Online diet programs, 3-D printed meals, and a whole new industry of nutritional experts have arisen in the past few years. People want to know what's best for them, but it can be challenging to make personal and healthful decisions without more information. You might ask, "What is the best diet for me?"
Let's take a look at what the latest research says about dietary methods and healthy lifestyle changes to see if we can establish a few facts.
According to the Mayo Clinic, there are four types of diets: low-carbohydrate diets, low-fat diets, balanced diets and very low-calorie diets. The first thing we'd like to clarify is that these four types of eating are not mutually exclusive. You could easily follow each one during different periods of time throughout your life. I will briefly touch on what these four eating patterns entail:
Low-carbohydrate diet – Carbohydrates are a class of chemicals that provide energy for living things. Some foods that contain a large amount of carbohydrates are sugar, breads and grains. Carbohydrates have been blamed for being the primary culprit in obesity and other health problems.
Low-fat diet – This diet requires limiting fat intake. It is thought that fat is to blame for many health issues and diseases such as heart disease.
Low-calorie diet – When people think of low-calorie food options, they immediately think of vegetables, fruits and water. But even though vegetables and fruits are low in calories, they still provide important nutrients from vitamins to fiber. Very low-calorie diets exclude more than the healthy stuff; they also take away carbohydrates, which are necessary for energy production.
Low-sugar diet – This type of diet focuses on avoiding sugars and foods that contain added sugars.
What do these diets mean for you if you are looking to make healthy lifestyle changes? Let's discuss them one by one:
Low-carbohydrate diets – Studies have shown that low-carbohydrate diets can be effective in helping people lose weight and improve other health issues such as blood pressure and type 2 diabetes. Low-carbohydrate diets typically include foods like meat, poultry, fish, eggs, nuts and fats. Foods that are restricted include grains (bread, cereals and pasta) legumes (beans and lentils), low fat dairy products, sweets, sugar sweetened drinks or artificial sweeteners.
Low-fat diets – These diets are designed to reduce the amount of fat in a person's diet. While this can be helpful, there are some major drawbacks: people who follow low-fat diets have been shown to have higher rates of obesity and cardiovascular disease. This is because the foods that make up their diets are low in fiber and nutrients.
Balanced diet - A balanced diet includes all food groups as well as nutrients to help you absorb and use them. Balanced diets contain different foods in different amounts depending on your personal needs, preferences and health conditions.
Low-calorie diets – These diets are best for short-term results and are not designed to be followed for a long period of time. They don't teach people how to make permanent, healthy changes.
Very low-calorie diets – This type of diet is not recommended because it causes rapid weight loss, which impairs the body's ability to regulate metabolism. Rapid weight loss can cause harmful side effects such as fatigue and depression. If a person does lose weight quickly on this type of diet, their bodies will adapt by slowing down the metabolic rate in order to preserve energy. This is the reason why people often gain back the weight that they lost on a very low-calorie diet.
It is important to keep in mind that balancing your diet is more about eating healthy and less about counting calories. There aren't many foods that are bad for you, but there are some foods that you should eat less of if you want to make positive changes in your health.
Foods to eat more of:
Vegetables – Eat a variety of vegetables: dark-green leafy vegetables such as spinach and kale, yellow vegetables such as squash and peppers, red or orange vegetables such as tomatoes, carrots or sweet potatoes and cruciferous veggies such as broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower. Eat them in place of other foods, such as fries and potato chips.
Fruits – There are tons of different fruits, but they are all good for you. Eat less processed foods, such as juices and soda, to eliminate the extra sugar that they contain. In order to get green vegetables and fruits in your diet, try eating salads instead of using sodium-rich condiments like mayonnaise or salsa.
Nuts – Nuts are a great snack because they are high in protein, fiber and omega-3 fatty acids. Choose almonds and walnuts; those are easier on the waistline but still good for you nutritionally. Dark chocolate is also an excellent choice if you want to keep your diet balanced.
Fish – Salmon and tuna are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which help the body use fuel properly and improve heart health. If you're not a fan of fish, try canned salmon instead of deli slices or salami. Eat two to three servings a week.
Lean meats – Lean meats are high in protein and have no saturated fat or cholesterol so they won't increase your risk for heart disease. These include skinless chicken breasts, turkey chicken, sliced turkey and grilled chicken breasts. Avoid fried chicken, chicken nuggets, grilled and breaded chicken patties and sausages.
Whole grains – Whole grains such as brown rice, whole wheat bread, oats and quinoa are full of fiber, which is extracted from the outer layer of the grain. Fiber can help stabilize blood sugar levels after you consume a meal. It also helps with digestion by moving food through your digestive tract so waste is properly eliminated. Whole grains are also high in vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals, which are nutrients that help prevent certain diseases.
Exercise is also essential to your overall health, no matter what type of diet you are following. Physical activity not only keeps the body healthy and strong, it also helps the mind stay sharp. Sleep is very important, too; it's a time when your body repairs and strengthens itself.
Solid food choices really do matter when it comes to creating a healthy lifestyle. The goal isn't to eliminate all the foods you love; it's about eating smarter in order to live better. So, if you feel like a snack, eat something small that will satisfy your cravings and be good for your body at the same time. It's all about balance.
There are many healthy snack ideas you can try while on your journey to a healthier lifestyle:
1. Avocado and tomato: Mash a ripe avocado and add in diced tomatoes, or tomato sauce. Dip fresh vegetable sticks or do as I do for lunch, put half the avocado and tomato on 2 slices of whole wheat bread with some lettuce and mustard for a sandwich filling. Yum!
2. Fruit cocktail: Add an orange (or other fruit of your choice) cut up in chunks to plain non-fat yogurt with some blueberries, raspberries, blackberries or strawberries thrown in for added flavor. You could also add some cinnamon to the yogurt if you wish.
3. Cut up vegetables with hummus: If you buy hummus instead of making your own, try to make it from scratch. Mix it up with freshly cut tomatoes and cucumber to create a healthy snack that will appeal to everyone. It also tastes great when added to wraps and pita bread for a lunch time treat.
4. Whole grain crackers: Buy the whole-grain variety of crackers and dip them in your favorite spreads or cheese, such as cream cheese or hummus. They make the perfect after school snack on those busy days during summer break!
5. Carrot, celery and cheese sticks: These are easy to make and you'll be surprised how they taste good! Just grate a couple sticks of Parmesan cheese on top of chopped carrot and celery sticks. Add some low-fat cream cheese for the creamier taste.
6. Whole wheat crackers: I prefer whole-grain crackers, but if you want to keep things simple, grab some wheat bread that has been sliced in half, then cut it into 1/4 inch strips. Pile them onto a plate, top with your favorite hummus or spread and enjoy!