On your quest for your best diet you will encounter low carb, high protein, vegan, vegetarian, paleo, keto, nutritional balancing, high fat, eggs, no eggs, and alcohol; yes or no? Then, to eat healthy, should you avoid night shade vegetables, dairy, gluten, and red meat? And what about the heavy metals in salmon and tuna; good, or not? If there is one area where there is a lot of contradictory information available, it’s in the field of dieting and nutrition. The everlasting search for the optimal diet seems to take you from left to right and back again. However, let me give you the best tip regarding the ultimate diet right now: the best diet doesn’t exist.
Yes, you heard that right, the optimal diet doesn’t exist. This means that there is no one best diet for everybody. However, there is an optimal diet for you. The question is however, how do you figure this out?
This blog is based on what I have learned from over ten years of personal research. This started for me as a teenager trying to reduce fat and increase muscle mass. This led me down the path of defining everything by its protein contents, at the same time only focusing on muscle and fat. Nowadays, I aim to feel good all throughout the day, perform well both cognitively and physically, and look for sustainable ways to live. Interestingly, barely anything that I believed at the start has made it to my current lifestyle. Nevertheless, over time I have come to understand quite well what works for me. In this light, I hope I can shed some light on the direction you could take in figuring out your optimal personal diet.
The Garbage That Nobody Should Eat
Before I continue providing information on how to figure out your personal diet, there are a couple of things that every single person should avoid. This might be the moment you tell me: “I have a friend that can eat anything he wants, it doesn’t do anything to him.” Well, in reality, he is not. The fact that you don’t see it, and he doesn’t feel it, doesn’t mean there are no detrimental effects.
Processed food of any kind, fried, packaged, ready-to-microwave is not food. These are products. As a rule of thumb, everything you are not buying the way it came out of the ground or of the animal, is not food. It’s best to avoid these foods all together, but depending on your situation there could be a place for pasta, chocolate, or fries. Every now and then.
Then what about sugar? No, fruits do not equal processed sugar. When you eat fruit you eat unprocessed sugar together with fiber, which gets digested the way it should be. However, processed sugar of any kind, in your coffee, in cake, cookies, or ice cream, is all far from being processed by your body in a nice way. What happens exactly is beyond the scope of this blog, but more about that here.
Processed foods and processed sugar often come together. A good rule of thumb on processed foods; anything with more than 4 ingredients, put it back. Anything with ingredients you don’t know, leave it be.
If you have cut the above out of your diet, you have made the biggest health gain already. Now, you are eating a diet based on whole foods. What follows, is just some tweaking to reach the full potential of your diet.
How Do You Decide What is Best for You?
The best diet for you is the diet that you can adhere to. It has been proven time and time again that it is not the diet itself that makes people lose weight. What is more important, is if somebody can adhere to his or her diet choice over a longer period. The only result you get from switching between diets is nothing. This also holds true for the people that are trying to gain weight. Therefore, it is all the more important to choose the form of eating that allows you to eat consequently as healthy as possible.
The next important factor to maintaining your optimal diet is, that of all the information coming your way, you should know its context. Where is the information coming from? Is it scientific research, your friend that read something, or is it your nutritionist giving you advise? In all cases, again, context. Who did the scientific research, how was it done, how many people participated? Where did your friend read about nutrition, is he or she able to tell you the full picture? And your nutritionist, what education did he or she have, and what are his or her personal beliefs and experiences?
The Life Your Food Had
Another thing that I believe to be very important is how your food was treated before it ended up on your plate. This could be the way the animal lived before it was slaughtered, but also from what source your fresh produce comes. The antibiotics that are put into the bodies of animals, the stress they experience living in closed environments, will all end up in that piece of meat on your plate. This also holds true for fruits and vegetables, that more often than not are covered in pesticides and could be imported from across the globe.
I believe it best to eat foods that grew as close to your home as possible and as little processed as possible.
So far I have mentioned the foods you should definitely not eat. However, there are a lot of foods that are heavily disputed. This became beautifully clear in a recent debate between Dr. Joel Kahn, a vegan heat doctor, and Chris Kresser, specialist in functional medicine, on the Joe Rogan Experience Podcast. Both Doctors are well read scientists but have opposing opinions based on scientific research.
The first one of the three disputed foods I will cover is alcohol. Alcohol, usually spoken about in the form of wine, is it good or not? As I mentioned in an earlier blog on the people that live the longest on earth, there is reason to believe that a glass or two of wine per day will do little damage. However, alcohol does disrupt sleep quality and is potentially very destructive if you are out of balance already.
Second, is meat consumption. Is meat consumption bad, or good? I think in this case it’s important to know, processed meat is carcinogenic, that means it’s just as bad as smoking. So leave the hot dogs, shoarma, and sausages be. If you have access to organic meat though, from as humanely possible raised animals, you should be fine. As long as you eat in moderation.
The third and final food I will get into is dairy. Again, just like meat I think it’s important to consider how did the animal live, where did it live, and to what extent was the dairy processed before it enters your body. It’s also important to consider that a giant percentage of the population is intolerant to dairy. In Eastern Asia 90-100% are intolerant, and in Africa 70-90%. In North Eastern Europe people seem to have less trouble with lactose. There, up to 73.7% of the people have the LCT gene that makes you tolerant to lactose.
I think that it’s important to realize that diet is a dynamic phenomenon. Your dietary requirements change over time as a consequence of aging and other lifestyle factors. The clue above all is therefore, to test things yourself. What works for you? To test foods optimally you should adhere to a change for 30 days to get at least some meaningful feedback from your body.
If you want to make a process like this easier, you could use either food trackers like myfitnesspal or Cronometer. You could also use the scale to see if you are gaining or losing weight, or use a centimeter to measure your waist. If you are not sure how certain foods make you feel, a diary might be a better solution. You could create scales from one to ten for your mood, level of bloating, or sleepiness, and track this for 30 days. After you’ll be able to correlate what you eat with how you feel pretty well.
More Important Than Diet
If it comes to what the most important building blocks are of your health, diet is among the most important. However, there are two things that are definitely more powerful, one of which is a good night sleep. A good 8 hours per sleep per night all by itself can help you lose weight, increase your focus, and make you a smarter human being.
Second thing is fasting. Call it intermittent fasting, time-restricted eating, or just not eating for a prolonged period of time. This simple act has amazing benefits. A daily fast between 12-16 hours will help you stay lean and regulate blood sugar. A prolonged fast a couple of times a year, raging from 24 hours to three days for example, helps your body repair old damage and increases the excretion of stem cells. These cells can form into any other cell and are therefore very valuable in regenerative processes.
Take Home Messages
To close this all down, here are the take home messages:
- Eliminate processed foods and processed sugar from your diet
- Try different things to figure out what’s best for you. Use diet trackers, diaries, and other measurements to generate objective findings
- If your body is out of balance, it could be useful to eliminate possible allergens like gluten, lactose, or night shade vegetables. That could be reintroduced later on.
- Generate an eating style that fits both your lifestyle and schedule
- Do not eat for 12-16 hours a day
- Sleep 8 hours a night
- Realizing step 1-6 above you already reached 80-90% of your diets potential
- Only after you managed to do the above, you can think about optimizing your diet to reach specific goals
This post was in response to a request of a client of mine. I hope it was useful to help you find a direction in discovering what your optimal diet looks like.