Today’s modern diet culture is confusing, to say the least. There is a continuous surge of new diets promising results such as improved performance, weight loss, detoxification, pH balance … the list goes on. People are overwhelmed with marketing and mixed messaging, making it difficult to sort out what they “should” and “shouldn’t” be doing. Quite frankly, each of us is different, and we all have different needs. Listening to your body and beliefs is a solid way to find a diet that works best for you.
To begin, the word “diet” simply refers to the foods we eat each day, it does not need to be thought of as something that is “followed” or has rules. We all need to eat, and our “diet” consists of what we choose to put into our bodies. What’s important is choosing to eat foods that support a healthy lifestyle and eating pattern as a whole, with a focus on long-term health versus short-term results.
It's a lifestyle
Many “fad diets” promise quick and unsustainable results that may be detrimental in the long run. Some may even have the potential to incur nutrient deficiencies leading to decreased energy, compromised performance and other health issues (1). This is why there should instead be an emphasis on food choices that are sustainable, support long-term health and enhance longevity.
Focus on an eating pattern that provides your body with the essential vitamins, minerals and nutrients it needs to function and perform at its best. This type of eating pattern incorporates foods such as whole grains, which provide carbohydrates, fiber and B-vitamins crucial for energy production. Incorporating sufficient fruits and vegetables provides countless vitamins, minerals and antioxidants to help fight inflammation and defend against disease. Consuming high quality protein supports lean muscle mass and nutrient transport throughout the body. Plus, adding in healthy fats promotes immunity, heart health and brain health.
Consistently incorporating these food groups into your diet establishes an overall eating pattern that not only enhances performance, but promotes a lifestyle that supports long-term health.
Being aware and mindful
There are many different diets and lifestyles people may choose to follow, whether that be paleo, intermittent fasting, keto, Whole30, intuitive eating, vegan, gluten-free, etc. When following some of these, it’s important to be mindful of certain nutrients or implications that may result from following the specific eating pattern. For those who follow a diet that restricts certain foods or follows specific guidelines, the key is ensuring you are still providing your body with all the essential nutrients that it needs to function properly and perform its best. This means that although you have guidelines within your eating pattern, you should still be mindful of certain foods that need to be incorporated more throughout the day, or you should potentially be supplementing with nutrients that you may be lacking.
For example, many vegans are aware that they may need to supplement with vitamin B12 due to the lack of availability in the types of foods they eat (2). Those who eliminate dairy products from their diet need to be mindful of where they are obtaining calcium from in order to avoid compromising bone health. This may mean supplementation or ensuring consumption of other foods high in calcium such as canned sardines, fortified foods or tofu (3). Those following diets that are low in carbohydrates, such as the ketogenic diet, should be mindful of nutrients such as thiamine, iodine and folate to ensure they are still consuming adequate levels to support their body’s needs (4).
You can follow specific types of diets in a healthy and sustainable way, as long as you are aware of areas that you may be lacking nutrients and address any deficiencies that may occur. Following a specific diet may work well for some people, especially if they’re able to do so with a healthy, sustainable and consistent approach. Others may find it doesn’t work well for them, and that’s okay. Establishing an eating pattern is about finding what works best for you, what you can follow consistently, and what you can make part of your lifestyle rather than a short-term plan.
Although different diets have their own defining characteristics, one theme typically unites them all: eating a variety of real, whole and natural foods while cutting down on processed, refined and packaged goods. This principle really establishes the core and foundation of any healthy eating pattern, because a healthy eating pattern is just that: a pattern.
Eating right for you is not about cutting out or including a single food, drink or nutrient, but rather about approaching your dishes with consistency and sustainability in mind. In the end, the answer does not necessarily reside in what “diet” you follow or what you do or don’t eat. Rather, you should focus on overall nutrient density and food quality, and what makes you feel good.
- Calton JB. Prevalence of micronutrient deficiency in popular diet plans. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2010;7:24. Published 2010 Jun 10. doi:10.1186/1550-2783-7-24
- Rogerson D. Vegan diets: practical advice for athletes and exercisers. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2017;14:36. Published 2017 Sep 13. doi:10.1186/s12970-017-0192-9
- Facioni MS, Raspini B, Pivari F, Dogliotti E, Cena H. Nutritional management of lactose intolerance: the importance of diet and food labelling. J Transl Med. 2020;18(1):260. Published 2020 Jun 26. doi:10.1186/s12967-020-02429-2
- Churuangsuk C, Griffiths D, Lean MEJ, Combet E. Impacts of carbohydrate-restricted diets on micronutrient intakes and status: A systematic review. Obes Rev. 2019 Aug;20(8):1132-1147. doi: 10.1111/obr.12857. Epub 2019 Apr 22. PMID: 31006978.