We’re officially one month into 2021. Did you started a diet at the beginning of the year, are you still on it? If yes, what successes have you found by modifying your diet? If no, what challenges, obstacles, or barriers have you run into? In this article, we’ll investigate popular diets, then come up with some SMART health goals so that you can cook, eat, and feel your best this year!
Still trying to figure out your health goals for the year? Be sure to check out our article about food trends and nutrition myths for some guidance to sort fact from fiction!
Popular Diets: Which one is best?
Whether it was scrolling through your social media feed, looking at the magazines at the checkout aisle, or talking with your family members, it’s likely that by this point in the year, you’ve already seen or heard about the next “best” diet to go on. People choose to go on diets for various reasons – weight loss, gut health, improved energy, muscle gain, disease prevention, better mood, etc. There’s nothing wrong with any of these reasons, it’s just that context and guidance matter.
Here are some popular diets. We provide our commentary on each diet because there is a lot of nutrition information and misinformation out there, and we want to help you sort through the noise.
There are several ways that intermittent fasting can be interpreted: time-restricted feeding (eating between specific hours of the day), 5:2 (severely restricting calories on 2 of 7 days of the week), or fasting for several days once or twice a year. The hypothesis is that by following this eating pattern, one will achieve weight loss, decrease disease risk, and improve energy. (1, 2)
While there are many proven benefits of choosing to follow one of these ways of eating, discretion is key. It is unrealistic to continue to eat junk foods while following this diet and still expect positive results.
To Taste’s Take
If you have a history of disordered eating patterns, this also may not be the best route for you. If you have an unusual work or school schedule, this may be difficult to sustain over time. This eating pattern may not be ideal for athletes and could lead to decreased performance and recovery. Further, this eating pattern is not advisable to pregnant or breastfeeding women. Finally, if you do well with having regular meals and/or snacks, this eating pattern could leave you feeling unsatisfied or even hangry!
Different people have different definitions of “clean eating.”
For some, it means excluding ultra-processed foods, such as chips, soft drinks, or candies. For others, it means including more whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, healthy fats, herbs, and spices. And for others, it means avoiding or limiting specific ingredients, such as gluten, dairy, wheat, coffee, alcohol, conventionally-grown produce, etc.
To Taste’s Take
Because there’s no true definition of this “diet” and because it’s so subjective, we don’t promote a “clean eating” diet.
Yes, we promote including more whole foods, but we don’t qualify these foods as inherently “clean.” Afterall, if all foods were truly clean, we wouldn’t recommend washing produce before eating it! However, if calling your eating pattern “clean” helps you eat more of these nutritious ingredients, then by all means, go for it!
Ketogenic / High-Fat / Low-Carb
A true ketogenic diet is designed to put the body into a state of ketosis, wherein one’s body uses ketones as its primary fuel source (as opposed to glucose, as it normally does). In order to enter into a state of ketosis, no more than 5-10% of all calories can come from carbohydrates. (3) This is compared to the recommended 45-65% of calories from carbohydrates, which means reducing at least 40% of carbohydrate energy from your diet! This drastic reduction in calorie source makes it clear why many people lose weight initially, but also why so many people struggle switching from a traditional diet to a ketogenic diet!
Historically, ketogenic diets were only prescribed to patients that experienced intractable epilepsy. These patients were under the strict supervision of both physicians and dietitians. Without clear guidance and expertise from a registered dietitian, a true ketogenic diet is very difficult to adopt and maintain. Beyond the difficulty of knowing which foods to eat on a ketogenic diet, this eating pattern is expensive, environmentally unsustainable, and can be burdensome for you and your family.
General high-fat or low-carb diets may not specifically recommend entering into ketosis. Rather these diets recommend decreasing overall carbohydrate intake as a means to control insulin, blood sugar, and triglyceride levels. Some people try to stay within a certain carb “budget” for the day, whereas others simply focus on limiting or avoiding sources of concentrated carbohydrates, such as cookies, cakes, breads, sugary beverages, chips, etc.
To Taste’s Take
We could write an entire article about the pros and cons of following a ketogenic diet, but take it from 3 nutrition experts: we don’t recommend adopting a ketogenic diet for long-term health and sustainability.
While we are supportive of lifestyle changes to promote better health and are certainly in favor of limiting large quantities of refined and processed grains and sugars, we don’t necessarily endorse this particular pathway to get there. Low-carb diets tend to restrict highly nutritious foods, such as fruits, veggies, whole grains, and beans. Plus, it can be difficult to adopt, maintain, and sustain, especially if you are limited on time and money.
Vegan diets discourage the consumption of any foods or products produced by an animal (e.g. meat, fish, poultry, eggs, dairy, honey, leather, certain cosmetic products, etc.). People may choose to be vegan for environmental, ethical, spiritual, or health reasons.
It’s important to note that although a vegan diet can (and should) include many whole foods, this diet inherently lacks many important nutrients, most notably Vitamin B12, Iron, Calcium, and Omega-3 Fats. If choosing to follow a vegan diet, be sure that you find a sustainable way to supplement these nutrients into your diet.
To Taste’s Take
None of the To Taste dietitians follow a vegan diet plan. Instead, we all follow and promote a plant-forward eating approach and get the majority of our calories from plant sources. If you are interested in following a vegan diet for environmental, physical, or ethical reasons, check out this vegan health facts article where we do a deep dive into the details of veganism, including pros and cons of a vegan lifestyle! Be sure to read about plant-based meal prep too, as this is an important part of a vegan lifestyle.
Before adopting any new diet, first speak with a physician and a registered dietitian. They will be able to provide more personalized recommendations that will best suit your current health status, lifestyle, and preferences.
Okay, so which diet is best?
Sorry to say it, but we can’t actually give you a definitive answer on this. YOU have to choose which “diet” to follow based on your needs and preferences.
Wait, then how do you know what to eat?
Societally, we need to think beyond quick-fix diets and think about lifelong eating patterns that are healthful, enjoyable, and sustainable over the long run. If you start a diet just to go off it again, it’s likely that you will not benefit from the supposed positive effects of the diet.
In our opinion, the best diet to follow is no diet at all.
“The best diet is the one you don’t know you’re on.”Brian Wansink, PhD
None of the individuals in the world’s healthiest communities follow diets. They follow lifestyle movement and eating patterns that promote and sustain health, and there’s data to back it up. (4)
Most of these communities’ diets align with the Mediterranean Diet, which has consistently been ranked as one of the world’s healthiest diets. The foundation of the diet is fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans/legumes, nuts, seeds, lean proteins, and healthy fats. It is loaded with nutrients and adaptable to any cuisine!
Read our Mediterranean Diet 101 article for a comprehensive overview of the world’s healthiest diet.
Rather than thinking of which foods you have to cut out, think about foods that you can include more of! It’s useful to look at your diet from a perspective of inclusion rather than exclusion.
Pause for a minute and ask yourself, “which foods can I add into my diet for better health?” Solidify that intention, and write them down!
Think about including more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds, healthy oils, herbs, and spices. Once you look at your diet this way, you’ll find that it’s actually not a diet at all!
So what should I eat?
At To Taste, we believe that enjoying a balanced, colorful, and plant-forward eating pattern will promote best health. To be clear, this is not a diet. We view it as a lifelong eating pattern that is simple, sustainable, and nonrestrictive, and one that can be enjoyed by anyone on any budget.
Wait…what is plant-forward?
These foods and ingredients are rich in fiber, protein, healthy fats, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients. Together, these nutrients promote health and help prevent and fight diseases.
Additionally, these foods and ingredients can be transformed into a variety of meals, snacks, cuisines, and can be prepared according to any level of culinary skill or interest. Plant-forward does not mean eliminating meat; rather, it emphasizes making the plants the star of the meal instead!
Check out these delicious plant forward recipes:
And we always have more recipes in the works! Stay tuned!
Next, let’s learn how to set SMART health goals so that you can incorporate healthy eating into your everyday life!
Make SMART Health Goals
Do you know what SMART goals are? If so, here’s a refresher. And if not, let’s learn together! SMART Goals are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, & Time-based.
This acronym is helpful when setting all kinds of goals, including health goals. When making lifestyle modifications, it’s important not to bite off more than you can chew — both figuratively and literally! Think about where you are with your health right now, then set goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-based.
Here are some examples of non-SMART health goals:
“I am going to be healthier”
“I want to learn how to cook”
“I will eat better next week”
“I should eat more vegetables”
“I would like to feel more energy”
These are great starting points, but they need some help. It’s difficult to track any progress on any of them, which can make them harder to stick with! Let’s see what happens when we turn these into SMART goals.
Here are some examples of SMART goals:
“I am going to drink at least 8 cups of water at least 3 days per week so that I can feel better while I exercise.”
“I am going to watch at least 1 culinary skills video each week so that I can learn to be a better home chef.”
“I am going to spend at least 2 hours meal prepping on Sunday. I will make at least one recipe of whole grains, beans, and vegetables so that I can have a refrigerator stocked with healthy ingredients all week.”
“I am going to eat at least 3 servings of vegetables at least 3 days per week.”
“I am going to track my sugar intake at each meal at least 3 days per week and aim to eat no more than 25 grams of sugar per day so that I can have steadier energy throughout the day.”
See how much more achievable those goals seem? Although it takes a bit more effort to set health goals up in this much detail, it is undoubtedly worth it! Your mind and body will thank you!
Now that you know how to choose a good diet and create SMART health goals, how do you turn this information into action? By learning how to cook nourishing meals to YOUR taste!
Cook to Take Control of Your Health
When you learn how to cook, you get to choose the exact foods and ingredients that go into your body, meaning that your health is in your hands! By learning how to cook, you can know how to make healthy food look beautiful and taste delicious.
To learn more about our “cook to control your health” philosophy, check out our Goodbye Recipe Obsession article.
Follow along with us in our online teaching community for our monthly live cooking classes.
Best of all, sharpen your kitchen skills in our self-paced, online knife skills 101 course!
Ready to Learn More?
We’re glad that we could help you learn about health goals and popular diets. We’d love to continue to help along your food and nutrition journey.
For more information on healthy, sustainable, and evidence-based eating patterns, check out these articles:
What healthy, manageable goals have you set for yourself this year? We would love to hear and help support those goals in any way that we can!
To YOUR Taste & Health!