With all the nutrition information circulating out there, choosing the right diet can be confusing! Perhaps you’ve tried a diet program or fad that’s working for a friend but you’re not seeing or feeling any positive results yourself. Your friend has seen tremendous success but here you are, wondering what you’re doing wrong. Choosing the right diet for you means really knowing who you are.
Let’s travel back in time to when you were young.
Did your parents tell you how unique and special you are? Do you ever have moments of frustration or pride when your choices or opinions don’t match everyone else’s? You are one of a kind, from your looks to your personality…this makes you YOU.
Could this same individuality apply to your body’s cells and tissues too?
Chemical Bio-Individuality and the “Right” Diet
‘Chemical bio-individuality’ is the idea that every single person has unique nutritional needs.
A person’s metabolic rate, body structure, blood type and tastes are unique to them. If your body breaks down foods differently from another person, then there can really be no one-size-fits-all diet out there. How do you go about choosing the right diet?
Well, understand which foods make you feel energized, focused, pain-free, and amazing. Understanding your unique nutritional needs is the key to knowing which diet is right for you. If you’re not sure where to start, see if any of the 5 popular diets below may suit you.
The Paleo Diet
The name ‘paleo’ comes from the full word ‘Paleolithic’, which was an era in human history where people were primarily hunters and gatherers. Research shows that paleo people primarily ate meat, fresh berries, raw nuts and seeds, vegetables, eggs and seafood. Today, the Paleo Diet also includes healthy fat, fermented foods, herbs and spices.
Most legumes, all grains and all refined (sugary), processed foods are excluded.
The Paleo Diet is quite sustainable. Once you figure out how to exclude dairy and gluten or wheat, it’s very easy to find delicious, quick and simple meal ideas.
The Paleo Diet improves autoimmune symptoms, reduces inflammation, promotes better memory and focus, and improves glucose metabolism. And, with its abundance of fruits and vegetables, this diet keeps your gut healthy and your bowels regular. Many people lose belly fat on the Paleo Diet too (mainly because pro-inflammatory dairy and gluten are eliminated).
A couple of downsides to the Paleo Diet include a potential B vitamin deficiency due to no whole grains and problems associated with the kidneys from high meat consumption. Women who are under a lot of stress will likely not do well following the Paleo Diet as the adrenals need abundant B vitamins.
The Mediterranean Diet
The Mediterranean diet includes fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, legumes, potatoes (or tubers), whole grains, breads, herbs, spice, seafood and fish and lots and lots of extra virgin olive oil. These foods are the staples of pretty much any Mediterranean dish or recipe. Poultry, eggs, cheese and yogurt are eaten in moderation while red meat is only consumed on occasion.
Refined sugars, grains and oils are avoided, as are processed foods. Beverages of choice are coffee, tea, red wine and water. And, foods that come in a package and say they’re low fat or diet will never come in contact with a Mediterranean person’s plate!
In my opinion, this diet is probably the most conservative and easiest to sustain over time. Almost all your favorite whole foods can be eaten while processed junk is not.
Because of its concentration on whole grains (pasta anyone?), fresh fruits and veggies and healthy fats, the Mediterranean Diet is great for people struggling with adrenal fatigue, chronic fatigue and long-term stress. The Mediterranean Diet is rich in B vitamins as well as essential omega-3 fats (the anti-inflammatory ones, and the ones deficient in the Standard American Diet).
For people who are lactose- and gluten-intolerant, they may not fare well on the traditional Mediterranean Diet. Luckily, gluten-free whole grain alternatives to your favorite pastas and breads are available, and no one really needs to eat dairy anyway.
The Ketogenic Diet
The point of a ketogenic diet is to cut carbs enough that you put your body into ‘nutritional ketosis’. This is not the same as ketoacidosis, which is dangerous and life-threatening, and happens to diabetics. Nutritional ketosis occurs when the body stops using glucose as energy and switches to using fats.
The ketogenic diet is not new, despite its sudden appearance into mainstream fitness. It originated as a diet designed to help reduce seizures in children with epilepsy.
A ketogenic diet pushes for very low carbs, like 10-15 grams per day. It’s very high in fat, around 85-90% of your daily calories. Keto is also very restrictive, which can make it hard to follow long-term for some people.
Plus, you need to calculate your macros, which can be confusing and time-consuming. It advocates high fat foods from sources like avocado, coconut milk, cheese, butter, bacon, egg yolks, oils and nuts. You eat moderate protein from fatty meat like steak, chicken thighs and salmon.
Foods you are not allowed:
- most dairy,
- grains of any kind,
- beans and legumes,
- sweet potatoes and other starchy vegetables,
- most processed foods (except pork rinds are okay), and
- most vegetables that are moderately starchy (beets, carrots).
Many very important foods rich in antioxidants and phytonutrients are excluded, too.
A lot of people do lose weight when they start a ketogenic diet because their body uses up stored glucose (aka fat) and, with it, water. A ketogenic diet can be beneficial for people with epilepsy or who have early stage cancer. Cancer cells feed off sugar so cutting glucose dramatically could slow down tumor growth.
One of the reasons a ketogenic diet has become so popular is because athletes use it to get ripped. Ketosis prevents glycogen depletion during strenuous exercise so athletes are less likely to hit the wall during long marathon sprints. The downside to this is, glucose increases athletic speed so a person in ketosis may run longer but not faster.
Another problem with the traditional ketogenic diet is its emphasis on certain inflammatory foods. Dairy, red meat and processed meats can lead to cardiovascular disease, gut imbalances, allergies and, potentially, auto-immune disorders.
The Keto Diet – A Holistic Perspective
The ketogenic diet turned me right off when I saw that each recipe included either dairy or bacon (or both). However, when I discovered the Keto Diet by Leanne Vogel, I was intrigued because she had experimented with the traditional diet on herself, found that it didn’t stand up to the hype, and revised it to meet the unique needs of a woman’s body.
Women’s hormones require different nutrients than men’s, and the ketogenic diet has been promoted more for male athletes than for women. And, because Leanne understood the health implications of a diet high in dairy, red meat and processed cold cuts, she developed a holistic approach to eating keto.
The Keto Diet promotes traditional ketogenic macro ratios, with a ‘carb up’ day once or twice each week. Women need carbs to balance hormones and help manage stress. Dairy is out but high quality, grass-fed red meats are in. Minimally processed bacon is okay.
You still need to calculate your macros and keep track of what you’re eating. You’re supposed to take blood samples every day to check your ketone levels.
The Keto Diet can be very helpful for women who experience IBS, difficulties losing weight, irregular periods or other reproductive concerns, skin blemishes and brain fog. However, the Keto Diet removes grains, as does the Paleo Diet, and both diets help with most of these health concerns, so take your pick.
Vegan or Vegetarian
The vegetarian diet is pretty self-explanatory – it’s primarily plant-based with some fish, eggs and/or dairy, depending on your preferences. A vegan diet removes any foods ‘with a face’ (as a former colleague called it). It’s entirely possible to get enough protein to sustain all your bodily functions on either a vegan or vegetarian diet (despite what the beef and dairy industries are trying to claim lately). These diets are usually more of a lifestyle choice than a dietary one, which is okay by me.
A person following this lifestyle just needs to understand how to combine their whole grains and legumes properly to ensure they’re getting enough protein each day.
A plant-based diet is not only easier on your digestive system but it’s better for the planet. A person eating vegan or vegetarian is probably getting more than enough fiber to maintain a healthy gut microbiome and promote good elimination.
One major downfall to this diet is that some people choose processed, packaged foods for convenience. This means many vegans and vegetarians are eating WAY too much processed sugars and refined grains. Packaged foods are pro-inflammatory and can cause health issues like poor concentration, insomnia, aches and pains in the joints or muscles, cardiovascular diseases, blood sugar imbalances and potentially cancer.
On the plus side, a vegan diet can be high in beneficial herbs and spices, as well as a rainbow of healthy fruits and vegetables (those containing phytonutrients!). Most vegan and vegetarian dishes are rich in vitamins and minerals. Plant-based diets contain abundant antioxidants and liver-cleansing nutrients too.
Choosing the Right Diet
Still confused about choosing the right diet? In a nutshell, get rid of foods that make you feel crappy. An indication of whether or not a food is working for you is if you feel sleepy or energized after eating. Sometimes a food will affect you hours or days later, making it difficult to pinpoint the cause of your health symptoms.
If you’re not feeling your best, it’s likely time for a diet tweak. Start by keeping track of every single thing you eat (and when) and every symptom you see or feel. Do this for at least 21 days. After 3 weeks, you should notice some patterns. Take into account every symptom you feel or see, even if you don’t think it counts (i.e. migraines, headaches, muscle tension, acne breakouts, fatigue, insomnia, etc.).
Eliminate processed, refined foods first, then proteins (i.e. animal foods and whole grains), dairy, nuts, and nightshades. When you’re ready to try a food again, reintroduce each for 1-2 weeks before adding in another.
Choosing the right diet takes time and patience. But, it’s SO worth it! Remember, your chemical bio-individuality is what makes you unique and special. Keep yourself energized and amazing with foods that work for YOU!