When it comes to the phrase “optimal diet” you’ll probably find hundreds of different resources on google. Experts from all different sides will come at you with factual information as to why their approach is best. The truth is there is no such thing as an optimal diet. Diet is such an individualized topic that the same exact plan might not work the same for two different people.
This is precisely why you’ll see people with success on an animal based diet as well as a vegan diet. Two completely different approaches yet both yield results. How is that so? I’d like to say it’s the nuances and principles of each diet. That’s where the magic lies.
In my opinion, the optimal human diet is the one that you will stick to long term. This means that while the predominant focus is on nutrient dense foods that your body can actually digest (digestion is king), you must actually enjoy what you’re eating or you will NEVER make it a lifestyle change and stick to it long term.
As Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, “The man who grasps principles can successfully select his own methods.” The way I interpret this is there are some finite points that most people in the nutrition world would agree upon when it comes to the science of longevity. The optimal diet should focus on food quality, quantity, as well as an emphasis on protein and micronutrients. The goal for long term health is to avoid chronic disease. We do so by optimizing blood biomarkers as well as body fat levels. Let’s get down to the details.
Food quantity is the most important factor in weight loss or weight gain. I didn’t make up the law of thermodynamics, I simply follow it to help my clients lose weight. Of course hormones and other nuances factor in here, but the simple truth is, if you consume more calories than you expend, you will gain weight. If this is done in the absence of weight training, most of the excess stores will typically come in the form of adipose fat tissue. One of the most simple truths to long term health is that being “overfat” is not good. How many overweight 90 year olds have you come across in your day to day life? Probably not many.
You are what you eat. Some people take it a step further and say that what you’re eating (animal products) must also have eaten a healthy diet. We can spend hours talking about this but to keep it simple when I think of food quality I think of real whole foods. Things you will find on the perimeter of the grocery store that don’t have an endless ingredient list. Think of things like chicken, fish, red meat, turkey, fruits, vegetables, potatoes etc. That’s not to say that anything found inside of food aisles is “bad’ we are over simplifying for the sake of the article. Your body composition, energy levels, and cognitive function will be far sharper sticking to meat, fruit, and vegetables than it would be eating frozen pizza, cookies and cereal.
A personal belief I have is that protein is extremely important. In my opinion it is the most important macronutrient. I also believe that animal sources are superior. They are simply more bioavailable meaning, you need to consume more plant protein, to get the same effect that you would from animal sources. Protein serves a few important roles.
1 – Satiety – Protein releases the hunger hormone ghrelin which let’s your brain know it’s full. Eating sufficient amounts keeps you full for longer.
2 Thermic Effect – Eating protein stokes your metabolism. For every 100 calories of protein you consume, your body uses about 20-25 calories to process the protein during digestion. That’s correct, when you eat and digest your body burns calories. Protein burns the most, carbohydrates burn the least.
3 – If you are exercising – which you should be – consuming adequate protein helps to preserve muscle while allowing the body to burn fat.
The calculator I use for protein is simple. Take your ideal body weight and multiply it by .7 and 1 – this will give you a range (Ideal BW x .7 – Ideal BW x 1). Make sure you hit that range of protein everyday.
Make sure you’re eating your fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables are going to provide all of the micronutrients your body needs to aid in recovery, strengthen your immune system, as well as optimize your overall health. Remember that digestion is the most important thing. If you get gassy from eating apples and broccoli, don’t eat those. There are hundreds of other delicious and nutritious options to choose from. I try to have a serving or 2 of each with every meal.
Learning how to incorporate the foods you love, guilt free, while still making progress is exactly what our nutrition program at RECLAIM is all about. We literally teach people how to eat for the rest of their life. Once they understand the principles, they’ll know how to successfully apply them in any situation they’re in.