliminating processed sugars, gluten and dairy. Eat nutrient-rich foods, grass-fed meats, leafy-greens, and organic fruits and vegetables. By focusing on nourishing your body and giving it the nutrients it needs you’ll be on your way to achieving optimal health.
If you’re on the autoimmune spectrum or have been diagnosed with a thyroid condition, check out my interview with Taylor Morgan on optimizing your diet to support thyroid function:
FAQ About Diets
How do I choose the right diet for me?
How do I choose the right diet for me?
I recommend a diet full of nutrient-rich foods, grass-fed proteins, leafy-greens, and organic fruits and vegetables.
What is the healthiest diet?
What is the healthiest diet?
There is no one “healthiest” diet, since everybody is different and will react differently to certain foods. To find the best diet for you, I recommend beginning with an elimination diet to identify which foods do and do not agree with your body.
What is a good diet to eat everyday?
What is a good diet to eat everyday?
The best diet for you to eat everyday is the one that you can feasibly stick to following and provides you with your full range of nutritional requirements. I do not recommend calorie counting and instead support the idea of eating what you need to feel full while fulfilling your nutrition requirements, no matter what, if any, specific diet you follow.
- Why are so many Americans so unhealthy?. Keith Rowe. Brain MD. 2020.
- Is Processed Food a Pandora’s Box for the American Diet?. PBS. 2013.
- A low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diet to treat type 2 diabetes. William S Yancy Jr., Marjorie Foy, Allison M Chalecki, Mary C Vernon, and Eric C Westman. U.S. National Library of Medicine. 2005.
- Ketogenic Diet-induced Elevated Cholesterol, Elevated Liver Enzymes and Potential Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease. Chika V Anekwe, Poongodi Chandrasekaran, and Fatima C Stanford. U.S. National Library of Medicine. 2020.
- Ketogenic diet for obesity: friend or foe?. Antonio Paoli. PubMed. 2014.
- Comparison of effects of long-term low-fat vs high-fat diets on blood lipid levels in overweight or obese patients: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Lukas Schwingshackl and Georg Hoffmann. PubMed. 2013.
- The Effect of Low Carbohydrate Diets on Fertility Hormones and Outcomes in Overweight and Obese Women: A Systematic Review. Melanie McGrice and Judi Porter. MDPI. 2017.
- Paleo diet: What is it and why is it so popular?. May Clinic Staff. May Clinic. 2020.
- Becoming a vegitarian. . Harvard Medical School. 2020.
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