What is the best diet?

Nutrition is confusing. Before you commit to a diet, here’s what you should know.

Did you know that there are over 100 diets? Is food really that hard that we need 100 different kinds of diets? Each one probably has scientific studies to show that their diet is the best diet. Eat Paleo. Eat vegetarian. Eat vegan. Try intermittent fasting. Do 5 & 2. Eat soy. No don’t eat soy, soy is terrible for you. Potatoes will make you fat. No, potatoes are good for you, they have resistant starch. You’ve got to count calories. No, calories don’t matter. You’ve got to go raw. No, go gluten-free. It’s no wonder people are confused!

I’ve been studying nutrition science for 35 years, and even the experts are confused by the science. If the people we look to for nutritional guidance keep changing their views, it’s no wonder that the rest of us are befuddled and mystified.”

Dr. Mark Hyman “Food– What the Heck Should I Eat?”

So that pretty much says it all, from the guy who’s an expert and wrote the book, What the Heck Should I Eat?

Dietary theories are confusing and contradicting but at the end of the day, all dietary theories just play with different balances of these 3 things – the balance, the source or the timing of macronutrients.

So what are macronutrients? They are the nutrients the body needs a large amount of. They give the body energy and are measured in calories. Macronutrients are carbohydrates, proteins and fats.

Balance means the ratio of carbohydrates to fats to proteins. Different diets are basically moving around the ratio of how many carbs and how many fats to how many proteins a person should be ideally consuming in a day. Some diets are high carb. Some are low carb. Some are high protein. Some are low protein. Some are high fat. Some are low fat. Some are high protein and high fat.

Source means which type of carbohydrates or fats or proteins. For example, when it comes to protein, whether to eat plant-based protein such as tofu, lentils, chickpeas, nuts etc. or animal-based protein such as meat, chicken and fish. Carbohydrates could focus on plant sources – raw fruits and vegetables, only gluten-free carbohydrate sources, only specific grains etc.

Timing refers to when to eat carbs or fats or proteins and how much because some diets have very specific recommendations for the timing of the foods you eat. Some diets focus on fasting for 16 hours or 8 hours, other will recommend only eating carbohydrates at certain times of the day, or not at all. Some diets will recommend no carbs at all for several days and then cycle in carbs. The Serotonin Power diet or Potatoes not Prozac diet, actually recommend eating carbs at night to stimulate the production of serotonin. Other diets suggest that you only have carbohydrates in the morning so that you’re burning through them through the day. And you don’t eat them at night when the body’s about to go into rest and detoxification overnight.

Let’s look at some practical examples of diets

So let’s take a look at two of the more trendy diets at the moment – the Paleo and Vegan diets. Paleo is a diet that is all about only eating foods that people would have eaten during the “Palaeolithic” era.  The paleo diet essentially removes all carbohydrates except non-starchy vegetables and fruit.

  1. The carbohydrate source is going to be non-starchy vegetables and fruits. The emphasis is on high-quality fat and animal protein over plant-based protein – meat, fish and eggs.
  2. The balance is generally higher in animal-based protein than plant-based protein and lower in carbohydrates. Advocates of this diet believe that eating this way is anti-inflammatory which is to a degree correct as this diet cuts out  processed foods and chemicals which have an inflammatory effect on the body.  

Now let’s compare that to the Vegan diet which cuts out animal-based foods or products tested on animals.

  1. In a Vegan diet, the main source of protein is plant-based.
  2. There is a more even balance of carbohydrates, protein and high quality fats such as avocado, olive and coconut oil and seeds. Carbohydrates are important in a Vegan diet to help make sure there is enough protein from fruits and vegetable sources.

Very simply, the Vegan diet is completely opposite to Paleo. Paleo recommends almost no carbs whereas Vegan recommends many carbs. Paleo recommend animal-based protein whereas Vegan recommends no animal protein sources. These are simply contradictory theories but both have studies to back up why you should eat Paleo or why should you eat Vegan and statistics and testimonials that will show how many people have gotten healthy by following those dietary guidelines.

So what is the bottom line?

The bottom line is that diets and dietary theories are either shifting the balanceratio of carbs to fats or proteins, the sourcewhich types of carbs, fats or proteins and how much, or the timing – when to eat carbs, fats or proteins. It’s almost like a big game of Tetris where they’re just moving the pieces around in all different kinds of configurations to come up with a new kind of diet!

It’s no wonder that people are confused, with so many different diets and so much evidence to support the dietary theories.

I’m here to encourage you not to get caught up in comparing diets that might have worked for other people, or happen to be trendy at the time. Everyone is different. What’s right for me, based on my lifestyle, exercise routine, beliefs, stage of life, body type etc. is going to be completely different because I’m completely different to you.

There is no ‘best diet’, but what I would suggest is talking to someone who can take all of those things into consideration to help you find what’s right for you right now. If you’re not ready to do that, have a look at some my “What the heck should I eat” blog for a really simple approach to help get you started.

As a Health Coach, this is what I help people with day in and day out, so if you’d like to talk to someone who can help you cut through the confusion and figure out what’s right for you, I’d love to chat.

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