As a clinical and functional nutritionist, there’s one question that I get asked all the time: “So what is the perfect diet?” If you go online, you can find hundreds of convincing articles telling you that keto is the best diet, paleo is the perfect way to go, or veganism is best for your health. There’s the Mediterranean diet, the Blue Zone diet, the Atkins diet, GAPS, FODMAP, and more… And what about food quantity and timing? Should you try intermittent fasting, or should you eat three square meals with two snacks every day? The questions go on and on.
Netflix is loaded with wonderfully informative documentaries containing vast scientific evidence and convincing personal testimonies showing you the ways that going vegan can solve significant health problems. However, when that documentary ends, you can load up another one that will be equally convincing about the healing powers of Paleo-style eating. This leads to one big question; what IS the perfect diet to follow? Are these health experts and documentaries lying to us with their evidence and their user testimonies? The good news is, in most cases they’re not. The answer actually lies in our own biochemistry.
The truth is, there simply isn’t one perfect diet. What works amazingly well for one person can be a complete failure for another. Why is this? The answer lies in the concept of “bio-individuality”. Just as our personalities are unique, so are our bodies. Think about side effects of medications; two people can take the exact same medication, and one may feel great while the other experiences intense side effects. This is due to the bio-individuality concept. We are all genetically unique (with the exception of identical twins) and our genetic make-up is extremely varied and complex. Along with the basic concept of genetics that we are all familiar with, there are further complex concepts such as epigenetics and SNPs (a greater discussion of these requires its own blog post) that alter our genetic traits even further. Add in personal preferences, belief systems, and familial heritage concepts, and it becomes much easier to see why there is no one “perfect” diet. I’ve had some clients go vegan and feel amazing, and others go vegan and feel exhausted and run down. I’ve had clients go paleo with wildly varying results as well. Some people may lose large amounts of weight on keto, while others may experience elevated cholesterol and weight gain.
All of this information begs another question – what should I do if I want to overhaul my diet? For starters, don’t turn to Dr. Google for answers. If someone on social media is talking about their amazing results, realize that those results may or may not happen for you, no matter how hard to you try, because you are a biochemically unique individual. Work with a knowledgeable health professional who can help you figure out which dietary protocol is most likely to suit your needs. There are many, many factors to consider when deciding how to eat. When I work with a client, I take into account their health history, medications, supplements, personal experiences, family history, and more. There may be specific reasons not to follow certain dietary protocols, and health-supportive reasons to try another one. For example, if you have an autoimmune disorder, we might want to consider an Autoimmune Paleo diet. If you have digestive problems, we may do a low FODMAPS diet. If you have headaches and fatigue, we may try an elimination diet. Family history of hypercholesterolemia? We may try vegetarianism. The point is, don’t get overwhelmed and give up when you see all of these diet options and don’t know who to listen to. Work with a health care professional who will look at your specific case and recommend the best protocol for you, not simply what the internet says will work. And finally, if you want to know what I do consider to be the closest thing to a one-size-fits-all diet for the majority of the people out there, I would declare a whole foods, low packaged and processed, plant-heavy diet as the one most likely to help the most greatest number of people out there.
Sarah Geha, MS, CNS, LDN, is a functional nutritionist based in Lake Mary, Florida. Sarah works with clients to implement the dietary changes and lifestyle modifications needed to manage chronic health issues such as fatigue, headaches, and body pain (rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, generalized back and joint pain, etc.). Sarah is also an environmental health toxins specialist, and offers customized services to help clients eliminate their environmental exposure to harmful toxins. Interested in working with Sarah? Contact her at 407-446-3260 or at www.SarahGehaWellness.com.