Nutrition is a complex subject, and with so much information and an overwhelming amount of diet plans in existence, it can be difficult to know what to eat. This confusion can be caused by the conflicting reasoning behind the most popular diet plans. For example, a traditional vegan diet claims that the absence of animal sourced food and presence of plant based food is the key to longevity and health, while a traditional ketogenic diet relies heavily on fat and protein that comes from animals. Both diets can claim to be "the answer" and "the cure", but the truth is that they are both very different, especially at first glance.
There is not one diet and one specific way to achieve health in regards to nutrition. Instead, there are universal guidelines that exist in every successful diet that prove to have results for those that adhere to the standards set by the diet. All long term, successful diets will have the following three dietary aspects included.
1. Successful Diets are Low in Refined and Simple Sugars
Added, refined sugar in large amounts pose one of the biggest threats to ones health. Eating too much refined, added sugar causes insulin to spike (in an attempt to lower the blood sugar), overloads the liver and directly causes fat storage, suppresses the immune system, proliferates the growth of cancer cells, and promotes inflammation, among many other things. The body was not made to process sugar in large, excess amounts, and in addition to the many negative health effects of sugar over consumption, sugar is also highly addictive and can have the power to sabotage weight loss or maintenance attempts. Small amounts of "hidden" added sugar can add up throughout the day and quickly surpass the recommended daily amount of sugar, which is 37.5 grams for men and 25 grams for women. Diets that are successful are always low in refined and simple sugars. Many diets focus on restriction and limitation, and while that can be useful for some in regards to allergies (to gluten, dairy, or eggs, for example) the most useful, universal restriction is sugar. This doesn't mean that there is not room for occasional indulgence in a sugary treat, but instead means that overall, added sugar needs to be kept to a minimum if you want to reap the benefits of a healthy diet.
Nutritionist's tip: Before trying an elimination diet, try removing sugar! Sugar is addictive and can be difficult to give up, but eating plenty of healthy fat, protein and fiber can overcoming a sugar addiction. Taking a quality pro-biotic can help lessen sugar cravings, and supplementing with the herb gymnema sylvestre can also help curb cravings. If you are wanting something sweet, eat a piece of fruit, or even try our dragon pitaya smoothie recipe.
2. Successful Diets Remove Harmful Fats and Oils
Industrial vegetable oils are relatively new to the human diet, and the negative effects of these harmful oils are sweeping the world by storm. The technology to process these oils has only existed in the past 100 years, and it is safe to say that humans were never intended to consume such oils. Soybean, canola, corn, cottonseed, peanut, sunflower, safflower, and of course, traditional "vegetable oil", which is a blend of two or more of these oils. All successful diets will call for the removal of these oils, avoiding these oils is a key part of staying healthy. Why are these oils so dangerous? One of the main threats that these oils pose is that they are high in omega-6 fatty acids, which can promote inflammation. They contain linolic acid, which incorporates itself into the fat cells of the body, which is very dangerous because these oils oftentimes rancidity, or spoil, after being processed. The fat from these oils also find their way into LDL lipoproteins, which can cause them to become oxidized, and cause harm on a cellular level. When this happens, a person is put at a great risk for developing heart disease, which is the number one killer in America. Oftentimes, these oils can be found in processed food, junk foods, and foods that are high in added sugar. Many "fad" diets yield results because they restrict these oils and instead promote anti-inflammatory, healthy oils that have not been unnaturally or artificially processed.
Nutritionist tip: Avoiding processed, packaged food, or fast food is the best way to avoid harmful oils, but sometimes, you will need to use oils when cooking, baking. Coconut oil, avocado oil, olive oil, palm oil, walnut oil, grass-fed butter, ghee and lard (in moderation) are all great alternatives to traditional, health damaging oils. Be aware of condiments, such as mayonnaise and salad dressing, which oftentimes are made with soybean, canola or sunflower seed oil. Use coconut cream or half and half instead of pre-packaged coffee creamers, which usually contain harmful oils and added sugar. If you happen to be eating pre-packaged food, you can minimize the damage by selecting an item that is low in fat, which will reduce the amount of harmful oil you are consuming. An example of this would be to opt to grab whole grain crackers, which are usually low in fat, instead of chips, which are always high in harmful fat. At a restaurant, this could look like opting for grilled chicken with rice and vegetables over fried food, and if ordering a salad, to ask for olive oil and vinegar instead of traditional salad dressings. Choose whole-food sources of fat, such as avocado, un-roasted nuts, pasture raised eggs, and high quality meats and dairy (if you do not have a sensitivity or allergy).
3. Successful Diets are High in Vegetables and Fiber
While many diets eliminate certain food groups, all successful diets promote the consumption of vegetables and fiber. A paleo diet eliminates grains, and a plant-based diet eliminates animal products, but there is not a healthy died that excludes vegetables and fiber. Although it is commonly accepted that a diet high in vegetables and fiber is beneficial, it is important to know why, and how vegetable (and fruit) and fiber consumption can promote increased health.
Vegetables (and fruit) contain vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber that all help that help the body perform at optimum levels.
Vitamins and minerals supply the body with the nutrients that it needs. An example of this can be seen in how the thyroid gland needs the nutrient iodine in order to produce thyroid hormones, which in turn manages they body's metabolisms. The body can't produce iodine on its own, so it must be obtained through a food or supplement source, such as cranberries or sea kelp, which are both high in iodine. When the body gets the iodine it needs, the thyroid can work properly. This is just one example of how nutrients impact bodily function.
Antioxidants help protect the body from oxidative stress, by entering into harmful free-radical particles, and neutralizing, therefor de-stabilizing these harmful radicals, which are a product of oxidative stress. Oxidative stress can be caused by many things, including air pollution and a poor diet, but anti-oxidants fight to minimize this oxidative process. Antioxidants can be found in many other substances, such as coffee, wine, cocoa, herbs and spices, but fruits and vegetables can be a powerhouse tool for fighting against oxidative damage. In regards to nutrition, antioxidants can play a role in maintaining a balance in health. An example of how antioxidants can balance out the naturally harmful effects of foods could be seen if a person chose to eat to eat antioxidant packed, fresh fruit as a side to a cheeseburger instead of vegetable oil-laden french fries. Eating a cheeseburger is already not the most health promoting dietary choice, and having fries as a side is sure to add to oxidative damage. Eating fruit alongside a cheeseburger can lessen the oxidative damage that is occurring in the body because of the cheeseburger. Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables is a great way to counteract the damage that less-healthy food can do.
Fiber is crucial for overall health. Fiber helps the digestive system function properly by promoting regularity and feeding beneficial probiotic bacteria, which in turn supports the immune system. Fiber helps lower cholesterol, lower blood sugar, helps weight maintenance, and promotes balanced hormone levels. The recommended daily fiber amount is 30 grams a day, and can be found in whole grain products, beans, legumes, seeds, fruits, and vegetables.
If you are beginning to eat healthy, then do yourself a favor and make the transition easier by simply focusing on the three points above. Special diets and dietary restrictions serve a purpose with a portion of the population, but most people do not need to be on a restrictive diet in order to reap the benefits of eating healthy. Reducing sugar intake, replacing "bad fats" with good fats, and eating plenty of vegetables and fruit, that are rich in nutrients, antioxidants, and fiber, are the most important steps to take when cultivating a nutritious lifestyle.
1. Commit to keeping sugar consumption under 25 grams a day and choosing natural, fruit derived sugar, or honey, over refined sugar.
2. Begin reading nutrition labels and being aware of the type of fat that is in the food you eat. If you see any of the "bad" oils mentioned above, choose to not eat that food item but to instead find one that is made with healthy oils. Better yet, try to not eat any pre-packaged or pre-made foods, and try to eat the majority of fat from whole food sources, such as fresh avocado or raw, un-roasted nuts.
3. Add more vegetables, fruit and fiber to your diet. Even adding spinach to eggs or to a smoothie in the morning is a great step in the right direction.