The healthiest diet for humans - the science and the reality.
Updated: Nov 23, 2020
It is widely accepted that diet is the most powerful predictor of health and longevity, but there has been much confusion as to what a healthy diet is.
It’s hard to sift through all the misinformation with policy-makers, doctors, nutritionists, dietitians, health coaches, food bloggers and influencers producing conflicting, contradicting inappropriate and sometimes downright unsafe advice. It’s no wonder people are left completely confused and frustrated.
We all know that a diet high in processed foods, animal fats and sugar is bad for us. Research consistently shows that these foods are strongly associated with accelerated ageing and common medical conditions such as obesity, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and cancer. Unfortunately, processed food is estimated to make up between 60-80% of our diet, so it’s no wonder there is an exponential decline in health and increase in girth.
But, what is the healthiest diet for humans?
Over the last two decades, there has been extensive research into the effects of diets on health and illness - and the results are in. An article published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology in September 2020, reviewed data from recent research (mainly from the last five years) in an attempt to establish the healthiest diet for humans. (Reference for the article is below the image).
It found that the Mediterranean diet offered the most significant improvements in health parameters such as blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar levels. It is also strongly associated with a reduction in cardiovascular disease. The review also found that incorporating intermittent fasting of 12 to 16 hours may potentiate these health benefits.
Other studies have associated the Mediterranean diet with improved gut microbial composition, reduced inflammatory markers and a healthy weight.
The Mediterranean diet is based mainly on vegetables, legumes, grains and healthy fats, with small amounts of fish and fruit. Other animal products, including dairy, can be included on occasion. Avoid packaged and processed foods. It’s a common-sense diet with many health benefits. So why aren’t we eating this way? And why are those who follow this diet, only seeing minor benefits and very little weight loss? Firstly, it’s very hard to make healthy habits a way of life. The reason for this is that you must overcome an overwhelming amount of physiological and environmental influences. We are hard-wired for pleasure. Our pleasure state has been manipulated by food companies who spend much of their time and money towards finding the “bliss” point of food. The combination of fat, sugar and salt that most strongly activates addiction pathways in the brain. Decades of poor dietary advice and food production techniques, questionable marketing tactics and increasing exposure to toxins have left our body and brain-damaged. A damaged brain finds it hard to overcome the external and internal cues to eat. Smart marketing strategies make us feel like we’re making well-informed choices. They educate us and offer “healthy” alternatives such as protein balls, acai bowls and other pseudo health foods - that still hit the bliss point. We justify eating these foods by placing them under the banner of health food – but they perpetuate the damage and keep us in a cycle of addiction. Secondly, everyone is different, and blanket dietary guidelines can be unsafe – even the Mediterranean diet. For example, in those with immune-related problems (allergies, food intolerances and autoimmune conditions) consuming grains, legumes, nuts, and dairy can cause inflammation and leaky gut. Those with thyroid or adrenal problems may find worsening fatigue and reduced metabolic function if they fast longer than 12 hours. And those with insulin resistance or poor glycemic control (an intolerance to carbohydrates) will not lose weight or free themselves from cravings if they continue to consume carbohydrates. Inflammation, metabolic and hormonal disruptions are physiological changes that change brain function and prevent our ability to make healthy choices. These individual baseline differences explain why a healthy diet may only provide temporary improvements. Finally, your goals may not be acceptable in our current society. Most people start a diet to lose weight but are often ashamed to disclose this as a goal; instead “getting healthy” is what they are likely to share as their goal. Getting healthy is more socially acceptable while losing weight is considered vain. Given current acceptable guidelines, you can be overweight but still be in the “healthy” range. The definition of healthy is skewed because it is determined by what’s normal. For example, reference ranges for blood results and health parameters are established using results commonly seen across the population. These do not necessarily reflect health– but rather a typical result or finding. Considering that the majority of people are overweight or obese - which comes with a range of real health issues - a blood result within the normal range does not mean you are healthy. The problem with getting a clean bill of health - according to the norm - is that it gives you have a false sense of security and prevents positive change. Another problem is that diet has become a dirty word. Those who make healthy food choices, more often than not have to justify them and assure their concerned friends that they don’t have an eating disorder. For those who resist mainstream food, the pressure to conform to the unhealthy norm has never been greater. Political correctness is at the forefront of protecting the unhealthy norm. We are encouraged to embrace our curves and to have everything in moderation. This puts cake in our mouth and money into big business and governments - while our health continues to deteriorate. These are just a couple of reasons why anyone who starts a truly healthy diet, rarely maintains it long-term. And these are the reasons why the healthiest diet found in research may not necessarily be beneficial for you. Finding the healthiest diet for you The ideal diet for you is one that addresses your individual needs, helps you achieve your goals and is easy to continue long-term. To maintain a healthy diet and achieve your goals, you must follow a diet that optimises brain function. Ultimately, a healthy brain is what determines whether you make decisions that are consistent with your goals. Unfortunately, the accepted dietary guidelines are designed to damage your brain and keep you addicted to processed foods. Therefore, the first step is to abstain from all processed foods, all forms of sugar, gluten, dairy and alcohol. The remaining steps require a systematic approach to restore the physiological processes that have become disrupted. There are no quick fixes. Research shows that brain function is closely linked to signals arising from the gut. Increasing evidence shows that the gut microbiota plays a large role in appetite control and emotional regulation. It can influence our ability to resist cravings and make healthy decisions. If the gut is unhealthy, signals to the brain will be faulty – and so will our mood, thoughts and decisions. Gut health has become part of the vernacular, and everyone has something to say. Unfortunately, there is a plethora of misinformation – even from the experts. Fixing the gut isn’t as simple as eating fermented foods and taking probiotics. In fact, you may be surprised to learn that these recommendations are more likely to do more harm than good. Restoring gut health is a much more complex process than just changing your diet. It makes sense that if you’ve enjoyed many years of regular food, it may take some time and effort to reverse the damage. The reason why BiomeMD® has been so successful is that every recommendation and nutrient included in the program is backed by research and serves a specific purpose towards health. The aim is to gradually and systematically guide the body and brain into an optimal state of function. No fads, no misinformation. Just simple dietary techniques and therapeutic nutraceuticals that assist essential physiological processes. These are combined with an individualised approach, comprehensive information and detailed guidelines to help you identify what’s right for you. The new year is a perfect opportunity to leave old ways behind and begin the process of resetting your health. If you’re curious to experience what your body and brain are capable of when given a chance, kickstart the process in 2021 with BiomeMD®.