Which Diet is Right for You?
There’s a lot of information out there when it comes to what we should and shouldn’t be eating. Between low carb, no-carb, vegan, fat-free, paleo, gluten-free, and on and on. It can be hard to sort out! So, which diet is right for you? I’ve broken it down into a few key points, and well, it’s more simple than you think.
First off, I don’t believe there is only one right diet for everyone. Don’t focus on weight loss. Aim instead for lifelong health and vitality, and eat real whole foods that don’t come from a package. Remember the big picture: the food you eat should be fuel for your body. You don’t want excess, but you do need adequate nutrition. By giving your body what it truly needs, you’ll reach an appropriate weight, and feel satisfied while you do it.
Let’s look at the pros and cons of a few popular diets in particular:
Standard American Diet (SAD)
The Standard American Diet, appropriately abbreviated SAD, is one of the worst choices for a healthy diet, and unfortunately, it happens to be the way most Americans (and many people worldwide) choose to eat. This way of eating has the unique ability to make you not only overweight but malnourished at the same time. This is because around three-quarters of what you eat is processed food.1 The more processed a food is, the more likely it is to be high in calories, sugar, and salt, and lacking in nutrients.
It’s no mystery why dieting and weight loss have created a multibillion-dollar industry in the United States.2 The population is fighting an uphill battle in which the available food seems designed to create obesity and disease. To combat this, many Americans turn to calorie counting, but counting calories is not a healthy way to eat. I advocate choosing foods that meet your caloric needs while also filling your nutrient requirements. Why choose a diet that is unsustainable and unhealthy, when you can choose to eat foods that offer you protection from disease?
I wholeheartedly believe that gluten is to be avoided due to the fact that so many of us are sensitive to it. Offering no real nutritive value, gluten wreaks havoc on the gut, leading to intestinal permeability (leaky gut) and eventually to autoimmune disease. But simply removing gluten and following a gluten-free diet, however strict, is not enough to ensure health and protection from disease.
Gluten can be found in most processed food. Bread, cookies, beer, and even sauces and condiments usually contain gluten. Going gluten-free used to mean that you were foregoing these foods and switching to a whole foods-based diet. After all, 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 causing damage in their body, but more importantly they feel better because they have stopped eating processed foods, which contain a whole host of other harmful ingredients.
In an effort to keep up with the current health trends, food manufacturers have begun to offer gluten-free versions of those very same processed foods that are such a staple of the SAD. Just remember: gluten-free junk food is still junk food. Gluten-free products often contain dairy, sugar, GMOs, corn & other harmful grains, and a number of additives and preservatives that cause weight gain and disease. Simply eating “gluten-free” is not enough. Instead of focusing on one thing to avoid, focus on eating the right things: whole fruits, vegetables, and high-quality meats.
The Paleo Diet has gained a lot of popularity in recent years, especially among fitness enthusiasts. Simply put, this way of eating is based on the theoretical diet of our ancestors, before agriculture. The idea is that our bodies are still biologically the same as they were in the Paleolithic Era (hence the name), and therefore we should forgo foods that did not exist back then, or that were not cultivated for consumption.
All processed food is off limits on this 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 like meat, fish, nuts, and seeds, vegetables, and fruit are the most nutritionally dense foods out there, and they are all permitted. Of course, many people choose to make certain adjustments. 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 healthy option, as the main idea is the avoidance of processed foods.
A vegan diet is one in which all animal products are avoided. True vegans do not wear or use anything made from animal products, including honey. Vegan and vegetarian diets are correlated with low rates of cancer, heart disease, and obesity and can be a very good option for some people, but not everyone. I myself was a vegetarian for years, but during that time I ate grains which later led to health complications. You can read more about my own personal journey here, and you can learn about what I myself eat from day to day in this article.
Although adopted by many people in an effort to eat healthfully and back away from the meat-centered SAD, a vegan diet is not necessarily healthy. Deficiencies of iron and other important nutrients like Vitamin B12, which can only be found in animal products, are common and 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 choosing this diet, 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.
Although many vegetarians vary in strictness, a vegetarian diet is usually one that excludes meat, but often includes dairy and eggs. Some people add occasional fish, but still define their diet as vegetarian. This diet has the same pitfalls as a vegan diet, as the emphasis is placed on avoidance of meat rather than the inclusion of high-quality plant foods in favor of processed foods. Also, dairy and eggs are inflammatory for many people and are generally permitted on a vegetarian diet.
The Myers Way®
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. The advantage of The Myers Way is that you can do it whether or not you follow a vegan, vegetarian, or paleo diet. You begin by removing foods that are inflammatory and following an approach similar to the Paleo Autoimmune Protocol. Then, you reintroduce some of those foods while gauging your symptoms in order to identify food sensitivities. Modifying your diet to suit your body’s needs allows your gut to heal, ensuring that you absorb all those wonderful whole foods you are now eating.
Diet is intrinsically tied to your identity, your beliefs and your culture. People rarely say, “I eat a vegetarian diet,” but instead define themselves as “being vegetarian.” These are just a small number of the different diets that exist, and not every person’s body does as well on the same one. Whether you choose to avoid gluten, avoid meat, or eat completely plant-based, the single most important change you can make to your diet is to stop eating foods that come in a package. Focus on nourishing your body and giving it what it needs to function optimally.
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