The best diet for you is personal and comes down to what you’re trying to accomplish.
With a multitude of healthy approaches to eating, it takes some mindfulness to find the appropriate diet. A plant-based wholefood diet has characteristics aligned with the Paleo diet, but the differences between them are key. If you’re trying to control your appetite or build muscle, Paleo is better. A ketogenic diet is a low carb, high fat diet, but a low carb, high fat diet is not always ketogenic.
So let’s talk about what you want.
What are your goals?
Are you trying to lose or gain weight? Optimize endurance and athletic performance? Are you trying to find your optimal health, live a long life, and have the best quality of life? These things determine what kind of diet you should consider.
We’ve discussed genetics and gut microbiomes, but there’s more than one dietary approach that will adhere to the requirements of your DNA and digestive system. Depending on these goals, you may need more or less carbohydrates, more or less protein.
Runners training for a marathon will need a lot of carbs because glycogen, the resulting fuel of carbs, burns faster than fats or amino acids. The body burns glycogen very efficiently and provides athletes with a good source of energy for those hours of intense exercise. For endurance training purposes, carbs are not the devil they can be for other dietary approaches.
Is hunger and appetite your Achilles’ heel? A high protein approach could be right for you. Protein takes longer for the body to process, delays gastric emptying, and promotes satiety. Chronically obese people benefit from a high protein diet for a period of time—not indefinitely—allowing their brain to reboot the set point for their body weight so they can lose the excess. However, high protein causes insulin responses, and the excess protein is converted to glucose in the bloodstream. So patients with insulin resistance or type 2 diabetes, protein intake needs to be monitored.
The best approach to individualizing your diet is to work with someone who can help you understand how your body responds to food, how to detect and assess those responses, and then make decisions. There are also great tools available to help with this. Food journaling is another tool in your arsenal to learning what diet matches your goals best.
There are, however, clear fundamental truths that apply to most healthy lifestyles:
- Choose nutritious foods
- Make sure to address nutrient deficiencies
- Control stress
- Get sleep
- Maintain an active lifestyle
- Don’t over-consume food
Sure, good sleep and stress reduction don’t sound like they’d go hand in hand with a diet, but they do, just as exercise contributes to the overall picture of health. A sleep deprived or stressed out body can’t process food’s information properly when it’s consumed. That’s like a factory running with rusty conveyors and loose nuts and bolts. It’ll work. Just not well.
Eyes on the Prize
Remember, macronutrients—carbs, fat, protein—are not the only important nutrients. Micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals found in whole foods are just as important and we’re only just beginning to understand their effect on the body. So map out your optimal health goals, think of what you need to accomplish those goals, and seek understanding for which dietary approach matches those needs. Keep in mind your ancestry and gut microbiome, and you’ll find the eating approach that’s right for you. Using a journal to catalog how you feel after eating will help determine if there are any foods that aren’t good for your individual digestion. You’re in this for the long haul. Getting a handle on your best approach to eating will take time and patience, practice, and some trial and error. But the result is well worth it: your optimal, most authentic health possible.