Which Diet is Best?

A conversation with a friend over the weekend reminded me how confusing it can be to know what is the best diet to follow. There are so many diet variations now, which should we choose? Paleo (based on hunter/gatherer type foods), Vegetarian, Vegan, Mediterranean, Low carb, High Protein, High fat?


Diets Need to be Specific for Each Person

Of course for many Nutritionhelp clients the above eating regimes don't form the basis of their meals, but rather the restriction and inclusion of foods specific for their needs. For example, no sugar in an anti-Candida programme, no dairy or gluten for food intolerances. or avoiding the night-shade family of foods for joint pain or psoriasis.


Low Oxalate Diet

In addition to these well-known food problems are a growing number of clients who need to avoid oxalate-rich foods. This may be helpful in working to reduce pain syndromes which don't respond to the basic anti-Candida diet. Oxalates are 'built-in' pest control in many vegetable foods. Particularly high in spinach, rhubarb, sesame, and buckwheat, oxalates are also in most grains, and many vegetables and nuts. When the digestive tract is compromised, oxalates can pass into the body and form tiny crystals in muscles and tissues - initiating pain. Removing these key foods can make a vast difference in dealing with many ongoing, chronic issues such as Fibromyalgia, vulvodynia and aches and pains often associated with aging.


Low Histamine Diet

Another set of foods which some find they need to avoid are the high histamine foods. I will post more on this in a future blog, but  this diet needs to avoid any fermented or cured foods, and foods which cause a release of histamine, such as tomatoes and shell fish.

So a large proportion of my time as a Nutritional Therapist, is working with clients to help them find the right diet approach which works with their specific needs. However, there are a lot of people who don't need to address health issues, but just want to find a diet that helps them to feel their best and keep off any extra pounds. This is where diet choice can come in. Is a vegetarian diet better for your heart? What exactly is a paleo diet? Does a Mediterranean diet mean you eat plates of pasta?!!


Paleo, Mediterranean &  Vegetarian Diets Compared

A few years ago the Institute of Functional Medicine held a conference in San Francisco to debate the comparative benefits of the Paleo, Mediterranean and Vegetarian diets. These diets - particularly the paleo and vegetarian diets - are poles apart.  And yet there were key areas on which all three parties agreed. In particular, when followed properly, each of these diets avoid processed and high sugar foods - the key contributors to heart disease, diabetes and obesity. Dr Masley helpfully summarised the conference, pointing out the areas of both agreement and disagreement:


 Areas of Agreement

  1. Everyone should have at least 30% of their calorie intake from vegetables and fruits, especially those with a low glycemic load (i.e. lower in carbohydrate). Since veg are low in calories, to gain 30% calories from veg, it needs to provide 50% of the total food eaten.
  1. Everyone should have at least 1-2 handfuls of nuts daily; nuts and seeds are great for our health.
  1. If you eat animal protein, it should be clean animal protein.Seafood should be wild caught fish. Clean animal protein should be organic, free-range poultry, and grass-fed, grass-finished beef—clearly not hormone, antibiotic, and pesticide enriched animal protein produced in many commercial factories.
    • For the sake of the planet, it is also better to eat low on the food chain, such as rabbit and poultry over beef and pork.
  1. Nobody should be eating low fat. But fats need to come from healthy sources—hormone and pesticide free.
  1. Everyone should avoid high glycemic load foods that have been processed, such as bread, crackers, rice and potato products, and anything made with flour.
  1. And with the best of eating, we still need a supplement to get our key nutrients, like vitamin D, omega 3 fats, and other key nutrients.


Areas of Disagreement

Here is where they disagreed. They didn’t find common ground on sources and quantities of protein, or regarding beans and whole grains:

For legumes, the Paleo plan recommended none, as they have a few compounds that block nutrient absorption. The trouble with this is that beans are super high in nutrients and fiber, and blood test findings have noted that consuming beans has powerful and beneficial effects. The vegetarian and Mediterranean diet proponents truly made the point that we would benefit from eating beans daily. So yes, beans should stay on the menu

For whole grains, the Paleo plan recommended none, because of their glycemic load (blood sugar jump). Both the vegetarian and Mediterranean diet proponents accepted small quantities of whole grains, but not nearly as much as consumed by most Americans today.  Everyone agreed that if you have a gluten intolerance, you need to totally avoid all gluten products (wheat, rye, barley).For protein, no surprises here:

  1. Paleo - 30% of the diet comes from animal protein

  2. Mediterranean - no fixed amount of protein, but it comes from a mixture of lean animal protein and bean.

  3. Vegetarian - more beans, soy, and protein powders.


They all agreed that the most challenging part is that many, if not most Americans trying to following these diets, are doing it wrong.


Where Diet Following is Going Wrong

  1. The Paleo followers are poisoning themselves with dirty protein and animal fat—eating commercial sources loaded with hormones and chemicals, and they are clearly not getting the 5-7 cups of vegetables and fruits daily required to benefit from this type of eating plan

  2. The Mediterranean followers are eating far too much bread and pasta. If you are a farmer and physically active 6-8 hours per day, clearly you need more calories, and whole grains, even in the form of flour, can provide these nutrients. But for most people struggling to exercise for 7-10 hours per week, they can’t handle this high glycemic (sugar) load

  3. The Vegetarian followers are eating too many refined carbs and processed foods. To benefit, they need to stick to unprocessed food. They also have to ensure they get their protein from beans, soy, and protein powders, omega-3 fats from seaweed or a supplement, and enough vitamin B 12.


So it isn't really so much about which diet plan you choose to follow, but rather how you follow it. Foods need to be as close to their natural state as possible to provide maximum nutrients and limit unhelpful additives, refined grains and sugars. In my experience in Nutritional Therapy, different people will thrive on different diets, so it is a matter of finding the right approach for each individual. For example, long-standing vegetarians are find the nutritional benefit of adding bone broth into the diet to support health - particularly during times of extended convalescing.


So as we start 2018, and you are perhaps wanting to shed some weight or increase general health, why not get in touch with me to book a consultation to help you find an eating pattern to meet your needs for the New Year?