There seems to be a diet expert on every corner these days. Each is touting the benefits of a particular diet. Some are Paleo, some raw vegan and some are 'clean eaters'. Every one of them claims to have found the 'perfect diet'. But is there one diet out there that suits everyone, or is this a myth?
What Is an Ideal Diet?
First, you need to understand what an ideal diet is. This topic is greatly debated between health professionals. However, from a nutritionist's point of view, this would be a diet that:
- Meets all minimum recommended amounts for essential nutrients
- Does not have any nutrients that exceed safe limits
- Provides plenty of antioxidants and other nutritional compounds
- Maintains a healthy weight for the person
- Protects against disease, illness and injury
- Aids in quick recovery from illness and injury
- Is nutrient dense and low in processed foods
As you can see, there is a lot to cover in an ideal diet. It's unlikely that one day can cover all of these points, so it becomes more about the trend of the diet. Creating a 'perfect' diet would be a struggle just from this one list.
However, there is more to an ideal diet than just these points. An ideal diet would need to cover these things and for the particular person in mind. Unfortunately, there is a lot of variation in levels of nutrients needed. Everyone is a little bit different.
What Differences Can Occur?
There are many different areas that can cause different needs for a diet. Here, we look at just a few of them.
Allergies and Intolerances – Some people are allergic to nutritious food. This alone means that a diet could vary greatly between individuals. Common nutrient-dense foods that can be allergens include fish, eggs, nightshade vegetables and fructose-containing plant foods.
Digestion – People digest food differently. This alone can cause huge differences in nutrient demands. For example, people with low digestive enzymes need much more dense nutrition, as their body will not digest as much from food. Digestion is also where the gut flora contents, or micro-biodome, comes into play. Some contribute nutrients to the body, whereas others steal nutrients.
Demand – Each body has a different demand for nutrients in the body. Women have greater requirements for iron, as a common example. People with a greater amount of muscle mass need more protein in order to maintain that muscle. Whether it be due to age, body composition, illness or injury, each difference can lead to a difference in nutrient requirement.
Excretion– The body can excrete nutrients at a different rate, depending on its needs. Blood loss through menstruation is the most obvious example. However, another lesser known but common one is loss of zinc, magnesium, B vitamins and sodium through stress and adrenal function. The quicker the excretion, and the higher the level of excretion overall, the greater the demand for a nutrient.
Past and Present Health Issues – Anyone who has experienced significant health issues is going to have different needs. Depending on the specific problem, health issues can impact on digestion, demand and/or excretion. Many people who have been ill for many years are significantly depleted in nutrients. This leads to them requiring a much more nutrient-dense diet than the average person.
Lifestyle Choices – Even lifestyle choices have an impact on required nutrient levels. Athletes have a greater demand for antioxidants, due to increased oxidative stress. Smokers have higher needs for antioxidants and certain vitamins. People who drink or use drugs excrete and use nutrients quicker, and need more to replace levels.
What Do Our Genetics Say?
Even our genetics suggest that diet is meant to be individual. More and more people are testing their genetics and learning about their needs.
There are genes that affect your ideal intake and ratio of fats. Others affect the way that you process carbohydrates. There is even a gene that explains why you might be a 'lightweight' drinker compared to your friends.
If we look to our ancestors, it's easy to see that we have always eaten different diets. People who lived closer to the ocean would consume more seafood and seaweed. The closer people were to the equator, the less cooked foods they would need to consume.
Our genes reflect these differences in dietary ancestry. It explains why the majority of Asian adults are dairy-intolerant, whereas many of Anglo descent can tolerate it far better.
Is There More to Diet Than Food?
All of the above is based solely on the body's requirements for nutrients. But what if there is more to a perfect diet than just the science of the food?
Food is not simply a fuel source, despite what some believe. It is also a form of social interaction. It is deeply intertwined with cultural norms and religious beliefs. By consuming food, you are not just fueling your body. You are often interacting with your 'tribe' or community.
When people embark on restrictive regimes, they often complain about the impact on their social life. This is because we use food as an opportunity to gather and share. When someone suddenly changes this, it can be seen as a violation of the social interaction.
An ideal diet is one that still takes into account this need for interaction. It's why many seemingly ideal diets, such as liquid diet Soylent or pre-prepared meals, don't fit the bill.
The Truth about the 'One' Diet
Any qualified practitioner who knows their anatomy and physiology of nutrition knows the truth. There is no one diet. There's no magic pill to solve all disease and injury. Everyone has very different needs, and their diets need to take this into account.
The future of diet is personalizing it. This might be done by nutritionists, by genetic experts, or by self-experimentation. The outcome is the same. By learning what foods work for you, and what foods don't, you are creating your own perfect diet.