It seems that everyone is on a diet or feels they should be…Atkins is fading away, gluten free is so common that I have gluten free variations of all my standard recipes for when we have company. South Beach is still around, Mediterranean is a pretty solid contender. Then there’s Plant Based diet, the Nourishing Traditions take on things, and so on and so on.
So when someone asks me for the BEST diet, what am I to say?
For your heart, the Mediterranean diet may be the best…but there is no single Mediterranean diet. So don’t get yourself in a knot trying to do it exactly right. Remember, there are real people living in the Mediterranean area eating these foods and some of them probably dislike olives as much as I do. Here’s a summary from the American Heart Association of the key points of the Mediterranean Diet.
The DASH diet is great for lowering blood pressure.
What I’ve seen work best for the majority of my patients, to help them lose weight, improve their blood sugars, and generally feel great is either a plant based diet or a paleo diet. My favorite book on on plant based diets is The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Plant Based Nutrition. If you can ignore the implication that you, the reader, are an idiot, please consider reading this book as a good introduction to the concept. I don’t have a favorite paleo resource yet so if you have one, please let me know.
Ultimately, what all these diets have in common is lots of fruits and veggies, not many processed foods, and reasonable portions. So do that with whatever you’re already eating and you’ll be on your way to a healthier diet.
Finally, a question I get quite often is: what do I do for my family? In our situation we have two very active small children who limit our time and a very tight budget. I would prefer to eat better than we do and better follow one of the diets above. Instead, we eat a variation on a “real food” diet. I like this woman’s blog on the topic a great deal.
At the same time, I recognize that for my patients and I, it is important to make concessions for our lives. Lisa, from 100 Days of Real Food, did a 100 day budget challenge in which she fed her family by the real food “rules” (a la Michael Pollan) on $125 a week, which she really struggled to live by. And making food by the rules is her current career! Our usual food budget is $80 a week. Clearly, we’re not going to be able to abide by the real food “rules” perfectly. At the same time, we can try to make sensible concessions. Buying our chickens from Costco instead of a local farmer is different than buying Chicken McNuggets. I still use sugar when baking because it’s much cheaper than honey…but I use recipes that call for very little sweetening such as whole wheat pumpkin oatmeal cookies rather than sugar cookies. We eat much less fruit than we’d like and more potatoes, but overall I know we’re feeding our family far better than we would if we ate a “standard American” diet.
Gardening can also be a difficult decision. A garden can provide a family with good wholesome food that is very inexpensive if done with finances in mind (you can also very easily blow my entire annual income on your garden if you wanted to). But it is definitely a lot of work (especially if you’re doing it cheap) and for families already struggling with multiple demands, it can be just one too many things to have to cope with. My husband and I go back and forth on whether or not to have a garden. So far, we’ve always decided to do it. This year I actually decided not to next year…but then we started harvesting two or three cucumbers every single day and my son boasted to a neighbor about how he can pick and eat his peas any time he wants and I discovered that I actually like beets (if from our garden and steamed) and, well, I guess we’re doing a garden again next year.
How do you make healthy food choices for your family? How do you make those choices affordable?