Whole food, real food, SAD (standard American diet), clean eating, intermittent fasting, plant based diet, vegan, vegetarian, Paleo and Keto are all some of the diet buzz words you will stumble across while browsing Pinterest. So what does it all mean and what is the healthiest diet? Sifting through all of the information on healthy eating can be exhausting, finding the one that is right for you is even harder. As a Certified Health Coach, I can help you find the eating style that works best for you and your health goals. There is no one “right” way to eat for every person and different body types will benefit from different eating styles.
Personally, I believe that eating a mostly plant based, whole food diet is the best of them all for a variety of reasons, but let’s begin with an introduction to some of the popular eating styles, beginning with the worst……
Standard American Diet (SAD), this is unfortunately the most popular and widely followed style of eating. It is a diet that is high in meat consumption, refined sugars and refined grains, highly processed oils, snack foods and pre-cooked meals and very low in fruit and vegetable intake. According to the USDA, nearly 1,000 calories a day (out of a 2775 daily calorie diet) is attributed to added fats and sweeteners! While dairy, fruits and vegetables only contribute 424 calories. Our priorities for food are simply out of balance.
In my home state of Texas, a CDC report showed the amount of adults that reported that their families ate less than one serving of fruits and vegetables on a daily basis was a whopping 40%!! The same report stated that the average serving of fruits and vegetables per day was one. One serving a day of the most important food group.
Sugar consumption in the SAD diet is out of control. Two hundred years ago, the average American ate only 2 pounds of sugar a year. In 1970, we ate 123 pounds of sugar per year. Today, the average American
consumes almost 152 pounds of sugar in one year. This is equal to 3 pounds (or 6 cups) of sugar consumed in one week! We should get only 10% of our calories from sugar. This equals 13.3 teaspoons of sugar per day (based on 2,000 calories per day). The current average is 42.5 teaspoons of sugar per day!
Those following the SAD tend to eat too many packaged foods, often too many animal products and usually too little plant foods. Processed foods of all kinds, including low-quality meats and dairy products, are now produced in an increasingly mechanized manner that makes them more shelf-stable, cheap and more convenient than ever before. Throw in synthetic flavor enhancers, lots of sodium and added sugar and you’ve got products that tend to be very tasty, calorie-dense and easy to overeat.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 48.5 % of Americans have used at least one prescription drug in the past 30 days, and 21.7 % have used three or more prescription drugs. What are the most frequently prescribed drugs? Analgesics, anti-hyperlipidemic agents, antidepressants and anti-diabetic medications. The majority of the conditions that require these popular prescription medications can be linked to unhealthy lifestyles and a poor diet.
Childhood obesity has skyrocketed since the 1970’s and one in five school-aged children (ages 6–19) now has obesity.
- Children with obesity are at higher risk for having other chronic health conditions and diseases that impact physical health, such as asthma, sleep apnea, bone and joint problems, type 2 diabetes, and risk factors for heart disease.
- Children with obesity are bullied and teased more than their normal weight peers and are more likely to suffer from social isolation, depression, and lower self-esteem.
- In the long-term, childhood obesity also is associated with having obesity as an adult, which is linked to serious conditions and diseases such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and several types of cancer.
Sadly, the majority of my client base as a Health Coach, is children/teens who are overweight, obese or pre-diabetic. Their families follow the SAD diet and do not get enough fruits and vegetables and unfortunately it has taken a toll on their health. Are they able to reverse some of the damage through diet and lifestyle changes? Yes, but it is a long, hard road. Prevention is much easier.
Clearly the Standard American Diet is not what we should follow, so that begs the question what is the healthiest eating style? The answer may be different for everyone, let’s take a look at some of the more popular diets.
Vegetarian, there are many versions of vegetarian diets, but most consist of eating plant-based foods and moderate amounts of eggs and dairy and some consume fish (but no meat). The staples of a balanced vegetarian diet include a variety of plants like fresh or cooked veggies, fruit, nuts, seeds, whole grains, beans and legumes, eggs and dairy. Plants are low in calories but high in essential vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, so vegetarian diets can be very nutrient-dense. However, there’s no guarantee that a vegetarian diet will result in health improvements. Simply cutting out meat from your diet without also cutting out junk foods and incorporating plenty of plants will not make you “healthy”. Ultimately it all depends on the specific foods someone chooses to eat. For example, many vegetarians still consume highly processed “vegetarian” foods that are full of sodium, refined sugar and unhealthy fats while being low in nutrients and fiber. While there are benefits to following a vegetarian diet, you still have to understand how to read food labels and avoid highly processed foods.
Vegan, following a vegan diet means avoiding all meat, dairy, fish and eggs too. Vegans choose to avoid eating all animal products for different reasons, which typically include better health, easier weight loss or maintenance, protection against chronic diseases, and even ethical reasons. They might not consume honey or any products made with any sort of animal-derived ingredients like gelatin. Many vegans make a commitment to eat more plant foods, especially fruits and vegetables, along with 100% whole grains, beans, legumes, nuts and seeds. Just like with following a vegetarian diet you must also work on limiting highly processed foods, like refined grains and too much sugar (even though they’re technically “vegan”). A vegan diet, when carefully planned and executed, can be healthy for most people. However, it’s not always a good idea for everyone. It can be very difficult to get the proper amount of B12, amino acids and zinc and certain other nutrients, such as vitamin D in your diet from consuming a vegan diet.
Paleo, one of the most popular diets and one that is rapidly growing around the country. The Paleo diet is modeled after what our ancient (specifically, Paleolithic) ancestors would have eaten thousands upon thousands of years ago. When you are following the Paleo Diet, you can eat anything we could hunt or gather way back in the day, things like meats, fish, nuts, leafy greens, regional veggies, and seeds. You cannot eat any grains, not even gluten-free grains, also no beans or legumes, no dairy, no refined or artificial sweeteners. You should also avoid highly processed foods. The good thing about Paleo is that you’re getting plenty of fruits and vegetables, and avoiding highly processed foods and refined sugar, so for those reasons, the Paleo diet can be great. The con with the Paleo diet is that a lot of the people who follow it tend to consume too much meat. Personally, I do not follow the Paleo diet because some of the foods that are not allowed have health benefits and the emphasis tends to be on a high meat consumption.
Nutrition research suggests that, unless you have been diagnosed with celiac disease, you should eat whole grains, since overall, whole grains are linked to lower chronic disease risk. Unfortunately, the standard American diet includes a high proportion of refined grains, which do not provide the equivalent health benefits. Studies show that consuming three or more servings of whole grains each day were associated with a slimmer waist, lower hypertension, lower risk for pre-diabetes, Alzheimer’s, osteoporosis, and cancer. According to Dr. Michael Greger, the intake of legumes—beans, chickpeas, split peas, and lentils—may be the single most important dietary predictor of a long lifespan. If you have not read his book How Not To Die, I highly recommend it.
Many people swear by the Paleo diet and do very well on it, there are plenty of nutritional benefits from following it and overall it follows whole food guidelines, so while it isn’t a great for my family I do believe it is one of the healthier diet styles.
Keto, the Keto diet is well-known for being a low carb diet, where the body produces ketones in the liver to be used as energy. It’s referred to as many different names – ketogenic diet, low carb diet, low carb high fat, etc. When you eat something high in carbs, your body will produce glucose and insulin. Since the glucose is being used as a primary energy, your fats are not needed and are therefore stored. Typically on a normal, higher carbohydrate diet, the body will use glucose as the main form of energy. By lowering the intake of carbs, the body is induced into a state known as ketosis.
Ketosis is a natural process the body initiates to help us survive when food intake is low. During this state, we produce ketones, which are produced from the breakdown of fats in the liver. The end goal of a properly maintained Keto diet is to force your body into this metabolic state. This is not done through starvation of calories but starvation of carbohydrates. Here’s what you can eat on a ketogenic diet:
A small amount of protein, such as:
A large amount of high-fat foods, such as:
- coconut and coconut milk or oil
- olive oil and any other oil
- nuts and nut butters
- egg yolks
A very small amount of very-low-carbohydrate vegetables, such as:
- leafy greens
- broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage
Here’s what you can’t eat on a ketogenic diet:
- Most dairy (except high-fat items like butter and certain cheeses)
- Beans and legumes
- Starchy vegetables (such as sweet potatoes)
- Slightly sweet vegetables such as winter squash, beets, or carrots
- Most processed foods (with the notable exception of pork rinds)
The benefits of the Keto diet may include reducing insulin levels, inflammation, and weight loss, You’ll end up eating more (hopefully healthy) fat, and it’s a great way to detox from sugar. That being said the Keto diet is extremely difficult for the average person to follow and many people end up eating fats that aren’t so healthy. This diet is also lower in plant-based healthy nutrients, since fruit isn’t allowed (except a very small amount of berries) and several vegetables aren’t allowed.
I know this diet is extremely popular right now but personally, I just cannot get on board with a diet that says you can’t have fruits or certain vegetables. I believe eating several servings and a wide variety of fruits and vegetables everyday is extremely important for our overall health. Eating produce can cut your risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes and protect against various forms of cancer. Eating potassium-rich foods such as bananas and potatoes can help reduce blood pressure, decrease bone loss and prevent development of kidney stones. Fruits and veggies also contains different phytonutrients, natural chemical compounds in plants, which maintain proper cell health. So while some people may experience weight loss, it may not be worth depriving your body of all the great benefits of the fruits and vegetables that Keto doesn’t allow.
Intermittent fasting, intermittent fasting (IF) is currently one of the most popular health trends and it is easy to see why. People are using it to lose weight, reduce LDL cholesterol, blood triglycerides, inflammatory markers, blood sugar and insulin resistance. So what exactly is intermittent fasting?
Intermittent fasting has actually been around for many years and there are several different methods used. They all involve splitting the day or week into “eating periods” and “fasting periods.” During the fasting periods, you eat either very little or nothing at all.
These are the most popular methods:
- The 16/8 Method: Also called the Leangains protocol, it involves skipping breakfast and restricting your daily eating period to 8 hours, for example from 1 pm to 9 pm. Then you “fast” for 16 hours in between. It is actually recommended that men fast for 16 hours, women for 14 hours using this method.
- Eat-Stop-Eat: This involves fasting for 24 hours, once or twice a week, for example by not eating from dinner one day until dinner the next day.
- The 5:2 Diet: On two non-consecutive days of the week, only eat 500-600 calories. Eat normally the other 5 days.
While these methods are the most well-known in terms of fasting, there are many other similar philosophies based on meal timing and like with any diet you can accommodate it to fit your schedule. For those who prefer a less rigid method, there’s also the concept of eating intuitively where dieters simply eat whenever their bodies ask them to. However, this can also lead to overeating or over consumption of calories, since our bodies’ hunger-induced choices may be more caloric than otherwise.
The pros of fasting are that it doesn’t cut out any specific foods, you are free to eat what you choose as long as you follow the fasting windows, and I know several people who have lost significant amounts of weight following this without ever feeling deprived of their favorite foods. You do need to be careful when choosing to fast because it is not meant for everyone and like with anything you should always consult your physician before beginning a new workout or extreme diet change. Anyone who tries it should also plan to be very self-aware while fasting. If it’s not agreeing with you, or if you need to eat a little something to hold you over, that’s just fine. It takes our bodies time to adjust, and some require more than others. Keep in mind that hormones can make it harder for women to follow a fasting plan than for men. Personally, I cannot go longer than a 14 hour fasting window and I must always time my meals so that I am able to eat before a workout, otherwise I get light-headed and a little sick.
It is very important when trying any new diet or eating style to pay close attention to your body and how you feel. Different people have very different experiences when trying a new diet and you should always do what works best for you and your health, not just what is popular at the moment. You also should consider more than just weight loss when choosing an eating style. While weight loss can be a great thing for your health, it is not the single most important thing. Nourishing your body so that you reduce your risk for chronic illness and disease is far more important than fitting into a certain size.
Whole Food/Real Food (sometimes called Clean Eating) these two eating styles basically mean the same thing for most people. The concept is to eat foods in their natural state without highly processing them.
What you can eat:
- Whole foods that are more a product of nature than a product of industry
- Lots of fruits and vegetables
- Dairy products like milk, unsweetened yogurt, eggs, and cheese (preferably whole milk products not low-fat as they tend to be more processed)
- 100% whole-wheat and whole-grains
- Seafood (wild caught is the optimal choice over farm-raised)
- Preferably locally raised meats such as pork, beef, and chicken (no processed meats, nitrate free and uncured lunch meats and bacon)
- Beverages limited to water, milk, all natural 100% juices, coffee & tea, and, for the adults, wine and beer!
- Snacks like dried fruit, seeds, nuts (without added oil and sugar) and popcorn (plain, or real butter not processed microwave popcorn)
- All natural sweeteners including honey, 100% maple syrup, and fruit juice concentrates are acceptable in moderation. Real cane sugar on occasion (but not daily) and NO artificial sweeteners.
- Unrefined cooking oils such as virgin cold pressed olive oil, pure unrefined coconut oil, pure avocado oil ect…
What you cannot eat:
- No refined grains such as white flour or white rice (items containing wheat must say WHOLE wheat…not just “wheat”)
- No refined sweeteners such as sugar, any form of corn syrup, cane juice, or the artificial stuff like Splenda
- Nothing out of a box, can, bag, bottle or package that has more than 5 ingredients listed on the label
- No deep fried foods
- No “fast foods”
- No heavily processed vegetables oils ( vegetable oil blends, corn oil, canola oil ect..)
Michael Pollan says it best “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” The first two words are the most important. “Eat food” means to eat real food — vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and, yes, fish and meat — and to avoid what Pollan calls “edible food-like substances.”
This style of eating and Pollan’s book Food Rules was and still is the inspiration for the eating style my family follows. I believe the cause of most of our health problems comes from consuming way too much sugar, too many highly processed “food like” substances, not enough movement and exercise, not enough healthy fats and most importantly not nearly enough fruits and vegetables.
In my opinion following a real food/whole food diet is a great way to keep your family healthy yet still enjoy food without cutting out entire food groups (except for fast food/highly processed foods). It suggests a balance between the food groups and promotes eating plenty of fruits and vegetables and other foods in a their natural state. It is the way our great grandparents ate before it was trendy and before “dieting” was even a thing.
Whole Food, Plant Based Diet, this method is a combination of the whole food/real food eating style and vegetarianism. It basically follows the whole/real food rules but with more of an emphasis on plant-based foods and a much lower meat consumption. For example eating a diet very high in fruits vegetables, beans and legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds, and also consuming some dairy, eggs and meat but the ideal “meal” being made up of at least 3/4 plants ( 1/2 fruits and vegetables, 1/4 grains or beans & legumes) the remaining 1/4 of your plate could be meat. Most of us who follow this try to avoid having meat daily and aim for anywhere between 3-5 days a week with meat and going at least 2-3 days a week without consuming meat.
You cant probably tell by now this the preferred method of eating for my family and myself. I used to be a huge advocate for the whole/real food way of eating and I still think it’s great but the more I learn about the power of plants and a heavily based plant diet I realize that this should be the foundation of our food consumption in order to live the longest healthiest life. We follow all the whole food/real food rules but focus on getting at least 7-13 servings of plants each day and I no longer base my meal planning around meat the way I once did.
The benefits of eating this way include:
- preventing Type 2 diabetes, plenty of research suggests eating a heavily plant-based diet can help ward of this disease
- lot’s of research shows that eating a diet loaded with fruits and veggies can lower blood pressure. Currently 1 in 3 American adults suffer from hypertension, increasing their risk for stroke and heart attack, two of the leading causes of death.
- heart health, a Harvard study that tracked the eating habits 110,000 people for 14 years found that those who ate at least 8 servings of fruits and vegetables a day were at a lower risk for cardiovascular disease and had a 30% less chance of having a heart attack or stroke
- weight loss, plenty of research suggests that vegetarians tend to consume fewer calories, weigh less and have a lower BMI. That doesn’t mean you have to go full-blown vegetarian but opting for more fruits and vegetables and whole grains will keep you full on fewer calories
- Increased fiber intake from plants will keep you “regular” and prevent constipation (16 percent of Americans and a third of those older than 60 suffer from chronic constipation). A high fiber diet may lower cholesterol and blood sugar levels
While different diets and eating styles may promote or exclude different food groups, most experts agree on one thing… eat at least 7-13 servings of fruits and vegetables every day, from a variety of types and colors.
80/20 Rule, this last eating style is not so much a diet or specific eating style but more of a method for maintaining balance and moderation, while also enjoying food! We follow this method in my home as well and what it basically means is eat healthy (whichever healthy diet you choose to follow) 80% of the time and allow for treats or “cheat meals” the other 20% of the time. So what does that look like in a given week? Well if you are eating three meals a day 7 times a week, that is 21 meals per week. 80% would be about 16 meals and 20% would be about 5 meals. Now that is not exact and you have to account for all of your eating choices not just meals. For example, desserts, specialty coffees, and snacks have to be a consideration when determining how many of your food choices are healthy.
- Add in more real food and fruits and vegetables
- Drink plenty of water
- Sleep 7-8 hours
- Exercise most days
- Take Juice Plus+ Trio capsules (fruits, veggies & berries)
- Drink two JP Complete whole food based shakes daily
- Processed foods
- Artificial and Refines Sugars
- Do not eat after 6 PM (special accommodations for children, pregnant & breastfeeding mothers, shift workers)
Taking the Juice Plus products helps ensure you are flooding your body with whole food nutrition everyday, because let’s face it eating over 8 servings a day of plants can be challenging.
The other benefit of the program is that you are plugged into a community of shredders who are doing the same thing every month. We have a private Facebook group for accountability, resources, recipes and encouragement and I personally reach out to my clients who are doing this with me and make sure the are having the best experience. For more information contact me or visit here.
Hopefully, after reading this post you have a better understanding of the popular eating styles/diets and a better idea of what might be right for you. If you have questions feel free to reach out and if you are interested in working with me one-on-one, in order to find the right healthy eating style for you please contact me.