After months of quarantine baking, pandemic cocktails, and avoiding the gym, our healthiest habits may have slipped a bit. But the start of a new season is an ideal time to reassess and get back on track. Whether you want to tackle weight you gained during the lockdown or you simply want to start eating better, knowing the hallmarks of a healthy diet can help.
It can be hard to choose one single diet that will really work for you. Although lots of diets might initially appear to be on completely opposite ends of the spectrum, good diets will actually end up having a lot more in common than you might think.
The truth is that most of the traits of the best diets are all very similar. From vegetarian, vegan and Paleo to gluten-free, low-carb and the Mediterranean diet, a lot of these eating plans share the same major ideas.
Steal these simple health tips from the world's best diets:
- Up your water intake
- Say "no" to added sugar
- Eat your calories, don’t count 'em
- Load up on whole foods
- Focus on complex carbohydrates
- Be choosy about fat
- Stay lean with protein
- Increase fiber intake
- Get plenty of vitamins and minerals
1. Up your water intake
When you’re properly hydrated, your body works as efficiently as possible to carry out all of the activities it does on a daily basis, like repairing cells, digesting food and yes, kicking your metabolism into gear. All of the best plans, followed properly, will include hydrating with lots of H2O, no or moderate alcohol intake and herbal and/or green tea.
2. Say “no” to added sugar
This should be something you live by whether you're on a weight-loss journey or not. Foods that are all added sugar (like candy and soda) or contain added sugar can be the biggest factor undermining all of your health goals.
It’s important to watch your overall sugar intake (and that includes the sugar in fruit, too), but the sugars you should adamantly avoid are found in packaged snacks, cereals, juice and even dried fruit snacks — and of course candy, cakes and cookies, too. So whether tofu is your jam or you're a grass-fed beef junkie, you should be checking food labels and avoiding sugar. The best diets out there will all agree on this.
3. Eat your calories, don’t count 'em
In case you’re stuck in the '90s, you need to be brought up to speed: Calories are not created equal. Not only can calorie counting be incredibly inaccurate, the 100 calories of jelly beans you eat are not the same as the 100 calories of apple slices and natural peanut butter. So don’t waste your time counting. Instead focus on listening to your body and eating whole real foods (whether it be from chicken, avocado or black beans).
4. Load up on whole foods
Whole, real food provides you with vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, satiating healthy fats, energizing complex carbohydrates, filling lean proteins and fiber. They also don’t include added sugars, refined carbs, highly processed oils and artificial chemicals. Focus on creating meals and snacks with your favorite not-from-a-package foods. Whether you’re a vegetarian or eat gluten-free, you should be following this rule as much as possible (even though, yes, it’s tough to eat nothing from a package).
5. Focus on complex carbohydrates
Whether you’re getting them from whole grains or mostly veggies, keep your carbs unrefined. Refined grains offer you no more than an empty source of calories — and usually a tire around your waist to go with them. Even if your diet eliminates grains, complex carbs are found in everything from acorn squash to green peas.
6. Be choosy about fat
I’m a big fan of fat. But it’s super important to be picky when it comes to which fats you're consuming. Hydrogenated and highly processed oils can increase oxidative damage and cause all kinds of health issues. But cold-pressed oils high in monounsaturated fatty acids, such as olive and avocado oils, are excellent choices. Coconut oil, although high in saturated fat, is also a good choice. Of course, don’t forget to eat all kinds of nuts and seeds too.
7. Stay lean with protein
This is a true common thread in most successful diets, whether they include eating meat or not. Lean protein aids in satiety by affecting the hormones that control hunger and the rate at which food empties from our stomachs. It also has the highest thermal effect of food (TEF), meaning it burns the most calories during digestion, versus carbs and fat. Whether it's from plants or animals, the best diets include adequate amounts of lean protein.
8. Increase fiber intake
Fiber comes in two types and both can be a huge help in keeping you healthy. You’ll find soluble fiber in foods like beans and Brussels sprouts and insoluble fiber in oatmeal and flax seeds. Your diet should include a a variety of these.
9. Get plenty of vitamins and minerals
The best diets include loads of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. Many of them act as antioxidants in the body. They help to reduce inflammation and oxidative stress caused by free radicals. This, in turn, helps fight everything from cancer to heart disease to degenerative nerve diseases — and even weight gain. When you reduce inflammation, your cellular processes and metabolism can function at their best.