I’ve discovered a way of eating that has worked great for me and worked miracles for my own health. That way of eating can probably best be described as Low Carb/High Fat. Alternatively something like paleo or primal, and more or less a ketogenic diet. It’s really tempting to think that this is the diet that everybody should eat. I remember years ago when I thought I knew the best approach to diet and lifestyle, pretty much the Standard American Diet (SAD) and plenty of exercise. At that time, I was probably espousing that approach, to a fault, to other people. I now realize that a low fat, high carbohydrate diet was causing health issues for me and that has made me cautious about thinking what I’m doing now is perfect for everybody. With that as a background, I think it’s useful to explore some other diet approaches and under what conditions I think they can be healthy, based on my reading and understanding of how this all works.
standard american diet
I characterize the SAD as a high complex carbohydrate, low fat, low ingested cholesterol diet. It avoids saturated fat and uses vegetable oils for cooking. While in general, I think this approach has led us down a bad path for health, someone might be successful using this approach, at least in keeping off excess weight. What’s required? I think the biggest thing is a whole lot of willpower, or maybe lucky genes, and a whole lot of exercise.
What I’ve learned is that this high insulin-producing diet can lead to the need to constantly eat, feeling desperate when missing a meal, and the need to burn a lot of calories via exercise. When needing to eat frequently, it makes it very easy to eat too much, and makes it very hard to resist that desert plate or the extra brownies left over at the business lunch meeting. I think it also requires the willpower to keep exercising frequently in order to keep burning the excess calories should the willpower to resist eating too many calories fail.
Importantly, if someone on the SAD is avoiding most of the junk food and packaged food that can carry much of the added sugars, salt, and bad fats, I think it goes a long way to making this successful. In other words, the “real food” version of the SAD has a much better chance of being successful.
While I”m certainly no expert on vegetarian or vegan diets, and have never tried it myself, I think they can work as well. There may be difficulty and much care required to make sure the right amount of protein is present in the diet and making sure that those proteins are complete. I think a vegetarian diet also can be either junk food based or “real food” based, with the latter being the most likely to be successful. I think any “real food” based diet goes a long way towards better health as opposed to any junk food based diet.
A great advantage of a well formulated vegetarian diet is that a lot of fresh vegetables and fruits can provide good nutrient-density. A vegetarian diet that include eggs can probably be a lot easier to make successful given the healthy fats and great nutrients they provide. The downside is for people who are carbohydrate intolerant (i.e., have a strong insulin spike) and load up on carbs as part of their vegetarian diet.
low carb/high fat (LCHF)
This is the diet that I live by today. I think it’s probably the easiest in the sense that, once past the adaptation phase, it requires less willpower than either a low fat diet with limited calories, or a Vegetarian diet. I think this is why it was shown to be the most successful to follow in the “A to Z” diet study. For someone who is “metabolically damaged”, in that they meet the criteria of metabolic syndrome, the LCHF approach is probably the most effective way to go.
There’s no right thing that will work for everyone, although I think most people can go a long way by adopting a “real food” approach no matter what macronutrient balance they pick. I believe everyone needs to do their own research, seek advice from health care professionals they trust, try things themselves, observing the results, and then make their own decisions.