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Deciphering the Dietary Confusion: What “Healthy” Diets Have In Common

By Tamara Golden RN, HNB-BC, NBC-HWC

Deciding what to eat has become a very complicated decision for anyone trying to improve their overall health and habits these days. There is much conflicting information and evidence in the field of Nutrition about what really constitutes a “healthy diet.” One dietary theory says grains are good for you, and another says grains are poison. One diet says dairy is good, and another says it’s bad. The popular Paleo diet says you were made to eat meat, while the Vegan diet shuns meat and all animal products. And the list goes on. So how is a health-conscious person supposed to figure this out when even the “experts” don’t agree?

Well, perhaps it’s better to look at what ALL the dietary theories have in common and start there. Scientific studies and dietary theories all agree on the following:

We need plenty of vegetables. None of the dietary theories discourage vegetables, and all agree with studies that show they are nutrient-dense foods that provide essential vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytonutrients that we all need. The largest, most-respected studies, such as the Nurses Health Study and the China Study clearly indicate that the more vegetables we eat, the healthier we are and the lower our risk of disease.

Eat naturally occurring foods and avoid highly processed foods. Past generations didn’t eat from a grocery store – they got their food from farms and nature.  Processing removes nutrients and the “life” in natural foods and adds contents that shouldn’t really even be allowed to be called “food.” They have little to no nutrient value and often are riddled with ingredients such as trans fats and chemicals that cause inflammation in the body and have been linked to the development of many chronic diseases.

Minimize your sugar intake. Countless studies have now proven that added sugar in our diets is a significant contributor to our high rate of chronic disease. Limiting your consumption of foods high in added sugar such as sodas, sugary snacks, and alcoholic beverages can make a significant impact on your disease risk and overall health.

So, rather than focusing on conflicting dietary theories and trying to choose which one to follow – which can easily lead to overwhelm and making no healthy changes at all – focus on adding more vegetables to your meals, eating whole foods instead of processed foods, and reducing the amount of sugar you consume. All of these steps will help you feel better and reduce your risk of disease.

And then, after you implement the basics of a truly healthy diet, you can take your healthy habits a step further and make choices about specific “controversial” foods. I’ll cover how to navigate those decisions in another post!

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