This time of year tends to bring people out of hibernation – we feel more positive, more energized and ‘lighter’. It’s also that time where many of us feel the ‘urge to purge’ – clean up our homes, and shed that extra winter layer off our midsection! But how do we tackle this goal? Which dietary approach should we follow? Is there such a thing as the perfect diet?
The answer is YES, but each one of us has their own perfect diet based on our genetics, age, hormones and specific goals, which also means that our perfect diet is one that changes with age and our current health. So it’s not really an easy answer is it? To make matters even more complicated, each of us has HUNDREDS of different colonies of bacteria that live in our guts (our microbiome), which also contributes to why we’re all unique and respond differently to different diets.
So where do we begin? Let’s dissect a few of the popular dietary trends and weigh the pros and cons!
Otherwise known as the ‘cave-man diet’, this approach focuses on eating like our ‘paleolithic ancestors’. There is an emphasis on whole foods such as vegetables, meat, nuts, seeds and fruit in moderation. This diet avoids dairy products and grains.
PROS – most people can benefit from limiting processed foods and sugars. The focus on consuming ‘whole foods’ in their most natural state is sound advice and generally leads to weight loss and an improvement in energy level.
CONS – can feel limiting for some individuals. Not everyone needs to completely eliminate all grains or dairy from their diet in order to feel great.
This diet follows a low-carb and high-fat approach to eating and forces the body to burn fat instead of sugar as a fuel source. The body produces ketones (from breaking down fat) which become a source of energy for the brain and tissues. This diet has been used clinically for over a hundred years to treat specific health conditions like epilepsy.
PROS – the North American diet is generally very high in sugars and carbohydrates. Eliminating these can benefit a variety of chronic health concerns such as obesity and diabetes. Research is also looking into the positive benefits on brain health. Increasing healthy fats in the diet is very satisfying, so individuals find they have fewer cravings and generally are able to go longer between meals.
CONS – This can be a tough diet to follow, and is often not recommended without medical supervision. There are many ‘versions’ of the keto diet and not are equally healthy. A distinction needs to be made in the QUALITY and TYPE of fat that a person is consuming, as not all fats promote good health.
Click here to see a video that explains a Keto Diet.
These diets avoid all animal products, which means no meat and often no fish, while vegan diets also avoid dairy (including eggs).
PROS – Vegetarian diets are thought to be more environmentally friendly and sustainable choices. With the right selections a vegetarian diet may increase a person’s intake of vegetables, heart-healthy fats and beans (which can lower cholesterol levels).
CONS – Just avoiding animal products doesn’t make a diet healthier – some vegetarians may consume an abundance of grains and starches, and not necessarily eat more vegetables. Having knowledge of vegetarian protein sources and possible deficiencies (iron and B12) is key.
So how do we choose which approach is right for us? My advice is to experiment and see what feels best in YOUR body. You don’t have to confine yourself to a strict set of rules – perhaps you do best with a combination of two or more of the above approaches? Perhaps you follow a Paleo diet but include some rice and cheese on occasion. Maybe you do well with a low carb high fat approach but include some sweet potato every few days.
Studies show that the most successful diets for long-term weight-loss are those that keep simple carbohydrates in check. Any diet that keeps your insulin levels low throughout the day is going to keep your energy levels steady, will keep cravings at bay and will allow you to enter ‘fat-burning’ mode. So pick a diet that focuses on whole foods, adequate protein, plenty of vegetables and a dose of healthy fats!
Click here to see one of my favourite comforting and satisfying soups! This soup is full of flavour and gives you a full serving of protein to keep your energy up throughout the day. It’s also grain-free and dairy-free for those with food intolerances.
Dr. Anna Falkowski is a Naturopathic Doctor, Wellness Educator & Clinic Director at Vitality for Life Health Center in Barrie, Ontario with a specialty in Women’s Health, Weight-loss and Family Medicine. She is a healthy living advocate passionate about teaching classes and creating online programs for ‘Mom on the Glow’, her wellness blueprint for busy Moms. For more information you can visit www.vitalityforlife.ca or www.MomOnTheGlow.com