What you should eat…

The cycle of fad diets is never ending, with new twists or variations on the same eating plan released on what feels like a never ending basis. Why is this? If someone has figured out the one diet for all people, we should all know what it is and be using it, right? Unfortunately the weight loss industry is worth $72 billion dollars in the US alone and is projected to continue growing in the future (1). The focus is often on the next new and shiny diet product or food trend instead of encouraging optimal health. 

There is no one diet for all. As much as I wish things could be that simple, our beautiful bodies are wonderfully complex and biochemically unique. This is a part of the wonder and frustration that we might feel when we either find something that works well or are irritated when the prevailing diet only makes things worse. Yes, there are general overarching principles that make up the basics for optimal human health. Yes, there are nuances we have to discover for ourselves.

It’s complicated

Nutrition science is young (only about 100 years old) and there is SO much more to discover! It’s difficult to evaluate how diet works in the human body on a public health scale, especially when long term results are the goal. Does eating paleo support everyone’s health and provide protection from chronic disease? Is vegan the best way to eat?  It’s tough to accurately determine this and establish direct causation without locking human test subjects up for years, controlling their diets and then measuring the results over days, months and years. This is not practical and who would want to live like that?

This is where population studies come in – looking at the factors that have helped certain populations attain a long life AND good health can provide some clues. If you’re interested in learning more about the longest-lived populations on the earth, check out the Blue Zones book (so fascinating!). If you’re not into reading, check out the episode on Sardinia from the Zac Efron docu series “Down to Earth” – it’s a great summary. This TED talk by Dan Buettner, the author of Blue Zones, is also a lovely primer on what has influenced the health of those who have lived to 100 and beyond.

The microbe effect

Another huge factor in health is your microbiome, the groups of tiny organisms (think bacteria, yeast, fungi, viruses) that live on our skin, in our mouth and in our gut (estimates indicate that we actually consist of more microorganism cells than human cells!). This community determines how well we process certain foods, synthesize vitamins and influence many digestive processes (2). The microbiome is extremely important and is as unique as a fingerprint! This means that even though you may share DNA with your family, eat similar foods and live in a common environment your microbiomes will be different!

The unique microbiota of each person can account for some of the differences that we each experience when we eat various foods.For example. if we have microorganisms that support metabolism of complex carbohydrates like whole grains, we will digest them relatively easily; however, if we have digestive symptoms like gas and bloating each time we eat whole grains it’s likely that this population of microorganisms is low in number. 

One of the amazing things about our microbiome is its ability to adapt. What you regularly eat influences the kinds of microorganisms that thrive – and as you adapt your diet, your microbiota adapts too. Isn’t that amazing? As you change how you eat, the microorganisms that support the breakdown of foods and synthesis of nutrients also change. This is good news for those that are looking to improve health through diet changes! Just because you have digestive symptoms now does not mean you are meant to suffer forever – it may just take some time for your microbiota to catch up and adapt. 

The right mix of microorganisms can be extremely helpful but the wrong mix can also be disastrous.  According to Thomas et. al, “low diversity of microorganisms is associated with many diseases including allergies, diabetes, obesity, arthritis, irritable bowel disease and even neuropsychiatric disorders”. Whoa. That’s worth paying attention to!

So what should we eat?

What is the best diet? Remember that there is no one diet for all but a diverse diet that includes many varieties of whole foods, especially plant foods, is beneficial for everyone. There is room for customization and optimization here! Simply adding more greens can increase microbiota diversity, provide energy and support your overall health. Eating a variety of plant foods encourages a healthy microbiota, it’s that straightforward. 

It really truly is the basic things that can make a difference. Drink more water, eat more vegetables, choose whole foods often and eat a variety. Start with one of these and build a daily healthy habit around it, you’ll start to see subtle changes that start to add up. 

And while this approach is not groundbreaking or sexy, it is attainable! And isn’t that more useful than a restrictive eating plan that is not sustainable in the long run?

For more on the basics that will help you regain your energy and battle fatigue, download my free guide on 5 easy ways to increase your energy! 

Note: Therapeutic diets can play a role in assisting with certain conditions and may be useful in some cases – there is always complexity to consider and working with an experienced and qualified health professional to address these issues is important. 

  1. LaRosa, J. (2019, March 6). Top 9 Things to Know About the Weight Loss Industry. Retrieved August 19, 2020, from https://blog.marketresearch.com/u.s.-weight-loss-industry-grows-to-72-billion
  2. Thomas, S., Izard, J., Walsh, E., Batich, K., Chongsathidkiet, P., Clarke, G., . . . Prendergast, G. C. (2017). The Host Microbiome Regulates and Maintains Human Health: A Primer and Perspective for Non-Microbiologists. Cancer Research, 77(8), 1783-1812. doi:10.1158/0008-5472.can-16-2929


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