What is the Healthiest Diet?

Author: Sue Corliss, R.H.N., C.N.E.

As a Holistic Nutritionist, one of the questions I get asked most often from clients is, “Which diet is the healthiest?” With so much misleading or conflicting information available today, it can be nearly impossible to decipher it all and know what is best.

There are many popular diets and dietary trends being followed today, each with their own benefits and challenges. Let’s start by breaking some of them down.

Ketogenic Diet

Although the “Keto” diet seems to have gained a lot of popularity within the last decade, it is actually close to 100 years old. It was originally developed as a way to treat epilepsy, but is now commonly used as a weight loss tool, or to help those with diabetes and certain types of cancer.

What is it?
The premise behind the Ketogenic diet is high-fat, low-carb meals. The majority of your daily intake is in the form of fat, while including moderate amounts of protein and very little carbohydrates. By depriving your body of carbohydrates, your body eventually stops using glucose as energy, and begins to burn ketones/fat as its primary source.

Most people who follow the keto diet will experience some weight loss, especially very early on in their journey (this is the main reason people try the Keto diet today!). Thanks to the increased amount of fat being consumed, you can also expect to have more energy and mental clarity, while feeling full for longer after each meal. Lastly, since you are eliminating sugar and all processed foods, inflammation and insulin levels naturally decrease.

There are a number of challenges that accompany the Ketogenic diet. First and foremost, it can be extremely difficult to follow long-term, and is very limiting. Also, when eliminating fruits and many vegetables, you naturally decrease your fiber intake, which can have harmful effects on digestion, metabolism and other body functions.

Another problem is that many people following this diet do not consume healthy fats and proteins, and end up loading up on inflammatory, processed foods such as cheese, dairy products and bacon. Eating this way in the long-term can lead to deficiencies in key nutrients. If you’re going to follow the Keto way of eating, be sure to do so consistently and with healthful foods.

Paleolithic Diet

The Paleo diet has also been around for hundreds of years and is based on the traditional “hunter-gatherer” diets of our ancestors.
By eating foods that are close to those eaten in the pre-agricultural era, you are optimizing health while decreasing your risk of developing chronic and inflammatory conditions.

What is it?
The basis of the Paleo diet is plenty of meat, fish and vegetables, with no grains, sugar or processed foods. The goal is to consume primarily whole foods that our ancestors would have had access to in order to reduce the risk of modern day ailments, such as diabetes, inflammation and other chronic conditions.

One of the main benefits of the Paleo diet is the elimination of inflammatory foods. It is also high in healthy fats and proteins – both of which contribute to balanced blood sugar, satiety, as well as healthy skin, hair and nails.

This diet can be extremely restricting for some people, which makes it both difficult to follow and not sustainable. A Paleo diet can also be excessively hard to follow for vegans.

Vegan/Vegetarian Diet

Although there are vast differences between a vegan and vegetarian diet, both have become more and more common in recent years. There are various reasons that one would choose a vegan or vegetarian diet, including both ethical and environmental beliefs.

What is it?
The elimination of meat is the basis of both vegan and vegetarian diets. However, those who follow a vegan diet also choose to eliminate all animal products and by-products, while some vegetarians continue to incorporate some animal products into their diets, including eggs and dairy.

The major benefits of following a diet that is free of animal products is the increased focus on eating whole foods that are full of vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and fiber.

A vegetarian or vegan diet can pose certain challenges, including a lack of variety, and deficiencies in nutrients including B-vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids. In addition to being restricting, many individuals following a vegan/vegetarian diet rely on pre-packaged, processed foods to supplement their diet, which are typically full of sugar, additives and unhealthy ingredients.

As you can see, there is no perfect diet for everyone. Everyone has unique needs, genes and starting points, all of which need to been closely considered before making any diet or lifestyle changes. The best diet is one that works for both your body and your lifestyle. Many people begin a diet as a way to lose weight, but it is important to understand that just because a diet results in weight loss, does not necessarily make it the healthiest option. You need to consider what you are giving up, which is often key nutrients that your body needs to function optimally.

Aside from therapeutic diets that need to be followed to treat a specific condition or issue, I believe that you should find what makes you feel best, and don’t worry about putting a label on it! Living a healthy, balanced lifestyle doesn’t have to be complicated and by listening to your body, you can start to figure out what the healthiest diet really is – for you!

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