With all the different diets circulating around the news, it can become overwhelming to determine what nutrition information is correct and what isn't.
Almost every food on the planet has been criticized by one diet or another, at one time or another — nearly leading all of us to believe that no food is healthy for us, and that perhaps we would be better served not eating at all.
Nowadays, the internet provides us easy access to all the best information on food. The only caveat it that it also provides us quick access all the worst information on food.
So the process of finding the right information sometimes requires a little research.
That said, here are some considerations that will help us determine what nutrition information we should believe:
1. Look at the credentials of the author
If the author has an M.D., that's a far more credible sign than if the author has no credentials at all. And if an author has an N.D., M.S., C.N.S., or R.D. attached to the end of their name, in many cases they may know even more than an M.D., as they may be specifically trained in nutrition and adopt a more holistic approach.
2. Look at the sources within the information
If the information traces back to academic studies that are peer-reviewed then it's a very good sign. This means that the information has actually been tested within a real population, often through the means of randomized controlled trial, so we can know if it worked or not.
By contrast, if the information is heavily marketed and accompanied by something that the author is trying to sell, we should resist being immediately sold. I have personally purchased many nutrition related information products over the years, and some of them have been outstanding, but I have never relied upon them as a stand alone resource.
3. Consider the broader audience
Looking at information that has been validated within broad audiences deserves more recognition than information that has been validated only within a small group.
As an example, I bought a book called The China Study: The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted And the Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss, And Long Term Health [https://www.amazon.com/China-Study-Comprehensive-Nutrition-Implications/dp/1932100660]. What made this book so fantastic is that it shares incredibly comprehensive research conducted across a large population over long period of time. Ultimately, what the study uncovered is that a vegan diet is the best approach to overcome the risk of disease and achieve radiant health.
4. Consider individual goals and needs
In order for a nutrition program to be successful, it needs to be highly personalized. So many diets promote a one-size-fits-all criteria, misleading many people with different genetics, body compositions, and goals into pursuing a nutrition program that is not suited for them.
I can remember following one diet in my early twenties, only to realize it caused me to lose too much weight. While adhering to the number of calories and ratio of macronutrients in that eating regimen may have been wonderfully well suited to some people, it turned out to be the wrong decision for me.
As I learned more about nutrition over the years, I came across the Indian system of Ayurveda, and the primary body types, the three doshas.
I came to realize I have a vata dosha, which is prone to anxiety and weight loss — and that consequently, I require a greater than average number of calories and predominantly cooked (not raw) foods. Those with the Kapha dosha, by contrast, are prone to depression and weight gain –– consequently requiring a less than average number of calories and predominantly raw (not cooked) foods. And those with the Pitta dosha, while not immune to their own set of issues, fall somewhere in between.
Keep in mind that cooked foods are better for grounding and stabilizing the body-mind, and raw foods are better for energizing and invigorating it. Figuring out where your balance lies on this yin-yang spectrum is ultimately the key.
5. Consider the macronutrients
Notice whether the nutrition information promotes a well-balanced and diverse diet. If a diet tries to convince you to eliminate an entire macronutrient altogether, be suspicious. Although the ratio of proteins, fats, and carbs will differ depending on the needs and goals of individuals, a certain portion of each of them should always be present.
Each of the three main macronutrients serve very important functions within the human body:
Eating protein helps you maintain your body tissues. But exactly how much protein we should consume remains a matter of debate.
According to one study, while many emerging guidelines suggest that a range of 1.2 to 1.6 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight –– 98 to 130 grams of protein per day if you’re a 180 pound male –– is appropriate (especially among athletes) this is above the Dietary Reference Intake (DRI), which prescribes just enough to offset deficiency. There is simply no current evidence that such emerging recommended levels of high protein intake is essential, although it remains quite clear that roughly 20 to 25 grams of protein following a workout are quite important in maximizing muscle growth and recovery.
Eating fat helps your body absorb vitamins and is essential to the nervous system. Eating fat, contrary to expectation, does not necessarily translate to more fat on the body, as some fats actually protect the body against accumulation of bad fats. Whereas saturated fats and trans fats contribute to unhealthy weight gain, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats do not.
Some of my favorite monounsaturated fats come from almonds, avocados, and olive oils. And some of my favorite polyunsaturated fats come from walnuts, flax seeds, and chia seeds.
One meta-analysis revealed that intake of polyunsaturated fats especially correspond to improved glycemia, insulin resistance, and insulin secretion capacity — in other words, lowered blood sugar levels and less actual storage of fat in the body.
Eating carbs has a number of benefits, as they are an invaluable source of energy and fiber. While subject to many a criticism among numerous popular diets, the right types of carbs promote lasting health.
Some of my favorite carbs come from quinoa, sweet potatoes, and lentils, which are far superior to enriched wheat flours that are prevalent in so many breads, cereals, and pastas.
One meta-analysis examined 17 studies, which looked at the association between low carb diets and mortality. The results of the study showed that low carb diets were in fact associated with a higher rate of mortality.
6. Consider the micronutrients
Just because we can follow our ideal prescription of calories and ratio of macronutrients at Mcdonalds doesn’t mean we should do it. Say you’re a man trying to build lean muscle. While it may be true that in a single day 3,000 calories, with a ratio of 450 grams carbohydrates, 150 grams protein, and 70 grams of fat, may be ideally suited for you –– not all calories are created equal. Most of the calories at McDonald's are empty calories, meaning they are devoid of any micronutrients. Not only that, many of these calories are harmful, as they are heavy in saturated and trans fat and high fructose corn syrup.
Micronutrients are the host of vitamins and minerals that are essential to radiant wellbeing. Here’s a list of them. Some of my favorite vitamins and minerals come from leafy greens –– such as spinach –– and berries, especially blueberries. Lack of certain micronutrients in the diet can lead to deficiencies.
7. Consider the long-term
Many diets promote quick-fix programs that may temporarily alleviate issues, but don’t promote long term health.
At the end of the day, it's important to adopt a well rounded diet that promotes good fundamentals and doesn't encourage any unsustainable extremes in how much food we eat and what types of food we eat.
If you cannot easily follow a diet over a period of 8 weeks, the odds are strong that it’s not suited for you over the long-term.