Gavin Guard, Medical Director
What's the Best Diet?
Updated: Jan 22, 2022
Spoiler alert: there is no best diet
Work through a stepwise approach to finding the best diet plan using the priorities I lay out in this article
“What’s the best diet?” “What should I eat?” These are common questions I encounter on a daily basis. Here is my philosophy of how to approach finding the best nutrition plan for you. You only have so much will power. Thus, you should prioritize your willpower to focus on these main pillars in order.
Consistency is king! This means that we need to find a nutrition template that you can do day in and day out. Ask yourself these questions:
Getting Good Food in the House
Do I know how to go grocery shopping?
Do I plan to go grocery shopping every week?
Do I budget for groceries?
Is my pantry full of cookies or healthy options that fit my goals?
Making Good Food
Do I have basic cooking skills?
Do I know a couple “go-to” recipes?
Do I have good cookware?
Do I make time to cook?
Eat Good Food
Do I know how to make a well-balanced meal with what I’ve cooked?
Do I spend time eating food with loved ones?
Part of finding success with this is cultivating your environment where the healthy choices are EASIER to make. For example, making sure that you go grocery shopping at regular parts of the week will ensure that you always have quality food in your house.
Another important note is that the more restrictive your diet, the less likely you will be consistent with it.
Ever tried a diet where you “white knuckle” the first few weeks, only to find that it’s not sustainable for your lifestyle. This is all too common and is a result of prioritizing the other parts of the pyramid over the base (consistency). For example, a busy business owner who is also a mom is going to have a hard time with a strict ketogenic diet when her family doesn’t eat that way. This may only lead to social isolation and more stress.
For her, it may be important to first address what her limiting factors are. If it’s time, then she might be best off picking a few “go-to meals” from local restaurants that she can pick up when pressed on time. This helps her go on “autopilot” for her nutrition habits.
Again, finding a dietary template that is sustainable and works in the long-term is first and foremost!
My current understanding of what a well-balanced diet is looks like some type of blend of the following categories of food. Part of my work is finding the optimal sources and ratios for my patients’ needs.
Protein: lean meats (chicken, fish, turkey, pork loin, some red meat), eggs, vegetarian options like tofu, soy products, dairy
Starchy Carbohydrates: rice, potatoes, yams, squash
Fats: olive oil, avocado, avocado oil, coconut oil, fat from animal meat, nuts, seeds
Vegetables: all your veggies your mom told you to eat as a kid (bok choy, bell peppers, onions, peas, etc.)
Sometimes, I recommend that patients restrict certain food groups (e.g., low FODMAP diet) to optimize their gut health and achieve other health goals. This can often lead to substantial results as a short-term strategy. However, my goal is getting my patients to eat the broadest diet possible.
I believe the quality of your food dictates the quality of your food. For example, overeating cookies is much easier than overeating vegetables. The calories of your diet matters, and so does the source of those calories (e.g., 100 calories of cookies vs broccoli).
After you have found consistency around eating a nutrient-dense, anti-inflammatory, and high-quality diet, you can move on to altering the specific ratios of your food groups. For example, you may want to explore meeting a specific protein goal (e.g., 150 grams of protein per day) if you are interested in building or maintaining muscle mass.
There are many ways of specifying the quantity of your food that goes beyond just counting calories. One easy option is to use “hand guides”. This is where you meet specific targets of protein, carbs, fat, and/or vegetables using your hand as a rough guide to dictate how much you should eat for each. For example, you may start with eating 1 palm (width and thickness of your palm) of protein sources with each meal. Or 1-2 fists (size of 1-2 closed fists) of vegetables with each meal. This serves as a quick and convenient alternative to counting calories. However, it may not be as precise.
Lastly is the timing of food. This is where intermittent fasting and time-restricted feeding comes into play. There is some interesting research regarding this part of nutrition and something that can be influential for your health, but it comes after the other pillars of consistency, quality, and quantity.
Intermittent fasting can be a good way of reducing the overall quantity of your food. In this way, it can help you be more consistent with your diet.
A great mobile app that I like is called “Zero”. This app helps you keep track of your fasting and eating “windows”. I encourage you to check it out if you are interested in intermittent fasting.
The Bottom Line
There is no best diet for everyone. This is why I work with patients to personalize their nutrition experience. Make sure to work through these nutrition pillars in a stepwise approach and prioritize consistency, quality, quantity, and timing in that order.
I hope you found this information useful and helpful in your journey back to a healthier and happier life.
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