Is there a best diet? Some will tell you what they think the best diet is, but does anyone really knows for sure?
Some argue for the vegan diet. Some for the Paleo diet. Some for low fat, low cholesterol diet. Some for a low glycemic diet. Some for a ketogenic diet, and so on.
Our typical recommendation has been a low glycemic diet with lean sources of meat from grass-fed animals and free-range poultry. In my experience such a diet works well for weight loss and improved metabolic parameters for 70% of the population. It clearly doesn’t work for everyone, though. And, I am not sure why. Genetics, I suppose.
I have seen patients respond well to all of those diets just mentioned above making answering the question, “is there a best diet” more challenging. Yet, most nutrition experts have a strong bias when it comes to diet and feel anyone who disagrees with them is wrong.
Nutrition can be a controversial subject. Discussing nutrition can get heated not unlike talking politics or something like the issue of abortion.
History shows that humans can thrive on diets of raw fat and protein from marine animals (Intuit Eskimos) as well as diets largely involving consumption of wild plants (Australian aborigines) to diets involving everything in between.
This suggests that maybe the content of what we eat isn’t nearly as important as we seem to think.
Making sense of the research on nutrition is challenging too, as you can find studies that support the practice of nearly any diet or nutrition program – and these can all be “well-conducted” studies.
In the upcoming articles we are going to taking a more intense look at diet and nutrition. Eating healthy is the single most important thing you can do for your physical health. It would be nice to have some solid advice on what to eat and what not to eat and our goal is to shed some light on what the best diet might be – for you.
The Best Diet Challenge
So is there a best diet? A more appropriate question is, “Is there best diet for me?” And, that is likely going to require some experimentation on your part.
As an aside, among my patients who have lost significant weight on their own, the best approach appears simply this. Eat fewer calories – not exactly an earth shattering revelation or rocket science. I have had patients lose 60 to 90 pounds over six to nine months by changing very little if anything in their diet, but rather by simply eating like a thin person – eating less food.
There are general principles and common strategies that successful diets share that we have discussed in many of our prior posts and will review shortly below.
One point of clarification in answering the best diet question is this, “The best diet for what?” Best diet for weight loss? Best diet for general health? Best diet for diabetes? Best diet to reduce heart disease?
It would seem reasonable that a best diet would address all those concerns – at least it should. One diet may be successful at weight loss in the short run, but be unhealthy in the long run. A healthy diet – a best diet – is a daily thing. It is not something you go on and off. It should be part of a larger healthy way of life.
Phrases like “heart healthy diet”, “brain healthy diet”, “diabetic diet”, or “arthritis diet” never made much sense to me. A truly healthy diet should be healthy for the entire body and for any chronic condition we might encounter it seems to me.
Also, just because one diet works for a given population or individual doesn’t mean it is the only one that would work.
One thing interesting about medicine and health, and any other profession for that matter, is the more you learn and the more you delve into an area, the more you realize you don’t know as much as you thought. And, that is where I find myself today when it comes to diet.
It is your health. How you eat is your decision.
The Common Link Among the Best Diets
It seems wise when discussing controversial topics to start with common ground. Start where most experts agree.
Let’s make an analogy. Pro Life and Pro Choice individuals are never going to see eye to eye because they are arguing their positions from two very different perspectives. They are not arguing the topic from the same point of contention. But, one area where both sides can agree upon or should – the one area where there should be no disagreement at all is this. There are far too many unwanted pregnancies. Why?
Can we get the number of unwanted pregnancies so low that to a very large degree the topic becomes less relevant and heated? In other words, can we find a way to minimize the problem into non-existence? If we can settle the abortion
It seems wise to start with common ground when dealing with fundamentally opposing views.
We see a similar fundamental divide when it comes to nutrition between vegans and meat-eaters. There are zealots on both sides of this dietary divide. Some vegans are vegans for purely health reasons, but some are vegan more because they are against animal cruelty and they promote a vegan diet primarily for that purpose.
Vegans will point to studies that show lower BMIs the more vegan a diet becomes and lower rates of diabetes, cancer, and heart disease.
Meat-eaters feel anything on this earth if fair game for eating.
Like the abortion issue it is highly unlikely that either side is going to win over any significant number of converts. But, what if anything, do both sides have in common?
A plant-based diet and a Paleo (meat-eating) diet do share some common ground. They both recommend no processed foods and no high glycemic carbohydrates – carbs that cause rapid spikes in blood sugar and insulin. So that seems to be a good place to start. Eliminate the bad carbs. Both promote consumption of whole foods.
Eating foods in their most natural state seems intuitively obvious hardly requiring studies to prove it, but apparently it does. Where healthy successful diets mainly differ is in the area of the relative contributions to diet of the macronutrients. How much protein and from what source? How much carbs? How much fat?
To some degree the key to a healthy diet isn’t so much what is in it, but rather what is absent from it (like bad carbs). Knowing that makes it easier to follow a particular diet. You don’t have to worry about knowing the 100 things you are permitted to eat. Simply know the dozen of foods to avoid – and then avoid them.
Can we use, however, the areas of common ground to better define what is a best diet? We think so.
We think the following is a good place to start.
- A plant-based diet: fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, spices, and grains.
- Lean protein with olive oil being a source of fat, too.
Diet Today Versus Yesteryear
One thing that is frequently overlooked when comparing diets is that today is not yesteryear. Our food today is rather tainted today especially meat – but also fruits and vegetables. We live in an ever growing toxic environment – a term coined by Kelly Brownell, PhD. in his book, Food Fight: The Inside Story of the Food Industry.
This makes comparing a vegan diet to one that allows for consumption of today’s toxic meats differ than comparing a vegan diet to a Paleo diet of a thousand of years ago involving the consumption of “clean” animal products.
Eighty-percent of antibiotics used in the United States today are given to livestock and poultry and then passed onto us indirectly. A large number of hormones are also given to those same animals and those hormones potentially disrupt our own hormonal balance (see hormone disruptors). Meat and poultry is sold by the pound and animals are intentionally fattened because of that.
So it may not be the consumption of meat that is potentially unhealthy in the eyes of the vegan, but the consumption of hormone and antibiotics that comes with eating meat, or the mercury that comes from eating fish, that is unhealthy.
Pesticides are used on plants and today’s plants are manipulated to grow to produce larger fruits and veggies more quickly.
There is no such thing as clean water anywhere on the globe – clean unfiltered water that is.
Let’s take a look at today’s general health? First, have you noticed how quickly teenage girls develop these days? Why? The younger generations also seem much taller than one would predict from a mere drop in the bucket of an additional 25 years of “evolution”. More and more younger men have fertility issues and low levels of testosterone – and these are global findings. Something is happening to hormone levels. Why?
Is our toxic diet a key factor in these observations and also in the rise in obesity, depression/anxiety, ADD, autism, heart disease, cancer, hypertension, diabetes, and other diseases? It seems unlikely that improved awareness and diagnosis alone explain the dramatic rise in incidence of these conditions. Something environmental must be at play – perhaps it is our food. If not that, what?
Body builders talk about eating clean. But, eating clean takes on another meaning in today’s toxic environment. A best diet should be clean from all toxins as much as possible. That may be the most important characteristic of a “best diet” – being free of toxins.
Maybe if we get rid of the toxins the content of what we eat may matter less. After all, history shows that humans can do quite well on nearly any diet as we stated previously.
A Best Diet Should Be Toxin Free
The presence of toxins in our foods has to be recognized when deciding what kind of diet to adopt. If you are going to eat meat avoid animal products treated with hormones and antibiotics. When it comes to fruits and vegetables consider organically grown to avoid toxins as well.
So, is there a best diet? In our opinion there is a best diet for each individual. We still think the low glycemic diet with lean sources of meat from grass-fed animals and/or free-range poultry is a good starting point for most along with removing the toxins from you diet.
A “best diet” should naturally provide all the nutrients you need without the need for supplementation to avoid a deficiency state. A pure vegan diet falls short in this regard as it is deficient in B12. But, B12 supplementation is easy to do if going vegan is your preference.
I tried a vegan diet for 30 days and will share my experience in an upcoming article