During the month of October, I'm going to be exploring several different dietary strategies that seem to ebb and flow in popularity. We'll cover Paleo (or real food eating), Keto, vegetarianism/veganism, and the Standard American "Healthy" Diet. Within each category, I'll list the pros and cons, as well as give you my bottom line for each dietary approach.
Next up in my exploring diets series we have the Standard American "Healthy" Diet. The Standard American Diet is often referred to as SAD, which I think is a suitable acronym.
I'm sure many of us have tried the SAD diet: it focuses on eating less food, especially less fat, and allowing calorie counts to dictate what goes in our mouths.
Included on the SAD diet are basically any foods that fit those qualifications above: they are low in calories and preferably low in fat (because we've been told falsely that dietary fat makes us fat). These foods can include, but aren't limited to:
Skim milk and other fat-free dairy products
Fat-free flavored yogurt
Crackers, bread, muffins, etc that are grain based and often "lite" or reduced fat
Lean meat, such as 99% lean ground turkey or chicken breast
Salad greens (with light dressing)
Margarine or "lite" butter
PB2 or powdered "lite" peanut butter
Artificially sweetened low-calorie drinks
100-calorie snack packs
Frozen "light" dinners
What is avoided on this diet is generally:
The problem with this diet is that is it based not only on false science stating that low calories/fat is the way to go, but it also relies so heavily on carb-based foods (because they are low in fat and easy to process) that we are left in a blood sugar roller coaster throughout the day. Plus, when we rely on heavily processed bars, cereals, shakes, and other fake foods to give us the nutrition our bodies need and crave, we simply will fall short! Our bodies know what to do with real whole foods. They have no idea what to do with fake processed foods, so they just keep craving more in an attempt to get the nutrition they need.
We have proven time and time again that saturated fat from real, whole foods (red meat, eggs, etc) won't lead to heart disease and high cholesterol in most cases. There is one genetic exception, but you would still have to eat a ton of those foods while also avoiding all of the other refined foods to see this manifested.
Artificial sweeteners will also fall into this category too, as they are designed to bypass digestion and contain 0 calories as a result. However, they are so much sweeter than sugar, which messes with our sugar-handling system, and can also interfere with our gut health as well.
The focus on foods low in fat also will impact our hormones pretty significantly, as we rely on cholesterol to MAKE our hormones. I believe, and will argue to my death (and I'm not an argumentative person, so that's saying something), that our low-fat culture from 50 years ago is one of the main reasons (but not the only reason) why we are having so many issues with infertility, anxiety, and depression in today's society. Not only do healthy fats impact our sex hormone levels, but also our brain hormones/chemicals that we often see dysregulated in mental illnesses.
Plus, if we are limited protein intake to further reduce fat/calories or are getting most of our protein in a highly processed form from bars/shakes, we will not get all the proper amino acids we need to create proper neurotransmitters for supporting mental health as well.
This dietary strategy will often work in the short term when you are younger, but once you get older and life's stressors and nutrient deficiencies start to creep up, you will stop seeing progress with this type of an approach and will start moving backwards.
Just like we talked about in the first article in this series, simply switching out all of the products in this approach will go a long way:
Egg whites -> whole eggs
Steamed veggies -> roasted veggies
Canola oil/margarine -> real butter
Artificial sweeteners -> raw honey or dates
99% lean meats -> 85-90% ground meat
Lean pork roast -> pork shoulder roast
Chicken breast -> chicken thighs
Light flavored yogurt -> plain, full fat yogurt
Skim milk -> whole milk
It doesn't have to be complicated! Real, whole foods that AREN'T in a package is always the safest bet. Simple little changes here can really add up to big results!