Mostly all of us looking to lead a healthier lifestyle are always on the lookout for what diet is best for us. What we look for is one that is both sustainable and suitable for our needs while still allowing us to be happy and enjoy food. A diet choice is individualistic and depends on your genetics, physical activity, and general preferences.
Diet is undeniably important; it’s the number one determiner when it comes to health in modern day society. Eating optimally is associated with; increased life expectancy, a dramatic reduction in risk of chronic disease, improved body composition and better physical function and well being. Here are important factors to think about when choosing your best diet.
Eat whole foods in their most natural state
An optimal diet can’t be designed with a set of rigid principles but instead by following a set of broader guidelines. If we compare some of the most popular diets; vegan, low-carb, paleo, low-fat, low-glycemic, Mediterranean, balanced, vegetarian: we can conclude that all of these diets are beneficial and no diet is clearly the best. That being said, a different dietary profile isn’t necessary to prevent cardiovascular disease versus cancer versus obesity.
There is a commonality across all diets that can work for all. You should favour whole, minimally processed foods in their most natural state. Several reasons to avoid processed foods include; increased spike in blood sugar and insulin, processed and man-made fats cause cellular changes and increase the risk of heart disease and diabetes. Processed foods almost always have added sugar, and lack fiber and nutrients, resulting in a poor nutritional profile. They also have been designed to be hyperpalatable and stimulate food intake. Lastly, they also have a lower thermic effect, which is the number of calories required by the body to digest and assimilate the food we’re eating.
Eating a diet of whole, minimally processed foods is an excellent way to improve your nutrition and protect yourself from disease and obesity.
Eat mostly plants
In the western world, plant-based foods, especially vegetables aren’t given as much emphasis as they should. Plant-based foods have a multitude of health benefits and help in mitigating the effects of unhealthy dietary components.
Although diets high in animal protein provide important nutrients that are not available in vegetarian diets, they can lead to the growth of inflammatory gut bacteria that can increase the risk of disease. Including vegetables in your diet will provide probiotics that feed friendly bacteria in the gut to counter inflammation in the GI tract.
Plant-based foods are also rich in antioxidants that support mitochondrial health and reduce increased free radicals that are associated with heavy meat consumption. Additionally, plant-based foods are rich in fiber that moderate blood sugar and lower insulin levels associated with carbohydrate-rich foods. A good example is the pairing of antioxidant-rich berries with high-carb foods like toast or oatmeal. This has been shown to bring blood sugar response to a healthier range.
Making sure to add a colourful variety of plant-based foods to any diet will lower the risk of disease and moderate appetite for better body composition.
Eat organic/pasture-raised/wild Animals
The recommendation to eat mostly plants is not the same as advocating a vegetarian or vegan diet. It showcases the necessity to increase plant based-foods in the typical western diet while calling our attention to the fact that not all animal foods are made equal. Animal foods are themselves a product of pure plant foods, and the composition of animal flesh and milk is as much influenced by their diet as we are by ours.
Unfortunately, industrial meat and fish production have resulted in feeding animals processed grains, supplemental fats, and animal parts that are not part of their natural diets.
It’s important to have animal meat in our diets which provide creatine (essential for athletic performance), carnitine (aids in fat burning), iron (necessary for energy production), and vitamin B12 (essential for cognition and energy levels), none of which are readily available in vegetarian diets.
The key is to invest in organic, pasture-raised, or wild animal products. This results in higher concentrations of omega-3 fats (EPA and DHA) compared to grain-fed animals.
Organic and wild meats are also higher in glutathione, an amino acid composite that protects DNA and cells from cancer. Organic beef and ham have the highest glutathione content of all foods, surpassed only by fresh vegetables like asparagus. Organic, pasture-raised dairy also benefits from higher vitamin K, a nutrient deficient in western diets, omega-3 fats, and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), an anti-inflammatory compound.
Animal products are a nutritionally rich part of a healthy diet. Including them adds variety, texture, and flavour. Just ensure all your meat, fish, and dairy are nutritious and sustainable options.
Adopt fixed meal times
An area of nutrition research that can help reduce obesity and metabolic problems is chrono-nutrition or eating specific meals at specific times of the day. Organs in the body release enzymes and hormones to break down the different types of food we eat in a very calculated and organised way. Eating at times that go against your bodies natural biological clock will disrupt your circadian rhythm. It can also lead to the release of hormones, like insulin, cortisol, and ghrelin (all metabolic hormones involved in regulating appetite) at the wrong times. This is associated with metabolic problems and obesity.
The liver is a metabolic organ involved in eliminating toxins and processing carbohydrates and fats. It runs on a 4-hour cycle, which means that meals should be spaced out to take advantage. The pancreas, which secretes insulin also has a circadian clock, which may be one reason that studies show greater weight loss when subjects eat their largest meals earlier in the day compared to at dinner.
Avoid grazing and schedule meals that are at least 3-4 hours apart. Adopt a set meal frequency, eating at roughly the same time every day. If you can help it, try to reduce your eating window between 10-12 hours of the day to assist in greater levels of satiety a healthier body composition.
Take control of what you eat
If you feel like you have no control when it comes to food, something needs to change. Maybe you need up the proportions of proteins or fats, or you’ve been restricting yourself of high-quality carbohydrates in your meal. Make sure you aren’t choosing hyperpalatable foods that are designed to stimulate food intake, making it much harder for you to eat smaller portions e.g. pizza, cookies or chips.
Unrestricted eating isn’t a healthy way to live, psychologically or metabolically. It can be difficult to take control when faced by so many opinions and articles about diets. However, you’re the one who has to deal with your food choices and thus, you can make the right ones.
To get healthy and enjoy your diet, find a way of eating that allows you to avoid cravings and feel satisfied after meals.
Food should be a pleasurable experience that adds value to your life, not the other way round.