What is the optimal diet?

Ximena Jimenez
Nutrition & Dietetics
As a registered dietitian, the optimal diet is one that encourages health promoting foods (whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean meats, low fat dairy products and legumes). Also, the ideal diet is one that you can follow and enjoy. When you encounter a diet with significant food restrictions such as no milk products or no carbs, you may want to look the other way. Your body needs a variety of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients to stay physically fit and healthy. Don't forget you can visit a registered dietitian, she/he can design the right meal plan for you.
Sherry Coleman Collins
Nutrition & Dietetics
There is so much confusion about the optimal diet - in fact, you can probably find support for any diet from living off of twinkies to bacon with every meal! But the fact is that there are three pillars for an optimal diet - variety, moderation and balance. Variety means that you should eat lots of different kinds of foods from different food groups. By eating variety, you will get vitamins, minerals and nutrients that also vary. Look for bright colors and different textures to help improve variety in your diet. Moderation means eating enough of food, but not too much.  Overdoing it on a certain food or food group may lead to excessive calories and keep you from getting enough of a certain nutrient found in other foods. Finally, balance helps ensure that your diet includes the right proportions of foods from the different food groups. USDA's new MyPlate is a simple illustration of how you can plan your meals to ensure that you have variety, moderation and balance.
Jessica Crandall
Nutrition & Dietetics
Every individual has specific nutritrion needs so there is no definitive right answer. However, an optimal diet for a typical healthy adult would include lean proteins, complex carbohydrates, plenty of fruits and vegetables, low-fat diary products, fiber, and adequate water. The specific amounts of all of these would vary depending on age, gender, and overall health. 
Laura Motosko, MSEd, RD
Nutrition & Dietetics
An optimal diet is individual for every person based on health status, customs, and preferences. In general, a nutrient dense diet is optimal including whole grains, fruits, vegetables, healthy fats such as olive oil, proteins including lean meat, nuts, legumes, beans, soy or dairy and reduced saturated fat, sodium and sugar in processed and packaged products. A registered dietitian can help you plan a diet for optimal nutrition.

The optimal diet is the one that matches your vision.

What is the goal you are trying to accomplish?  When you have a clear vision and your objective is set then it is easy to determine what the optimal diet is.

Maybe your goal is purely weight loss, fat loss, muscle gain, performance or just improved health.

The first step is to understand your clear vision and from there you can more clearly identify the ideal diet for that particular vision.  It is important to note that optimal diet will change continously based on circumstances and vision.

When you lock down your vision then consult a dietician or certified nutritional coach that can help you develop a strategy to match your vision.

The optimal diet is a food plan that matches the individual, their goals, and the demands of their day. Based on the above criteria, I do not believe there is one optimal diet. I believe the individual must identify with the above criteria with or without the help of a professional coach and/or registered dietician. Both professionals have skill sets in addressing certain criteria. 

When looking at the food plan, it is important to understand not only how much food you metabolize but also how you oxidize the food. Metabolism refers to how many calories you break down, whereas oxidizing refers to how fast/slow you breakdown macronutrients (protein, carb, fat). An optimal food plan will take both processes into account. For example, if we discover based on your goals and demands you metabolize 2400 calories per day, the individual must then identify what types of food they should be eating for optimal energy. If you are a fast oxidizer (break down foods quickly), the individual might require food higher in protein and fat that digests slower and will satiate you longer. A slow oxidizer would need more carbohydrates that digest quicker and allow the individual to feel satiated not stuffed. A great reference book to identifying your oxidation rate is "The Metabolic Typing" by William L. Wolcott. 

When an individual identifies with who they are, what are their goals, and what are the demands of their lifestyle, I believe they can adopt an optimal diet that creates vitality. In order to achieve vitality one's diet must nourish the individual with the right amount of food, right types of food, and the right timing of meals. 

Jamie Johnson
Nutrition & Dietetics

While any diet that involves a reduction of energy intake (Calories) can lead to weight loss, whether it is a low-fat, low-carb, cabbage soup diet, Paleolithic diet, etc..., people who follow fad diets tend to regain any weight loss back and sometimes even more. The reason is fad diets that depend on major restrictions, specific foods included or excluded, certain combinations or timing of foods are not maintainable over time because they are inconvenient, difficult, and/or not desirable.

Therefore, diets are not the answer, but rather choosing healthy lifestyle changes that involve making small, sustainable changes over time will lead to successful weight loss and maintenance. Healthy eating should emphasize whole, minimally processed foods such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, low-fat dairy, legumes, nuts, and seeds. A variety of food and beverages from each of these groups will ensure getting one's nutrient needs. In addition to variety, moderation will allow one to indulge in foods that may be higher in calories without providing many nutrients every once in a while to allow eating to still be enjoyable. 

While it may seem daunting to transition from dining out and preparing convenient, boxed meals, there are ways to ease into this change and make it possible even on a budget, with a busy lifestyle, and for those that aren't expert chefs. A registered dietitian can help teach you the skills needed to adopt a healthy lifestyle and eating habits. 

There is no optimal diet, but there is an optimal way to eat. This optimal way to eat is unique to everyone and can include any and all foods and beverages. The key components to the optimal way to eat are founded on healthy eating guidelines and include consuming:

  • Adequate calories to maintain or achieve a healthy body weight.
  • A variety of foods to ensure adequate intake of essential nutrients.
  • Adequate dietary fiber to maintain bowel health and regularity.
  • Adequate fluids to meet hydration needs.

A healthy way of eating also includes limiting your intake of nutrients that may be associated with an increase of developing heart disease, the number one cause of death of adults in the United States. These nutrients include:

  • Saturated fats
  • Trans fats
  • Sodium

The overall goals of the optimal way of eating are to provide your body with the right amount of nutrients it requires to maintain disease free. The actual amount is unique to each individual, and the best way to determine whether or not you're consuming too much or too little are to have your blood pressure, lipids, and sugar levels checked and/or visit a Registered Dietitian for an analysis of your eating habits.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.