As I learn more and more from my own self-experimentation and hearing about other people’s stories with nutrition and health, my thoughts on what an optimal diet is have evolved. There are just so many factors to take into consideration, one big one being genetics, that there is no one optimal diet to suit everyone.
What Your Optimal Diet Is
When trying to figure out what diet is best for you, I think we should start with making whole foods the premise of your diet. Think of foods we would’ve eaten 100,000 years ago or longer.
It’s quite hard to make your diet 100% of these foods, but I think 70% is a good figure to start with, so I’d aim to get 70% of your calories from these whole foods.
The other 30% or so you can use to eat more of these whole foods, or eat other foods you enjoy but will help you to maintain a healthier diet. These are foods eaten more for enjoyment rather than nutritional value. We’re talking about foods such as chocolate, ice cream, cake and sweets.
How Much Plant/Animal Foods?
Some people are better at extracting certain nutrients from plant foods than other people because of their genetics. This means that they may do better on a diet that incorporates more plant foods. It’s just like how some people tolerate dairy well and may benefit from having dairy in their diet whilst others may be allergic or intolerant to dairy.
I don’t think we should be excluding animal or plant foods strictly from the diet as benefits can be obtained from both types of foods. If you’re eating a plant-based or flexitarian diet, I’d recommend consuming nutrient-dense animal foods (when you choose to eat them) such as salmon, sardines, liver and other organ meats. Conversely, if you hate eating plants, I think you should find ways to try and incorporate a small amount into your diet e.g. finely slicing carrots into small cubes to go into a bolognese or making cauliflower cheese.
In my opinion, protein should be your number one priority when it comes to macronutrients. Whilst 0.8g per kg of bodyweight appears to be the general recommendation, I think this should be seen more as the minimum you should get. I believe we should strive to hit anywhere from 1g – 2g protein per kg bodyweight for optimal health. If you’re looking at being in an energy deficit to lose body fat, you may even see a benefit from increasing your protein above 2g per kg body weight as it may help preserve lean muscle mass.
Another thing to note is that not all proteins are equal. Animal proteins tend to be much more bioavailable than plant proteins. However, if you combine plant proteins e.g. beans and rice in your meals, then this can make the protein in your meal as a whole more bioavailable.
Since the late 1900s we’ve seen fat demonised, but fat is not the enemy we think it is. Our cell membranes are made from fat. 50% of mammalian breast milk (including that of humans) is saturated fat. If infants need saturated fat, then I certainly don’t think we should be avoiding it.
Rather, I think we should be embracing the fat that comes with our meat. Maybe not actively seeking out more fat (unless you require the extra calories to keep you satiated), but rather eating the fat that comes with your meat.
I also think we should be prioritising omega 3 fatty acids (although not eating solely omega 3 fatty acids) since most people don’t eat much fatty fish. I’d aim to get 3 – 4 servings of fatty fish a week. The easiest and cheapest way to do this is by buying sardines, mackerel or salmon from the supermarket as these are available in most supermarkets. Canned fish work as well and are perfectly fine whilst being a bit easier on your wallet.
Carbohydrates And Sugar
As a general rule of thumb, I think the fewer carbohydrates you’re dependent on daily, the better. That doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t eat carbohydrates. I think that we should aim to eat less than 100 – 150g carbohydrates a day, particularly those that come from simple sugars such as sucrose, fructose and galactose.
Carbohydrates can certainly make you feel better and I feel they are a good addition to your diet in the form of complex carbs such as plantains, potatoes, beans, legumes, lentils and other fruits and vegetables. If you exercise regularly, then consuming extra carbohydrates to fuel your performance certainly won’t hurt (just don’t overdo it).
Most diets are lacking in different micronutrients. Depending on what your diet might be lacking, I suggest having a look at the supplements down below and seeing if it might be appropriate for you to supplement using them.
- Omega 3 fatty acids/fish oil – if you don’t eat much fatty fish
- Vitamin D3 – during darker periods of the year and if you don’t get much Sun exposure
- Iron – if you don’t eat much meat (iron in plants isn’t very bioavailable)
- Iodine – if you have thyroid issues and/or don’t eat much seafood, eggs, dairy or iodised salt
- Creatine – if you don’t eat much meat
- Whey protein – if you’re looking to bolster protein intake
- Collagen powder – if you don’t eat much gelatinous or collagenous animal foods
There are likely other supplements I’ve missed out there, but these are the key ones I could think of.
It’s important to self-experiment with your diet and see what works for you. What’s also important though is to have an open mind. You may feel great on the new diet you’ve embarked on and not want to change anything, but it’s quite possible that if you make further changes you’ll feel even better.
Try omitting potential allergenic foods, FODMAPs, gluten, sugar, grains, fizzy drinks, diet sodas, coffee – pretty much anything and see what works for you. When you reintroduce these foods back into your diet you’ll have a better idea of how they affect you.
Find Something You Can Stick To
What’s even more critical is finding a diet you can stick to. It’s great if a diet or exercise routine works for you, but if you can’t stick to it then it’s unlikely to be beneficial in the long run. For this reason, find a diet or way of eating which makes eating food enjoyable and sustainable for you. If that means having a little treat each day then so be it. As long as you feel great, healthy and are happy doing it.
Thanks for reading! If you found this post informative, I’d greatly appreciate it if you could share it with friends and family!