How do you get the biggest bang for your buck with nutrition? Our scientific contributor, Heather Huntsman, Ph.D., CSCS, sheds light on common nutrition myths and how to instill one tenant of truth into your diet to finally optimize your nutrition to improve overall health.
Optimal nutrition: the “holy grail” that every health-focused person seeks. Does it exist, or is it just a myth? Before diving in, it is worth stating up-front that the perfect diet does not exist. It is true that there are many great diet protocols out there, but the “best one” for you isn’t necessarily the same one that is best for someone else. The health industry is sometimes quick to get dogmatic about diet and exercise plans, but it’s important to remember that a diet that feels best and that you can commit to consistently will be the best suited for you.1
Although there a universal answer does not exist, there are guidelines out to help hone in on the key components of a diet that are scientifically backed. Yes, weight loss is often the primary goal of a diet and that in and of itself can have a huge impact on your overall health. But that is just a simple energy balance issue, and doesn’t resolve the “optimal health” question. While there are still a lot of questions that nutrition science hasn’t answered, there are several things we do know with quite a bit of certainty. One of those things, which is a pretty big deal in my opinion, is that the types of foods we choose can reduce the risk of developing diet-related chronic diseases such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer.2 And on the other hand, there are foods that can benefit our health the most at a cellular level to help bring you back to a baseline of health, then optimize it further.
So, of all the choices that exist, which types of foods should you be focusing on to optimize your nutrition and reset your health? There is a lot of evidence to support that a diet built on whole- foods not only has the best balance of nutrients, but also leads to greater levels of satiety. The great thing about that is we can actually eat more dense foods with less calories and more nutrients. The Food and Nutrition Service of the USDA actually created a Healthy Eating Index to measure how well Americans are following the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.2 If you look at the index below, it’s easy to see how a whole food-based diet increases your overall score.
To add to that, the evidence against processed foods is quite staggering. Not only do processed foods provide less nutrients like fiber, but they tend to be more calorically dense, hyperpalatable (which means they taste delicious and make us want to eat more), and leave us feeling less satiated or full.3 Ultimately, that means we are eating more and faster,4 setting us up for potential weight gain, and our bodies are not getting the best nutrients to optimize our health.
With that, I will leave you with the one guiding principle that science points to when it comes to optimizing nutritional health: Simply build your diet around whole foods. With this as your foundation, the quality of your diet will improve and your overall health will begin to optimize.
Wondering how to optimize your nutrition and reach your health goals? Speak to Composition ID’s Nutrition Coaches today!
- Gardner CD, et al. (2018) Effect of low-fat vs low-carbohydrate diet on 12-month weight loss in overweight adults and the association with genotype patterns or insulin secretion: The DIETFITS randomized clinical trial. Journal of the American Medical Association. 319(7):667-679. doi: 10.1001/jama.2018.0245.
- Healthy Eating Index (HEI). United States Department of Agriculture. Food and Nutrition Service. https://www.fns.usda.gov/healthy-eating-index.
- Hall K, et al. (2019) Ultra-Processed diets cause excess calorie intake and weight gain: An inpatient randomized control trial of ad libitum food intake. Cell Metabolism. 30(1):67-77.e3. doi: 10.1016/j.cmet.2019.05.008.
- Forde CG, et al. (2020) Ultra-processing or oral processing? A role for energy density and eating rate in moderating energy intake from processed foods. Current Developments in Nutrition. 4(3):nzaa019. doi: 10.1093/cdn/nzaa019.