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My perspectives on the healthiest diets

My perspectives on the healthiest diets

Let’s face it dieting is hard and figuring out which are the healthiest diets is even harder.  I feel like over the years, I have tried more than my fair share of different diets.  Some with positive results and others not so much!!  And as I look back now, I know that some that I tried were downright unhealthy. Of course the real challenge and tricky part about dieting is the keeping the weight off long term.  Some folks are successful, but for many of us, that just isn’t the case.

Also, there is some science out there that suggests that dieting has a detrimental effect on your metabolism.  Meaning that many of us who are overweight with substantial weight to lose may never be able to lose it and keep it off.  Simply because of how our bodies react when we reduce calories in order to lose weight.  The struggle is real and it’s difficult.

Today I share with you some information on the BEST diets out there.  And by BEST, I mean they are healthy, not too restrictive and relatively easy to follow.  You can use these to lose weight or simply as a way to consume more healthy foods.

NOTE:  This post may include affiliate links which means that if you click through and purchase, I do receive some small financial benefit which helps me to continue to provide you with free content.    

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My biggest question

The biggest question that I have as I begin to prepare for this piece is, do diets really work?  And maybe it’s actually a question that has been on my mind for a while, especially as I prepare to launch health coaching services to help people do exactly that — lose weight!!!

To be honest, I haven’t really followed a diet to lose weight in close to a year.  What I have done, is try to focus on consuming more whole, fresh and healthy foods. And, I think in many ways I have done that successfully. It doesn’t mean that I don’t want to be a little lighter weight, because I do.  But I also want to enjoy my life, eat good food and not feel restricted.

I share this thought with you to let you know that in many ways I find dieting, weight loss and a healthy weight to be just as complex and complicated issue with you.

What is a diet?

According to Merriam-Webster, the word diet has a few different meanings in terms of its use.

“food and drink regularly provided or consumed”

“a regimen of eating and drinking sparingly so as to reduce one’s weight”

These two definitions fit many of the diets that I am writing about today.  Meaning that you can follow them as a healthy meal pattern or you can follow them in a more restrictive manner in order to lose weight.  In my opinion, since they serve both of these purposes, you may have more success when trying to implement them long term for weight loss or simply to make sure you are eating healthier foods.

The healthiest diets include servings of healthy proteins like hummus.
Hummus is a great plant-based protein with healthy fats and works within many of the BEST diets.
Photo by Kyle Brinker on Unsplash

The healthiest diets of 2019

US News and World Reports revealed their ranked list of best to worst diets back in January.   They rated each diet based on the safety of the diet, how easy it is to follow, the nutrition provided by the diet and whether or not it was a successful tool for weight loss.

I believe that any diet you choose to use to lose weight will be MOST effective if it is a diet or plan you can actually follow long term. Meaning that once you’ve lost the weight you want to lose, you are able to easily eat in the same manner you were while dieting maybe just with less restriction.  There is no doubt that the diets at the top of their list are patterns that aren’t too restrictive and would allow a person to follow long-term.

I have picked out my favorite and least favorite diets from the list of healthiest diets, to give you my opinion and point of view on them.  I have personal experience with following or using some of these diets and include my personal viewpoint at times.  Some of these diets may have some negative parts as well and I try to share with you these downsides.  I won’t spend a lot of time talking about the ones on the bottom of the list, but I do caution against two diets which I think are fairly popular and mainstream these days, but are not really healthy options.

Salmon on a plate with lots of vegetables makes this meal a part of healthy dieting.
The Mediterranean diet emphasizes eating fish and seafood along with fresh vegetables and fruits. Plus it allows for the occasional glass of red wine.
Photo by Casey Lee on Unsplash

Healthy Dieting with the Mediterranean Diet

To me this diet is the perfect pairing of eating styles. It can be used to lose weight while also remaining a healthy pattern of eating for a lifetime.  It is by far my favorite diet and it is also ranked #1 by U.S. News and World Reports for 2019 as the best and healthiest diet.

One of the reasons that it’s my favorite is because it is just so easy to follow.  It simply allows for all foods to be eaten.  Instead of completely eliminating less healthy foods, it simply limits the frequency of these foods.  It’s also a favorite of mine because of its approach to healthy fats.  Many diets often restrict fat but rather this eating pattern allows olive oil, nuts, olives and avocados.  That’s not to say you can eat unlimited amounts of them, just that this pattern of eating really recognizes that there is a health benefit from these foods.  The diet also includes a glass of red wine as part of the pattern of eating!!

The diet also emphasizes the importance of lifestyle as well.  There is a focus on the social aspect of eating and connecting with others.  It encourages the enjoyment of meals with family and friends as well as regular exercise and activity.

Overall, the Mediterranean diet focuses on eating more plant-based foods, seafood, fruits, vegetables, whole grains and olive oil.   While also including poultry weekly and red meat monthly.   The pattern also allows for sweets and added sugar to be eaten but less frequently.  Research also indicates this diet is a great way to eat for a healthy heart and reduces the risk of heart disease.

DASH Diet

The DASH diet was developed by the US government as a way to focus on eating for heart health and to combat high blood pressure.  It is definitely a healthy dieting approach since it can easily be implemented for weight loss.

The basic formula for the diet includes:

  • eating fresh vegetables, fruits, legumes and whole grains.
  • fat free or low fat dairy, poultry, fish, nuts and vegetable oils.
  • limits on saturated fats and sugar.
  • eating foods lower in sodium.
  • eating foods rich in potassium, calcium, magnesium, fiber and protein.

In many ways it is quite similar to the Mediterranean diet, and provides a high degree of flexibility and great nutrition.  The diet recommends daily or weekly serving amounts of varying food groups.  But you get to choose the foods that you want to eat within these groups.

There is also a great deal of study and science behind this diet.  It has been shown to be effective in lowering bad cholesterol and blood pressure.  The diet can also be followed as an effective method of weight loss and the flexibility and freedom of choices make it easy to follow.  It follows the Mediterranean diet on the list of the BEST diets.  And I also recommend it as one of the healthiest diets available today.

Olive oil, a healthy fat part of healthy dieting, drizzling over sandwich.
Including healthy oils such as canola oil and olive oil are a part of all of the diets I am talking about today.

Weight Watchers

This diet is the only commercial diet that I am recommending.  I have had years of experience with this program.  Even though it has been a while since I have participated, I would still include it at the top of my list.  A look at their website shows that many of the pieces from a while back are still in place.

Why does this diet work?

The successfulness of this diet stems from the emphasis on tracking food, accountability through group meetings, weekly coaching sessions at meetings and plenty of flexibility.  When I was a member, I attended weekly meetings. I found that I did best with the accountability with weekly weigh-ins and lots of support from the leader and other members.

I do believe that the program is based on evolving science which is evidenced by the refresh the program receives every couple of years.  As new research has evolved about nutrition, weight loss and even psychology, the program has reinvented itself repeatedly.  Some of the core traits of the program do seem to stay intact.  Such as tracking what you eat, the point system, group meetings and encouraging healthy habits and exercise.

While it does restrict your intake with the purpose of losing weight, it does so in a safe manner, allowing you to lose weight slowly and steadily.  But along the way, you learn healthy habits and the diet is definitely one that you can use long term.  No foods are really off limit. The plan allows you to enjoy them, but less healthy options simply “cost” more in terms of “points”.  Thus you can’t include them ALL the time.

The one downside

This diet does come with a price tag since it is a commercial program.  However, the value lies in the weekly “coaching” you get if you attend weekly meetings and other resources the program offers.  There is also an online version available as well that is cheaper. The online version doesn’t provide access to the weekly meetings which to me are one of the main attractions of the program.

Vegetarian Diet

This diet just missed the top 10 of the US News and World Reports list.  To be honest, I really look at this diet as being more about a style of eating or an eating pattern rather than a diet.  Also, I think that you can apply the ideas of a vegetarian diet to any of the above diets simply by eliminating meat and poultry.  So, in theory you can have a vegetarian version of the DASH Diet, the Mediterranean diet or even with Weight Watchers.

The vegetarian diet avoids eating meat and seafood, but includes eggs, cheese and other dairy products.  It is somewhat restrictive in that you are not eating any form of meat (beef, poultry, pork) or seafood.  Also, this style of eating requires some adaptation to figure out how to incorporate plant-based protein and ensure proper nutrition.

I followed a vegetarian diet for several years and in my opinion, it was pretty easy to implement.  In my case, I didn’t really miss meat all that much except for occasionally.  The only area that was sometimes difficult was when I was dining away from home.  Though I would say that is changing, and as more people begin to follow this style of eating, it will get even easier.

Today, I do not consider myself a strict vegetarian, but I follow a vegetarian diet probably 80-90% of the time.  In addition, I also combine this style of eating with the Mediterranean diet eating pattern.  This combination allows me the flexibility that I want to have while providing me with a wide range of nutrients.  Overall, I believe a vegetarian diet is one of the healthiest dieting approaches.

Vegan Diet

This diet lands about in the middle of the list by US News and World Reports.  .  A strict vegan diet excludes many different products and even things like honey, which is produced by bees is excluded.  This diet has gained much popularity in recent years as more and more people make the change for health or animal rights reasons.  For certain there are health benefits when following this diet and style of eating, but I also believe that it is very difficult to follow for many people.  In addition, because it is so restrictive, dining out may be challenging unless you are eating at a strictly vegetarian restaurant.

I have never followed this diet though I have at times considered trying it out on a limited basis.  But unfortunately, it is very restrictive and a lot of foods which I rely on regularly such as eggs and yogurt aren’t allowed so I’ve never been able to fully convince myself to try it.

In addition, eating a strictly vegan diet you may be missing some nutrients such as B12 and many more.  Because it also excludes eggs and all dairy products, vegans are likely to experience a deficiency of vitamin B12. This nutrient is ONLY available in animal-based products.  It is extremely important to speak to your doctor and be monitored for development of nutrient deficiencies.  So for me, while this diet may offer some health benefits, making it a healthy dieting approach, it also is restrictive making it harder to follow.

At the bottom of the list

Two diets that receive a lot of attention in social media and in the news, the Keto Diet and the Whole 30 diet tied for a spot almost completely at the bottom of the list.  I have previously written about the Keto diet and my concerns with it.   I am not going to go into great detail about either of these diets but they both cut out completely entire food groups and include eating higher amounts of animal protein.  At the heart, both of these diets are so restrictive they are hard for any person to maintain long term.  In addition, the food groups and foods they eliminate are foods that have nutritive value to our bodies.  Thus long term cutting them out may be harmful.

Some other trends in dieting and weight loss

Macro counting

Really this method is just another way to count what you are consuming.  Which means that this method can be used alongside one of the diets above.  When you count macros you basically eat a particular percentage of your allotted calories for the day in each category of macronutrients.  The idea is that you can set your macros for what works best for you based on your goals, preferences and fitness goals. What I like here is that it recognizes that there is no perfect plan that works for every single person and helps you create a healthy dieting approach customized just for you.

The key is tracking

In order to use this method, you definitely need to use some form of tracking.  You can do it by hand, but I recommend finding an app that will do it for you to help you save time.  My personal favorite is MyFitness Pal simply because I have the most experience using it and it has a pretty large database and other features that work really well for me.

The trick to tracking is to be honest with yourself and count every single bite you have throughout the day.  You may also need to get out the measuring cups and/or scale and weight your food at the start to get an idea of portion sizes.  But it’s important, especially at the beginning to be more strict and accurate with your tracking.

Whatever range you choose, you want to make sure that you are keeping the foods you eat throughout the day in that range of macronutrients.  You also want to keep an eye on calories as well since if you eat more calories than your body needs it will take those excess calories and store them as fat.  When I track in MyFitnessPal, I am able to see both the number of calories consumed throughout the day as well as the percentage of macros I am eating.  In addition, I can program my macros in My Fitness Pal to be at whatever percentage I prefer.

Setting your percentage of macros

There are a couple different preset percentages of Carbohydrates/Protein/Fat that are predominantly followed.  You can customize your own or use these to see which set of percentages works best for you.  Recommended ranges for macronutrients are:

Carbohydrates 45% – 65%

Protein 10% – 35%

Fat 20% – 35%

Graphic representation of macronutrient counting.

So for example if you were wanting to focus on weight loss but were struggling with energy level and you are fairly active, it may make sense that your macronutrients are split in a way that emphasizes protein and fat which may provide more satiety and more even blood sugar levels during the day.  The chart to the left shows how your macronutrients would look with these percentages in place.

Other combinations may look like this:

Moderate Carbohydrate
Carb 50
Protein30
Fat 20

 

Low Fat
Carb 60
Protein 25
Fat 15

Of course, there are lots of possibilities for different combinations, but these are the most common that are within the recommended percentages.

What’s the benefit with macros?

What I like most about this method is that it takes into consideration that all of us metabolize foods differently and that our bodies may require a different mix of protein, carbohydrates and fat to function efficiently.  So what works for me, may not necessarily work for you or someone else.

You can also adjust your macros weekly.  So, if you want eat a diet lower in carbs for a period of time, you can do so and then, switch back to a higher percentage of carbs for a week or so.  This type of carb cycling may be effective at long term adherence to a lower carb diet.  And by lower carb I am not referring to a keto diet, just one that is at a lower level of carbs.

If you are interested in getting started or learning more about implementing this type of counting system or diet into your lifestyle, I suggest checking out this article on how to calculate your macronutrient range.

Intermittent fasting

This diet plan isn’t so much a diet as it is just a type of eating pattern.  It is based on eating only with a certain period of time during the day or during the week.  During the fasting time you either skip eating all together or eat very little.  This concept is very new to me, but I find it very intriguing and will definitely be doing some more research and reading on it.  Like macronutrient tracking, you can also combine this intermittent fasting strategy with one of the healthiest diets above to create a customized plan that works best for you.

There are a couple different ways to implement the plan into your lifestyle.  One is the 16:8 where you eat all your food within an eight-hour period of the day.  There is another where twice a week you skip eating for a 24 hour period.  And the last one I read about involves eating normally five days a week and then eating a seriously restrictive amount of calories (500-600 calories) two days a week.

Most of the research on this style of eating has been positive, but unfortunately most of it has been conducted on animals and not humans.  Though there is some human research that indicates that it may have a beneficial effect on insulin levels and blood pressure.

Most important to note here is that if you want to try out this type of eating, the key is to make sure that the periods you are eating, you are consuming healthy, whole foods and a reasonable amount of calories.  If all you eat is junk food or over consume calories then you may end up cancelling out all the benefits your body receives when it is fasting.

Some people may find that the fasting period is rather difficult and uncomfortable.  The one that seems the most reasonable to me is to restrict eating to a only an 8 or 10 hour period a day.

Pin for healthiest diet postLet me leave you with this

Losing weight is definitely a challenge and one that I personally understand.  I think if you are really struggling and feel like you aren’t getting anywhere, you may find it beneficial to work with a health coach or nutritionist to help you come up with an approach and a plan.

But, I also feel like it’s ok to also just take some time away from worrying about a number on a scale and to focus simply on eating healthy foods and paying attention to how your body feels.  That doesn’t mean you can simply eat whatever you want in unlimited quantity but to focus more on enjoying eating and finding ways to incorporate it into your life in healthy ways.

When you are ready to get started again, I suggest starting with one of the healthiest diets above that I’ve suggested.  You may find they offer you greater success and are easier to stick with for periods of time.

 

Other posts to read

http://cookeatlivelove.com/2018/07/23/why-eating-diet-rich-in-plants-is-important/

 

 

http://cookeatlivelove.com/2018/08/06/nutrition-healthy-habits-brain-health/

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