What is the best diet for me?
We live in a world where there are so many diets to choose from, including Paleo, Zone, Vegan, Atkins, South Beach, Carb Nite, Primal, Ancestral, Vegetarian, Pescatarian, etc. Although there are trendy diets that come and go quickly (like the grapefruit juice only diet), many of these diets have been around for quite some time and have been shown to work. Most people these days receive nutrition information from the media that reports on the newest nutrition study that may or may not be relevant to the average person. These days weight loss is usually the topic of choice in the media due to the obesity epidemic that continues to escalate across the globe. The amazing part is that diets that are completely opposite (low carb/high fat vs high carb/low fat) both cause SOME people to lose weight. The "SOME" part of the previous sentence is the key. We are all individuals, and as such, we will all respond differently to different diets.
Now just because all of these diets work, doesn't mean that they all will work on EVERYONE. This is where things get nuanced and tricky. Anyone who gives nutrition advice usually has some central themes that apply to everyone for a healthy diet (like not eating processed foods and eating lots of vegetables). There are only a few of these major themes, and most successful diets use these them to shape their recommendations. Certainly this will get people pretty far down the road towards achieving health. However, once these simple strategies are employed, then it becomes all about the nuance of nutrition. Let’s consider two healthy ancestral populations, the Kitavans and Inuit, eating their natural diets. This is where we see populations that thrive on a relatively high carbohydrate diet (Kitavans) and others on a very low carbohydrate diet (Inuit). Both groups don't eat sugar or processed foods, but after that they are complete opposites.
Now, this doesn’t mean that a person needs to try every diet to find one that will be successful for them. There are definite vectors that the majority of people will respond to, and after that, it becomes more about adjusting to the individual’s response. It’s also helpful to check lab work frequently when starting a new diet because often this can improve much faster than body composition. I also find that it can be very uplifting to show the person favorable changes that are occurring on the biochemical level. This allows them to see the results of their efforts. On the other hand, it’s also good to know if lab values are looking worse because this would necessitate a major change and may mean that this diet is not a good fit for the person.
Which brings us back to what diet is the right diet, and, unfortunately, there is no single diet that is right for everyone. However, we can get pretty close to finding the right one by doing careful lab testing and following body composition, energy levels and performance. It is also important to keep in mind that this may change over time as other factors going on in a person’s life (sleep, stress, activity levels, etc.) change. Also, as a person ages their individual tolerance to certain foods may change, sometimes dramatically. Therefore, having someone who you trust to work with you on these factors is such an important part of not only achieving optimal health but also maintaining it.