If you’re searching for the best healthy diet, try not to get too dizzy during your hunt because the options are mind-boggling. There are so many choices, it can be difficult to decide where to start. But before digging into the different diets, let’s look at the importance of a balanced diet in health.

Role of diet in health

Food is fuel. Our diet nourishes our cells and impacts all our body functions. Because of this, there is an intimate and important connection between the foods that we eat and overall health. It is now indisputable in the scientific literature that diet does matter when it comes to reducing the risk of a wide variety of illnesses including heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. (1)

couple making food in kitchen

By following a balanced diet you can reduce the risk of a wide variety of illnesses including heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.

According to the authors of a 2015 paper published in Health Affairs, “Healthy diets can optimize both short- and long-term health and can help reduce the risk of many health conditions.” (2) The authors point out that poor nutrition is associated with more than one in four deaths in the United States. They conclude, “Simply put, food can help people live healthier and longer lives, and food can help people die prematurely.”

That’s why choosing a healthy diet is so important!

Different types of diets

It seems like every month there is a different diet bandwagon to jump on with each claiming to be the best healthy diet. Here is a list of some popular diets:

Mediterranean makes sense

While there is some research associated with these diets, most of the research regarding health-promoting benefits has been done on the Mediterranean diet, which has been shown to reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease. (3) Vegetarian and vegan diets have also been shown to be protective against cancer and heart disease. (4)

Use your intuition

But despite all these choices, how you eat may be just as important as what you eat. According to integrative health expert and family nurse practitioner Victoria Albina, FNP-C, MPH, intuitive eating may be the best diet for health.

Practitioner insight

“When we’re eating in alignment with our intuition, we come to trust ourselves to make the right decision for our health with each bite,” says Albina. “When we are simply following a prescribed diet we often get into habits of restriction which can lead to choices like binging because it’s human nature to rebel. When we’re following our intuition, there is nothing to rebel against!”

Albina agrees with many other practitioners who feel there is no perfect diet and that diets and food choices must be individualized. That’s where personalized nutrition comes in.

Personalized nutrition

It’s true that one person’s paleo may be another person’s keto. For some, Mediterranean eating is magical, while for others, being vegetarian means victory. But how do we know which diet is best? Perhaps a new area of emerging science can answer that question.

Practitioner insight

“I believe we’re firmly in the era of personalized nutrition,” says integrative health expert Ronald Hoffman, MD. “That means leveraging the latest finding in nutrigenomics and metabolomics to individualize choices consonant with an individual’s unique makeup and requirements.” Hoffman says the promise of personalized nutrition could help revolutionize a healthcare professional’s ability to match diet recommendations with personal needs.

Best healthy diet

Research is growing dramatically in this area. In fact, in 2019 a remarkable paper was published in Current Developments in Nutrition that illustrated exactly why personalized nutrition is necessary. (5) For the first time, this study demonstrated substantial variations in how study participants processed fats and carbohydrates from food. The study even featured identical twins to illustrate just how unique food metabolism can be. There is no question that personalized nutrition shows great promise. (6)

soup in a white bowl

The best diet for health includes a wholesome serving of whole grains and fiber-rich foods like beans and legumes.

While we wait for more direction regarding personalized nutrition, there are key foundational nutrition guidelines that should be a part of the best healthy diet for the majority of Americans.

6 solid healthy diet strategies:

  1. Reducing processed foods
  2. Increasing intake of fruits and vegetables
  3. Increasing intake of healthy fats from fish and other sources
  4. Reducing sugar consumption
  5. Increasing whole grains and fiber-rich foods like beans and legumes
  6. Having red meat and poultry as a side dish rather than the main focus

These are key components of the Mediterranean diet mentioned previously.

Best diet supplements

Regardless of which diet is chosen, it’s highly likely that dietary supplements will be needed. And most people are already aware of this fact. Estimates show that more than half of Americans take dietary supplements. (7)

Practitioner insight

“Sadly, our soil in this country generally speaking is bereft of the nutrients it once gave our food and thus, our bodies,” says Albina. “I believe in the power of food as medicine, but I don’t think it’s entirely possible to get absolutely everything we need from food alone.”

Hoffman agrees. “I’m a big proponent of dietary supplements, not just to fill gaps in nutrition but also as therapeutic agents to prevent and reverse disease, optimize mental and physical performance, and forestall age-related degenerative changes.”

The bottom line

The days of the “one-size-fits-all” approach to diet are long gone. Finding a healthy balanced diet requires some finesse. As we wait for more direction from the personalized nutrition research community, practitioners can focus on building a strong foundation that applies to nearly every patient and then customize from there. Adding appropriate dietary supplements will help ensure that the patient’s diet and nutrition program is ideal for their individualized needs.

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  1. GBD 2017 Diet Collaborators. Health effects of dietary risks in 195 countries, 1990-2017: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2017. The Lancet. 2019;393(10184):1958-1972.
  2. Bleich SN, Jones-Smith J, Wolfson JA, et al. The complex relationship between diet and health. Health Affairs. 2015;34(11).
  3. Estruch R, Ros E, Salas-Salvado J, et al. Primary prevention of cardiovascular disease with a MedDiet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil and nuts. The New England Journal of Medicine. 2018;378(25).
  4. Dinu M, Abbate R, Gensini GF, et al. Vegetarian, vegan and multiple health outcomes: a systematic review with meta-analysis of observational studies. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition. 2017;57(17):3640-3649.
  5. Berry S, Valdes A, Davies R, et al. Predicting personal metabolic responses to food using multi-omics machine learning in over 1000 twins and singletons from the UK and US: the PREDICT I Study. Current Developments in Nutrition. 2019;3(Suppl1).
  6. Ordovas JM, Ferguson LR, Tai ES, Mathers JC. Personalized nutrition and health. BMJ. 2018;361.
  7. Binns CW, Lee MK, Lee AH. Problems and prospects: public health regulation of dietary supplements. Annual Review of Public Health. 2018;39:403-420.