It’s the time of year when everyone is talking about the new trendy diet they are following as part of their “new year, new me” mindset that January often brings. But strict and dramatic changes to your diet are hard to maintain, and they almost always end with the yo-yo effect of initial weight loss followed by regaining when you can no longer follow the extreme diet. I almost never recommend a short term “diet” to patients regardless of what their goals are. Diets don’t promote long term weight loss, healthy eating habits, or balanced lifestyles. In fact, they generally do the opposite.
But your diet (what you eat day to day) is really important. Arguable one of the most important aspects of your lifestyle when working towards optimal health and longevity. But to have a positive impact, you want to optimize your diet over your lifetime, not just for 4-6 weeks at the beginning of the year. And your diet doesn’t have to be strict and perfect. It’s the big picture that matters. Here are the general components to a healthy non-diet diet:
- The 80/20 rule. There is always room for dessert, a drink, or your favorite meal at your favorite restaurant, but this should be infrequent in the grand scheme of your food intake. Follow a clean, whole food, minimally processed, balanced diet 80% of the time and give yourself some slack 20% of the time.
- Eat whole foods (foods in their natural state) and minimize processed (but especially ultra-processed) foods. Ultra-processed foods are made from substances extracted from foods (hydrogenated fats, added sugars, starches) and additives like colors, flavors, and stabilizers. Some examples include fast foods, packaged snack foods, and frozen meals.
- Limit your sugar intake (including fructose and corn syrup).
- Limit red meat intake to special occasions.
- Prepare your meals at home. This will always be healthier than eating out!
- Cook with olive oil or avocado oil.
- Eat an abundance of fresh vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, legumes, and fruits.
- Eat poultry, eggs, cheese, and yogurt in moderation.
- Limit alcohol intake to 1 drink per day (women) or 2 drinks per day (men)
Eating a healthy, minimally processed, plant-based diet with a little wiggle room for indulgences will help with long term weight management, but also decrease your risk of cancer, diabetes, heart disease and dementia.