Most people who are serious about weight loss, and improving their metabolic and cardiovascular health will eventually try following a specific diet with the intention of improving their health. However, as soon as they begin their quest to discover the "best diet," they are left even more confused. If you google search a diet for weight loss, you will find so much conflicting advice. Some will push a vegan diet, claiming that animal products will cause obesity and cholesterol issues. Others will inform you that all carbohydrates are the enemy, and you should definitely try a high-fat ketogenic approach. And then there are those who eat whatever they wish and swear by intermittent fasting. The list of fad diets and trends seems never-ending - Atkins, carnivore, pescetarian, Whole30, Paleo, vegetarian. People often feel more confused about food than any other health-related topic because of all of the conflicting guidance. Where do we even start? And how do we reach our health goals without feeling restricted or going bonkers when just getting started?!!
In order to understand why we are so confused about diet, we have to first understand how we got here. And why metabolic diseases are so prevalent. About 1 in 3 adults in the U.S. have essential hypertension, high cholesterol, and are within the prediabetic range (though most are not aware of their elevated blood sugars until it becomes a major issue). Heart disease unfortunately is now the number 1 cause of death in the U.S. We know that all of these metabolic diseases can be prevented and improved with lifestyle habits, but this brings us back to the question, "What do I eat?!" If we do eat according to the Standard American Diet or guidelines provided by the old-school food pyramid we will only worsen our metabolic function.
When looking at our diet, it may be helpful to ask ourselves the following questions about our plate:
Eating healthy does not have to be overly complicated. We can definitely choose whole food ingredients that are nourishing AND delicious. If you are trying to reach specific goals, such as decrease inflammation, improve cholesterol, lose body fat, decrease blood sugars, it is highly recommended to receive professional guidance from a coach and provider team. Each body is created so uniquely that sadly there is no one size fits all approach or "diet" that works for everyone. You may even find that what worked for you in the past is no longer suiting your needs, and that is okay to adjust!
However, there are basic principles that we highly recommend all follow in order to prevent metabolic diseases. Using the questions above we can create a list of basic guidelines to follow for our health. For starters, everyone could benefit from decreasing sugar in our diet, including artificial sweeteners that may be more toxic than sugar itself. To get our sweet fix, it is recommend to opt for colorful fruits of different varieties, use honey, date syrup, or maple syrup sparingly, or natural sweeteners such as stevia and monk fruit. These will produce less of a sugar spike and
In terms of vegetables, we encourage aiming for at least a handful of nonstarchy vegetables per meal, which could include kale, carrots, all cruciferous vegetables, onions, garlic, asparagus, and more! Cooking with anti-inflammatory fats such as avocado oil or coconut oil moderately, drizzling olive oil on salads, and increasing wild fish, nuts, and seeds in the diet are key to staying full while avoiding fats that are linked to cholesterol imbalance and inflammation. Quality of food is often neglected by many who are focused solely on weight loss. However, eating high quality foods, especially protein sources is key for reducing inflammation, thus improving our metabolic function and weight loss. Wild-caught fish, organic poultry, grass-fed beef, and pasture-raised eggs are great examples of high-quality protein, as well as beans, lentils, and seeds for vegan sources.
Root vegetables, sweet potato, squash, and complex carbohydrates from whole grains (quinoa, black rice, brown rice, millet, buckwheat) make great options and taste delicious in stews, casseroles, soups, or as a small side! They key is managing portions of starches in the diet as well as pairing them with fiber (non starchy vegetables), healthy fats, and protein to stabilize insulin and blood sugars when consuming sweet or carbohydrate- rich foods.
Recognizing that increased insulin in response to a diet that is rich in sugar and carbohydrates leads to metabolic disease and weight gain is the first step towards changing our thoughts about food. We don't really need to complicate our plate, our meal planning, or follow a specific diet in order to heal metabolic diseases and improve our health. Fad diets often have a negative impact on our relationship with food, causing us to restrict the foods we love and eat the foods we dislike. It's okay to eat the donut every now and then. In fact, you may find that the next meal your body will want more vegetables and protein! So eat the pizza, have the slice of cake! Opt for balance rather than deprivation.
So what should you cook for dinner?
Cook a meal that includes foods you truly enjoy! Pick a couple of colorful vegetables, combined with a high-quality protein, throw in healthy fats, and you can be sure you will remain full and satisfied to get a good night's rest!
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