The perfect, one-day diet
As a registered dietitian, one of the most common requests I receive from my clients is for help composing a specific meal plan that will get them the results they want. Many people are confused by the plethora of diet options they’ve read about online or in magazines, seen on popular television shows, or heard about from friends or family members. With diet options ranging from low carb to low fat, from Paleo to vegetarian, and from juicing to whole foods, it can be easy to get confused. So what does the perfect day of eating look like?
Is it based on going meatless like this day?
Breakfast: steel-cut oats with raspberries and walnuts. Lunch: three-bean, corn, and tomato salad on a bed of greens with cilantro-olive oil dressing and avocado. Dinner: lentil stew with one slice whole wheat bread and spinach. Snacks (as needed): fruit and nuts, vegetables and hummus, or homemade trail mix.
Or is it honing in on decreasing fat like this day?
Breakfast: high fiber cereal with fruit and milk. Lunch: chicken and spinach sandwich on whole wheat bread with carrot sticks. Dinner: ground turkey, black bean and vegetable chili with cornbread. Snacks (as needed): baked tortilla chips with salsa, low fat yogurt, or graham crackers and apple sauce.
Or maybe it’s actually a focus on high protein like this day?
Breakfast: egg scramble with vegetables sautéed in olive oil. Lunch: ground beef stuffed bell peppers. Dinner: salmon, seasoned quinoa, and steamed broccoli. Snacks (as needed): cottage cheese, a hard-boiled egg, or beef jerky.
Or maybe it’s something else entirely?
The truth of the matter is that there is no one, single diet that works best for every person, every day. Too much variety in body composition, metabolism and food preferences exists between different people for one way of eating to be best for everyone. Even comparing an individual from one day to the next can reveal so much variance in intake needs that calling a specific way of eating the best for every day can be incorrect. To get an abundance of nutrients in the diet requires eating a variety of healthy foods, each of which contains different benefits for health.
All of the menus listed above could represent a day of healthy eating. But what works best for your friend, neighbor, co-worker or grandmother may not be the same thing that works best for you. Different health conditions and goals require different eating strategies for success. For example, a diabetic will likely find more success controlling blood sugar and losing weight eating meals rich in non-starchy vegetables and proteins with limited amounts of complex carbohydrates than on a low fat diet. Someone with high cholesterol will likely find more success eating meals based on vegetables, fruits, plant proteins, fish and anti-inflammatory fats than a strictly low carbohydrate diet. An endurance athlete will likely improve performance better by eating meals rich in lean proteins and a variety of complex carbohydrates, with adequate fruit and vegetable intake, than by exclusively following a high protein diet.
Most of the trendy eating patterns you read or hear about are associated with some major health benefits. At the end of the day, almost any change you make that causes you to be more conscious about including nutrient-rich foods in appropriate amounts will be good for you. You may have noticed that most of these popular diets share many common elements. Even in the example days listed above, you’ll see that they all focus on a high intake of non-starchy vegetables, fruit, lean proteins, and some complex carbohydrates. Each meal also includes foods from at least three different food groups to promote balance, and is built from whole, minimally processed foods.
What is your perfect, one day diet? It changes based on your health goals. It changes based on the foods you enjoy eating. It even changes from day to day. In essence, it’s making the healthiest choices you can each day to focus on including the good things without being so strict about following a single eating philosophy that it makes eating miserable.
Shannon Adair is a registered dietitian and health coach. She works with individuals to promote simple lifestyle changes that result in lasting health improvements.