What’s the real truth about diets? We know that the South Beach Diet, Weight Watchers Diet, Zone Diet, Paleolithic Diet, and many others have features in common and also some real differences. How do you decide what is your best diet and focus on that particular choice rather than jumping from one to another or taking the best or worst of those you are comparing?
Let’s start by looking at a bad diet. A bad diet would have no carbs, high protein, high fat, very low or no fat, eating a single food group (macrobiotic), or high calorie intake. Other features of a bad diet could include hydrogenated fat, low-nutrient foods, no fiber or bulk, and poor distribution of carbohydrate/protein/fat on a daily basis. Now let’s see what the best diet would include.
First of all, you need to include enough food to give you 32 essential vitamins and minerals a day; carbohydrates, protein, and fat in a 40/30/30 ratio; and the foods you eat should be good quality with high nutrient levels and not contain empty calories. A diet which keeps your blood sugar level down and keeps your sugar intake low or near zero is good. Low glycemic index carbs are better because they don’t stimulate your insulin response. Minimal or no high fructose corn syrup would be another part of a good diet since it can lead to fatty liver and excess weight gain around the middle part of the body.
When seeking the best diet, stay away from processed “low-fat” foods because low-fat foods are high in carbohydrates, which when processed are basically empty calories. You need about 30 percent fat in your diet every day, according to the guidelines of the American Heart Association, and this helps slow down the absorption of carbohydrates and conversion to glucose, which protects your insulin levels in a more normal range.
Drinking alcoholic beverages is healthy in moderation and seems to reduce the incidence of cardiovascular problems in aging adults. Wine is preferable to hard liquor, which has few nutrients as compared to wine. Supplements might be helpful, but there are no definitive studies which prove supplements alone can make up for deficits in the diet. Adequate fiber and adequate fat intake, such as butter, olive oil, and coconut, are also part of a better diet. White bread, white polished rice, pasta, and white potatoes furnish almost no nutrients and are simple empty calories.
As part of the best diet, count the calories you ingest because this is what you have to monitor to lose, gain, or maintain weight. Counting calories combined with an exercise regimen are key to controlling weight over the long term. Additionally, eat greens and colored fruits, which contain phytonutrients. Consider an occasional fast, one to two days a week for weight loss, as best defined in the book, The Fast Diet.
Now let’s compare this diet to those of two different people, a man and a woman. Gwyneth Paltrow is a well-known movie actress, and she has a very specific regimen for keeping her youthful appearance and keeping a healthy body. First of all, she has a physical trainer (actually several). She is not a runner, but she leaps, jumps, lifts weights, does Pilates, and exercises in total one to two hours per day, six days a week.
She drinks power juice, which is kale, spinach, beet root, and apple as her health boost. She gets her carbs from sweet potato corn pudding, which includes cooked sweet potato and raw corn-on-the-cob blended. She also likes carrot-parsnip puree, and she eats blueberries, applesauce, gazpacho, and protein soup of chicken and vegetables. Her breakfast is two eggs or turkey bacon and some fruit, while lunch is a protein bar, and dinner is protein plus vegetables.
As you can see, Ms. Paltrow really pays attention to her health. This diet is a low-calorie diet, which is one of the hallmarks of any diet you would use to lose weight. It has helped her stay thin and helped prevent aging changes in her face.
Now let’s look at Michael Jordan. He has had a long, active career playing basketball. He is physically active every day and still a good ball player. Some of the characteristics of his diet are that he eats when he is hungry, does not ever eat to the point of being full, and prefers frequent small meals throughout the day.
Midmorning he has a fitness shake, which includes protein, blended fruits, and vegetables. He eats a light lunch and then has an afternoon shake, which includes Gatorade, protein powder, fruits, and some vitamins and minerals. He has a light dinner and avoids fatty foods. Mr. Jordan eats a variety of foods including eggs, blueberries, raisins, and orange juice for breakfast as an example. For lunch and dinner, he will eat a full menu of carbohydrates, protein, and fat, all of which are small portions. He tends to stick to chicken, potatoes, and salad for lunch. In my research, neither diet mentions alcohol intake, but this can add 120 calories per glass of wine or liquor and needs to be considered if you are counting calories.
The bottom line here is that everybody’s diet is different. We have two very successful, very healthy people who approach their diets in a different but similar way. Similarities are in the range of food and the amount that they eat, while differences are in the way they approach exercise and the necessary quantity of carbohydrates to maintain body strength to follow their exercise regimen. Both, however, pay attention to portion size, eat healthy food, and have an exercise program which helps burn the calories that they eat.
Dr. Carraway is the director of the Plastic & Cosmetic Surgery Center of EVMS. Call 757-557-0300 for more information.