Anyone confused about how to eat healthy? It seems that "healthy" eating means something different to just about everyone, and you can probably find someone to tell you whatever you want to hear. Which way is the best?
- Low carb?
- Low fat?
The answer to this question will vary from person to person depending on his or her specific health goals and how his or her body reacts to specific foods. Since we all vary in genes, blood types, etc., one person might struggle to metabolize carbohydrates effectively, while another might struggle to digest fat. A healthy eating plan should account not only for issues of total calories and body weight, but also the nutritional content and benefits of the food for your individual body. Below is an overview of some popular "healthy" eating choices, and some of the advantages and disadvantages of each one.
Diets such as Atkins focus on low carb eating. This means no (or very limited) bread, pasta, rice, grains, sugars, etc. These types of diets include eating vegetables, but caution against too much fruit, as fruit contains a fair amount of natural sugar. A low carb diet will consist of much meat, cheese, nuts, and the like. Many people have great success losing weight on a low carb diet, and they also find themselves with more energy, greater mental focus, and steadier blood sugar levels.
While very popular in the '80s, many people are now reconsidering the low fat approach to healthy eating. The biggest advantage to a low fat diet is that food choices will often be lower in calories than their higher fat counterparts, but this does not mean that they are better for you. The fat is often replaced with chemicals, sugars, and artificial ingredients to achieve a similar taste and texture. These substitute ingredients can be more harmful to a person's health than the fat that was removed. A low fat diet will typically be fairly high in carbohydrates and include pasta and breads, salads with low-fat dressing, and lean protein. Low fat foods do not satiate as well as higher fat foods, so a person may feel hungrier and end up eating more than they would otherwise. Another disadvantage is that many health problems are linked to a low fat diet, including depression, diabetes, heart disease, and others. Healthy fats are needed for processes such as brain function, hormone function, and vitamin absorption.
A vegetarian diet consists of (you guessed it!) vegetables, fruits, and grains. Most vegetarians also include eggs, dairy, and fish, where those following a Vegan diet will exclude all animal products. Some people chose to be vegetarians/vegans for ethical reasons, but others primarily for health reasons. There is no question that fruits and vegetables provide an abundant source of nutrients to the human body, and this is a huge benefit to this way of eating. One of the challenges of a Vegetarian/Vegan diet can be getting enough protein in the diet. Primary sources of protein will come from foods like nuts, beans, and soy.
The Paleo diet is currently all the rage. The idea is to eat foods that are in their most natural states, as our ancestors would have had access to them. This diet focuses on eating lean protein, vegetables and fruits, seafood, nuts and seeds, and healthy fats. Processed foods, grains and starches, dairy, legumes, sugars, and alcohol are all restricted for people following these nutritional guidelines. This diet plan offers many health and nutritional advantages, although many will find it difficult to give up some of the foods restricted on this plan.
The ketogenic diet is lesser known than some of the other popular eating plans. Contrary to what most Americans are used to, the ketogenic diet is a high fat diet. The goal is to eat high fat, moderate protein, and very low carb in the caloric ratio of roughly 80/10/10. As your body's carb intake is reduced, it enters a state of nutritional ketosis and begins to convert fat into ketones for an energy source, as opposed to carbohydrates. People follow a ketogenic diet for weight loss purposes, blood sugar stabilization, and other health benefits. This diet will be high in foods such as full fat dairy, fatty cuts of meat, nuts, olives, oils, etc. Those following a ketogenic diet will also eat non-starchy vegetables with full fat dressings or creamy sauces. When eating a high fat diet, one will find they can go longer without eating and won't need to each as much, as higher fat foods are very satiating. A couple of cautions for this diet are to keep track of overall caloric intake, as it can be easy to consume too many calories if one is not careful. While saturated fats are perfectly acceptable, avoid hydrogenated oils.
When trying to find the right nutritional plan for yourself, it might take some trial and error. Seek to find an eating plan that includes plenty of natural foods with minimal additives, includes plenty of vegetables for vitamin and mineral content, and is a plan that you feel like you can stick with. When starting out on a specific plan, try keeping a log of what you're eating, how you're feeling, and any other observations. Some plans can take some getting used to before you really start to notice the benefits, so give yourself a few weeks before jumping ship to the next one. You may find that you feel more energized and focused on one over another, or likewise you may find that you lose weight more quickly on one over another.