What’s the best diet? Paleo? Vegan? Keto? Atkins? Zone? The list goes on…

I often answer “the best diet is the one that you can maintain long term.”

This is such a complex discussion. And really there is no right answer as to whether there is one diet that works for all people. Well….maybe one right answer: whole foods. Selecting most of the food you eat from whole sources, meaning minimally processed, feeds your body the nutrients it needs and keeps it healthy.

The reason that no one diet works for everyone is that people are diverse. Every body needs different macros (carbohydrates, fat, and protein) depending on several important aspects.

In the first chapter of the Precision Nutrition‘s “The Essentials of Sport and Exercise Nutrition” textbook for my Level 1 Certification I am currently enrolled in, it gives an excellent and explained overview of several ways that people are diverse. Allow me to paraphrase…

Body Type – some of us are tall and thin, some short and stocky, and some in between. The amount of calories you can eat per day depends on your body type. Taller and thinner people often can eat more calories, while shorter and stockier people often cannot.

Fitness Level – our activity level, plus what type of activity we do, governs the amount and type of food we need. Weight lifting requires more protein, long distance cardio requires more carbs, and sedentary lifestyles require less calories.

Dietary preferences and exclusions – we all have a vast range of likes and dislikes, plus allergies and restrictions due to health and/or religion.

Budget – healthy food often costs more. Strangely, the more a food is processed, the less it costs. I could never really figure that one out, perhaps because it has less real food in it (i.e. cellulose wood pulp, which is used as a filler in shredded cheese products).

Organic/Conventional – in terms of availability, not every region has organic produce or grass-fed beef.

Nutrition Knowledge And Diet History – our past experiences and knowledge governs our present thought systems concerning food. Also, I have noticed that many people think they eat healthy, but in reality, when I look at their food log/daily choices, it’s not so. We all come with different ideas on what eating “healthy” means.

Time – minimally processed, whole food often takes more time to plan and prep.

Ethnic Background And Heritage – the culture we live in dictates the food available around us.

Age – as we age, our metabolisms change (as we age we lose lean muscle mass, and the less muscle mass you have, the less calories you burn at rest). Also food intolerances and appetite change (I know I have gained several new allergies over the years). Even our digestive systems change with age.

Genetic polymorphism is fascinating. How nutrition and cellular interaction slightly varies depending on our unique gene expression. But regardless of our small differences, it’s important to note that nutrients from whole foods fundamentally change how our body works. And interestingly, nutrition can strongly influence our gene expression. Nutrigenomics is a new hot topic that is beyond my scope, but I am sure in a few years we will discover much more about the effects nutrients have on the expression of our individual genetic makeup.

There is so much that is in our control when it comes to our health. There are five statements from the Precision Nutrition text that I think are important to highlight:

  1. Good nutrition asks people to care about their food and eating. Just being mindful of what you are eating is a huge step to eating healthfully. I think that is why the MyFitnessPal app is so successful for people, it brings awareness to how much they are eating.
  2. Good nutrition focuses on food quality. All diets ask you to eat less processed, nutrient-depleted foods.
  3. 3. Good nutrition helps eliminate nutrient deficiencies. Eating whole foods increases the much needed nutrients your cells need to work properly.
  4. Good nutrition helps control appetite and food intake. Often healthy food takes longer to digest, helping us feel fuller for longer. Getting enough fibre from plant foods fills us up (and helps with being regular!)
  5. Good nutrition promotes regular exercise. When we start a diet, we often think about getting some exercise in too. Once we are consistent with exercise, we feel more energetic and strong.