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What is the Healthiest Diet a Person Can Choose?

Updated on December 18, 2016
kristadambroso profile image

Krista is a certified nutritionist and author of the book, "A Semicolon Kind of Life; Living and Healing with Colorectal Cancer."

So Many Choices

Yes, there are so many different types of diet in this world, just thinking about them can make your head spin. Trying to figure out which one, or ones, will be best for us as individuals can be a daunting task; especially when there are so many foods we love.

Most cultures have their own versions of a healthy diet and many that started out with healthy diets have adopted less-than-healthy foods thanks to the spread of the Western diet and junk food. By eliminating what we know is unhealthy, we can easily find a diet that is healthy for us individually.

I think most nutritionists will agree that the SAD diet is probably one of the least healthy diets in the world. Is it a coincidence that SAD stands for Standard American Diet?

Many may think that they don't adopt the SAD diet because they don't eat fast food, or maybe because they don't eat processed food. Unfortunately, the SAD diet isn't just fast food and processed food we typically consume, though it's become a huge part of it.

Meat and potatoes, which is the root of the SAD diet, is not a healthy diet. Meat and potatoes are high-fat and high-starch. When a vegetable other than a potato is incorporated into the meal, it's usually corn, or peas, or some other starch that barely qualifies as a vegetable. From the outside it looks like that way of eating is covering all bases; you have your protein, your fat, and your carb, but it's animal protein which is loaded with bad fat, and your carb/s which are simple carbs, turn into sugar when consumed. Add the sour cream, butter and maybe even cheese to that potato and you're only getting more of the bad fats and proteins.

Any diet that is primarily animal based is not going to be healthy. To me, this includes the Primal, or Paleolithic diet.

Though the Paleolithic diets have a lot of good qualities about them, they require a lot of unnecessary animal protein which I think is unhealthy. We are not cavemen anymore, and though some people may require animal protein in their diet, very little of it would be sufficient and it should always be a lean type of meat, preferably fish.

Dairy is simply an unnecessary part of our diet in any form, except maybe highly fermented forms of it once in a while. It doesn't have enough benefit to outweigh the harm. It's loaded with fat and there is enough research to suggest eating dairy protein can sap calcium from our bones and contribute to osteoporosis (https://www.afpafitness.com/research-articles/calcium-and-protein-a-mixture-for-disaster).

Homemade Raw Almond Brittle

Almonds, cashews, pumpkin seeds, maple syrup and a dehydrator is all that's needed to make this healthy snack at home.
Almonds, cashews, pumpkin seeds, maple syrup and a dehydrator is all that's needed to make this healthy snack at home.

Still a Lot of Choices

Even after we've eliminated the harmful foods from our diet, there are still a great deal of choices.

Though alternative meat products tend to be processed, these are a good starting point for kicking a meat addiction. Vegan cheeses are top notch these days, and milk alternatives such as almond milk and rice milk are even better tasting than real milk. Milk alternatives are easy to make, making them even healthier than the store bought ones, but as long as you get the unsweetened store brands, you're doing your body good.

Staying clear, or limiting starchy vegetables and refined breads is also a good idea when choosing a healthy diet. Some nutritionists may argue that white rice falls under this category, too, but considering the fact that a traditional Japanese diet is comprised primarily of white rice, I would argue that white rice is healthy. The Japanese who incorporate traditional Japanese diets have the highest incidents of longevity than any other culture in the world(http://www.huffingtonpost.com/howard-steven-friedman/life-expectancy_b_867361.html). Some may argue that there are many factors that contribute to the Japanese longevity, but by taking a closer look at the diet of certain regions where the life expectancy is the highest, we see that in Okinawa, for instance, their diet is primarily vegetables and sushi (lots of white rice, raw fish and seaweed) (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/01/12/cities-long-life_n_6425536.html).

I heard some years ago that a little town in California had the 2nd best longevity in the world and I wasn't surprised when I heard it was Loma Linda. The latter article I sited claims that the reason Loma Lindians have a longer lifespan is because they don't drink alcohol, smoke, or consume caffeine. Researchers believe their strong faith is part of it. The one thing it barely mentions is that Loma Lindians are 7th Day Adventists, which is a vegetarian religion. I personally believe this is the primary reason they enjoy such longevity, and knowing that they were primarily vegetarians is why I wasn't surprised when I first heard they were 2nd in the world for longevity.

A certain area in Greece is also on the list, and the reasons given for their longevity? A plant based diet and a stress-free lifestyle.

I have no doubt that a stress-free lifestyle will add to longevity and health. The two go hand in hand. Eating a diet rich with nutrition gives us energy to accomplish goals and be over-all more productive. It makes us feel revitalized and fresh which can increase endorphins and the feeling of euphoria. It allows our brains to function properly so we can think better, have better concentration and focus, which allows us to sleep better and recover faster.

The Mediterranean diet has been touted as one of the healthiest diets on the planet and it certainly can be. It really just depends on which region of the Mediterranean you're eating from. If we're in the United States, we have to take into account the way our meat industry feeds all kinds of chemicals and antibiotics into the animals, so eating a little bit of meat in the Mediterranean probably isn't the same as eating meat raised in the United States. If meat must be consumed, best to make sure it's organic and/or hormone and antibiotic-free. Another thing to consider is that prepared foods from the U.S. are typically laden with way too much salt and sugar in order to appease the flavors Americans prefer. I once ate a popular Italian restaurant for the first time and thought it was the worst food I'd ever had because all I could taste was salt. Sodium is an important mineral we need in order for our bodies to perform certain functions, but too much of it; particularly of table salt, can raise blood pressure, cause water retention, and even more serious conditions (http://healthyeating.sfgate.com/side-effects-ingesting-much-salt-6242.html). Too much refined sugar in the diet can cause a host of illnesses as well, type II diabetes being one.

Traditional Indian and Ayurvedic diets have wonderful health benefits, as does traditional Thai when cooked without added MSG and refined sugar. Any of these diets are easy to prepare at home if you have access to any kind of Asian market where you can get Kaffir lime, lemongrass and the other ingredients that make the dishes so tasty. Even sushi can be homemade, with or without the raw fish relatively easily. With practice, anything can be done just as easily as anything else you might prepare in the kitchen. All you need are the right tools.

Raw Food

There are various pre-packaged raw foods available in stores that are unbelievably delicious and packed with nutrition.
There are various pre-packaged raw foods available in stores that are unbelievably delicious and packed with nutrition.

So What Should I Eat?

No matter what an individual's tastes are, anyone can maintain an optimally healthy diet, whether they're mixing the different styles available, or creating their own. Everyone has different dietary requirements and likes and dislikes. If eating sushi was proven to extend a person's life by twenty years, there are health-conscious people who still wouldn't eat it simply because they don't like it. If we were a different species and red meat, pork and fowl were proven to be the healthiest food for us, I still wouldn't eat it!

The thing that every diet I mentioned has in common is that they're all plant based. That is the main thing we need to incorporate to have a healthy diet. Anywhere from 90%-100% is optimal (anywhere from 1-3 animal product servings per week).

The second thing to consider is eliminating certain grains such as wheat based products (flours, breads, pastas), and replace them with alternative versions such as using almond flours, rice flours and ancient grains such as Quinoa, and millet. I would refrain from using oats and brans, too.

Another thing these diets lack are dairy products in most regards. There are delicious ways to make nut cheeses out of almost any kind of nut or seed. All you really need is a high-powered blender or food processor. Almond, rice, hemp, and cashew milks can be found without any added sugar in them and are absolutely delicious. For a healthy diet, I would highly suggest eliminating dairy products from the diet except for special occasions.

A word on cooking with oils; it's very important when cooking with oils that a type is chosen that can tolerate high-heat. There are fewer of these oils than you'd think. Coconut and avocado oils are two of them. Never cook with flaxseed oil, hemp oil, or dark sesame oil as they degrade under high-heat and turn into bad, unhealthy fats. The word is still arguable that olive oil is a bad oil to cook with, but it looks like only extra-virgin has a lower heat tolerance. If you're flash frying or sauteeing, it should be fine. It's my opinion that fried foods should be avoided or at the very least limited.

Cooking vegetables follows the same rule. Make sure vegetables are not cooked until they're soft. The closer they are to their raw state, the more nutrition you'll reap from them. Lightly sauteeing, or flash boiling is good. Steaming is okay if you watch the vegetables closely and take them out of the steam when the vegetable's color is bright. If the color is anywhere close to fading or dulling, it's been over-cooked.

When speaking of raw food, this diet, or way of eating, is probably the healthiest available to us. Though it may sound displeasurable and boring, the diet is hardly either of those things.

A quick search on the Internet and you can find a raw recipe for nearly any kind of food you can think of. Even certain stores sell already prepared raw meals that a person would never guess were made out of 100% uncooked ingredients. Cakes, dips, crackers, crunchy granola, peanut brittle, coconut cream pie...the list is endless. The two raw items in the picture I posted above came packaged and ready to eat from a health food store. One of them; a dark chocolate tart, was about the most heavenly thing I've ever eaten, being the chocolate lover that I am. The cost was just under $4 for it, and it will last through at least two dessert servings, since it's very rich and delectable. If you gave this tart to an unsuspecting person, they would NEVER guess it was a completely raw food.

Even if you're unable to eat 100% raw, replacing a few cooked meals per week with raw ones can only add to your healthy diet.

So as there are many different types of diets that are healthy, not just the ones I touched upon here, but the basic necessities are all the same; plant based with as little animal products as possible, healthy oils that are heat appropriate, limiting wheat products, and eating vegetables as closely to their natural state as possible. Everything else, including which style of diet is chosen, is in regards to taste.

Enjoy your journey in achieving optimum health through diet! It can be an amazing one!

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Good Oils

© 2016 Krista D'Ambroso

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