Ketogenic. Mediterranean. High carb. Paleo. Intermittent fasting. High protein.
It’s pretty easy to become confused when trying to decide what’s the best option for you. The amount of information available to the general public is flat out overwhelming, and many authorities and experts in the industry constantly disagree with one another with regards to the best way to eat. Expert 1 insists Diet A is superior to Diet B, but Expert 2 is certain Diet B blows Diet A out of the water.
But, I mean, there has to be one diet to rule them all, right?
Yep! But before we tell you which one is best, let’s do a quick review of some of the more popular diets currently out there.
The ketogenic, or keto diet, is an extremely low carb, moderate protein, high fat diet. Because you’re consuming very little carbs (less than 50g per day), your body starts to produce ketones, or an alternative fuel supply when blood sugar is in short supply. The main proposed benefits of this diet is that you become extremely efficient at using fat for fuel, as well as improved cognitive function. When you do the keto diet, you focus on eating mainly meats, seafood, natural fats, eggs, cheese, butter, nuts, and some non-starchy vegetables. Pasta, breads, rice, potatoes, and most fruits are a no go on this diet.
The paleo diet typically includes lean meats, fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds. This diet limits foods that became common when farming emerged about 10,000 years ago… foods that include dairy products, legumes and grains. Basically, if you couldn’t hunt it or gather it, you can’t eat it. This diet allows for a bit more freedom when it comes to carb consumption when compared to the ketogenic diet. As long as a caveman had access to it, you’re good to go.
The Mediterranean diet is based on the traditional foods that people used to eat in countries like Italy and Greece back in 1960. Studies have highlighted that these people were exceptionally healthy compared to Americans and had a low risk of many lifestyle diseases that seem to flourish in the U.S. On this diet, you focus mostly on vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, potatoes, whole grains, breads, herbs, spices, fish, seafood and extra virgin olive oil. Poultry, eggs, and cheese should be eaten in moderation while red meat is eaten sparingly.
Intermittent fasting is a way of dieting that has you alternating between periods of fasting with periods of eating. The most common method is fasting for 16 hours and then eating within an 8 hour ‘feeding window’. An easy way to think about this is simply skipping breakfast and having your first meal around 10-12 p.m. The proposed benefits of this method include improved hunger management, improved insulin sensitivity, improved cellular repair, as well as improved hormone profiles. This method doesn’t necessarily restrict what you eat, but when you eat.
Raw Food Diet
The raw food diet is composed of mostly or completely raw and unprocessed foods with an emphasis on plant based foods. A food is considered ‘raw’ if it has never been heated over 104–118°F. This diet also restricts foods that have been refined, pasteurized, treated with pesticides or basically processed in any way. Instead, the diet allows several alternative preparation methods such as juicing or blending. The obvious benefit of this method is that you’re only eating real, whole foods which is ideal. However, getting adequate protein may prove somewhat challenging for some folks.
With all these choices (and we didn’t even cover them all), there has to be a clear cut best option, right?
The best diet, hands down, is the one that works for you and your lifestyle.
Sorry, did that answer let you down?
Well, it’s the truth. Everyone is different. Everyone has a different genetics, social influences, habits, goals, restrictions, and lifestyle factors that will make certain diets work better for them.
The ketogenic diet might work wonders for Tammy, but might leave Raul feeling rundown and exhausted.
The Raw Diet might be great for a more sedentary individual, but might negatively affect performance in an elite athlete who requires more protein.
Someone trying to lose or maintain weight might love intermittent fasting, but someone looking to bulk up will probably struggle to add mass doing the same thing.
Regardless of how different certain diets may be, the quality ones all share a few commonalities that generally apply to everyone.
- Total calories trump everything. If you consume too many calories, you’ll gain weight… doesn’t matter if they’re the healthiest calories possible.
- Eat whole, real, natural foods. If man made it, don’t eat it.
- If you can’t pick it, gather it, hunt it, or kill it, don’t eat it.
- Avoid processed foods. If it comes wrapped in plastic or in a cardboard box, don’t eat it.
- If it contains ingredients you can’t pronounce, don’t eat it.
- Avoid added sugar at all costs.
- Eat more plants.
As long as you stick to these guidelines, you’re off to a fantastic start regardless of which specific diet you choose.
And if you’re wondering what we typically recommend to clients at Grit, we’ve found that lower carb, Paleo-ish diets tend to work pretty well for most people. But again, that’s not set in stone. Identify your goals, take note of what foods you do or do not tolerate well, and adjust accordingly while adhering to the guidelines just laid out.