When it comes to “the right diet,” there’s no one-size fits all approach. That’s because we’re all different – different weight and height, different genetics, and different lifestyles. This is the concept of bioindividuality. You may know someone who thrives really well on a vegan diet but when you tried it, and it left you feeling depleted. Another popular diet is the keto diet – while you may have seen it working wonders for others, it might have had the opposite effect for you, which can be frustrating. There are a lot of fads and diets out there, and knowing which one is right for you can be overwhelming.
It never hurts to try out a new style of eating, as long as you’re listening to your body. However, many are not quite in tune with the messages their bodies are sending, and trying to decode what your body needs can make your head spin.
Here are a few basics to set a good foundation for any diet you choose for yourself.
The quality of your food matters
The quality of your food matters. Big time. There’s a big difference between eating organic versus eating conventional, or eating grass-fed versus eating animal proteins with antibiotics and hormones and growth promoters.
You know the saying, “you are what you eat.” In addition to that, you are what you eat ate. Eating meat that has been injected with hormones and fed growth promoters (which can often include genetically modified grain, corn, soy and even plastics and candy, believe it or not) means we ingest that too. Even in small amounts, antibiotics and pesticides can affect and accumulate in our bodies over time, adding to what is called the toxic burden and interfering with the body’s natural ability to detoxify itself.
In addition, a huge concern with conventional meats is the overuse of antibiotics. The use of antibiotics in livestock has contributed to antibiotic resistance in humans, which is a huge threat to the health of humans and the reason we might not be able to treat certain diseases like pneumonia with antibiotics anymore.
When it comes to quality protein, we want to look for labels like “organic,” “grass fed,” “pasture raised.” This isn’t just a marketing ploy. These meats contain a better ratio of omega-3 fatty acids to omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-3’s are anti-inflammatory, and omega-6’s are pro-inflammatory. Conventional meat has higher amounts of omega-6’s, leading to more inflammation in our food and thus our bodies. And inflammation can set the stage for various illnesses and diseases.
Consuming conventional produce means we are ingesting the pesticides they are sprayed with. Yum. On the other hand, organic produce means the crops were grown with natural fertilizers rather than sprayed with pesticides or chemicals. It also means the produce you’re eating is non-GMO, so you know you’re not ingesting genetically modified foods. Some studies show that organic produce may also provide higher amounts of nutrients.
The last category to consider is quality fats. We want to choose healthy fats like avocados, nuts and seeds, extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil (yes!), whole eggs (not just the whites!), and even full fat organic and grass-fed meats. This might be contrary to what you’ve been hearing about fats.
The issue with avoiding fats is that our bodies actually need fats to maintain optimal health. I’ll say it again: our bodies need fats! Our brains and hearts require fats (in fact, are made of fat) to function, but we need to choose healthy fats and eat them in the context of a healthy diet.
Fats to avoid include trans fats, vegetable oils, canola oil, margarine, and Crisco. These man-made fats are terrible for our health and full of those inflammatory compounds. Healthy fats on the other hand support brain health, heart health, and hormonal health. In fact, we need cholesterol to make our hormones. So eat the whole egg and choose the full fat yogurt over the non-fat version!
Is choosing high quality pricier? Yep. But think of it this way: eating high quality foods is an investment you’re making in your health long-term, and could very well mean less medications, less doctor’s visits, less inflammation and reduced risk of long-term illness, saving you money over your lifetime and also setting you up for better quality of life.
Stop counting carbs and calories
Most nutrition professionals are pulling away from “counting,” whether it’s carbs and/or calories. For one, it’s not a fun way to eat. Also, it’s not effective because we need to consider quality over quantity. Yes, quantities are important, but we want to learn to rely on our own hunger and fullness cues rather than aiming for X amount of calories in a day. Why? There several things that affect your caloric needs for the day, including how well you slept the night before and your activity level – learning about your individual portion needs is more intuitive than following a standard guideline.
How do we listen to our hunger cues? For one, we need to eat in a non-distracted state. When we watch TV and eat at the same time, it’s actually stressful on our bodies. Your body is trying to intake food, digest it, enjoy it, and also pay attention to what’s happening in the latest episode of The Crown all at once.
The stomach sends cues to the brain to tell it when it’s full, but when the brain is distracted by Netflix, it may not get the signal. What ends up happening is less satisfaction with your meal and overeating. This is why it’s so easy to finish an entire bag of chips in front of the TV without realizing it. This also goes for checking your email, scrolling Facebook, or distracting yourself in some other way while eating.
Eating in a quiet, calm environment without distractions puts us in a parasympathetic state, which is optimal for digestion. This isn’t a time to check email or read the news. Just focus on your meal, chew with intention, and you’ll find yourself more satisfied and more in tune with when you’re done eating. This is mindful eating, and it seems simple but it works wonders for both enjoyment of meals and managing portions.
Most people I work with are not getting nearly enough water. Hydration is key for energy, detoxification, lubrication of joints, kidney and heart function, electrolyte balance, body temperature regulation, sleep, and so much more. It even helps the body assimilate nutrients. When we are dehydrated, we are setting the stage for illness and stress on the body.
What counts as water intake? Herbal teas, plain water, sparkling water, fruits and veggies all count (especially watery fruits like watermelon). Be wary of flavored waters and things like Gatorade as these drinks can contain a lot of artificial ingredients. If you prefer flavored waters, try the ones with stevia in them, or flavor them yourself with fresh herbs, fruit, lemon/lime.
On the other hand, caffeine, sodas, and alcohol can all be dehydrating. So if you do enjoy these beverages, it’s best to add an extra glass of water to replenish.
There are two ways to know if you’re drinking enough – when your urine is pale yellow, or if you’re drinking half your body weight in ounces (so if you weigh 150 pounds, aim for at least 75 ounces of water).
Note: For people with kidney, heart, or liver disease, talk to your doctor before increasing your water intake.
Now this is a topic I could talk your ear off about! I used to think that supplementation wasn’t necessary, that we should be able to get all of our nutrients from our food. But let’s be real, do you feel like you’re eating enough veggies to get enough nutrients? Most of us aren’t, as we want to be eating 6-9 servings of veggies a day! It can be challenging to get that much into our diet.
There are many reasons I now believe that a well-thought-out supplement program is vital for our health. In addition to filling in the gaps of our diet, we also have to consider that our food isn’t the same as it used to be. We have different practices now, such as using pesticides and antibiotics, which changes the nutrient profile of the food we consume. And then there’s soil quality. Our soil nowadays is depleted, meaning that the crops that grow in it aren’t as rich in nutrients as they used to be. Add pollution of the environment to that, which further degrades the quality of food we consume.
Nutritionist Alex Jack instigated a comparison of nutrient levels in produce, and from that it was found that in 2000, collard greens had 61% less vitamin C and 84% less magnesium than in 1963! Our food is just not the same as it used to be.
We also have to take our own health into account. The world seems to be a more stressful place nowadays, and combined with toxic overload, we aren’t digesting and absorbing our nutrients as well. A stressed out body leads to poor gut health, which interferes with our ability to digest and assimilate nutrients from our food, and could lead to malnutrition.
There are a few supplements that I would recommend for most people, however it’s important to remember that we are all different, so checking in with a practitioner or nutritionist to evaluate your own needs is always best, especially if you are undergoing medical treatment or taking medications.
Some foundational supplements to consider would be a high quality multivitamin, vitamin D (especially if you live in an area that doesn’t get sunshine year round), probiotics, magnesium, and high quality fish oil.
Just as with our food, it’s important to consider quality and nutrient type when selecting the right supplement for you (for example, do you want magnesium oxide or magnesium glycinate? Both do very different things in the body!). Schedule a consultation with our nutritionist to help you build a tailored supplement program and choose the right brands.
What’s the best diet for you?
As you may have noticed, this post doesn’t compare the diets of keto to vegan or Mediterranean to DASH. It’s so dependent on you and your lifestyle. If you’re looking to make sense of your body’s needs and want specific recommendations to help you with your unique health goals, meeting with a nutritionist can help you set the stage for success. Our nutritionist can help you curate a custom plan that works for you and your goals, preferences and dietary needs.
Bioindividuality, that idea that we are all unique individuals, means there’s no one-size-fits all approach to our nutrition. Learning more about your own body and unique needs can help you determine the best way of eating for you as an individual.