As the New Year rolls in, many people choose to refresh their lifestyles in an effort to improve their health and overall wellbeing. There are so many different meal plans out there, with many of them backed by science and recommended by healthcare professionals. At the end of the day, the best meal plan is one that works for you and one you can follow long-term.
Popular Meal Plans
The ketogenic (keto) diet is a meal plan that is higher in fat, adequate in protein and low in carbs. This particular diet has been around for many years but has recently gained more and more popularity. There have been many variations over the years, but all of the plans limit carbs to some degree. A low-carbohydrate plan may be something that interests you, but always talk to a healthcare provider to determine if it’s a safe and effective plan for your particular needs.
The foundation of the keto diet is limiting carbs, typically to 50 grams/day or less. To meet this goal, you will eliminate foods like bread, pasta, sweets, sugary drinks and candy, just to name a few. Most people are aware of this. What may surprise you is that foods such as fruit, milk and beans also have carbohydrates and will need to be limited. A diet full of protein, vegetables and heart-healthy fats will provide you with the nutrition you need to stay satisfied.
There are no hard and fast rules when following the Mediterranean Diet. It is plant-based and filled with vegetables, beans, whole grains and heart-healthy fats. Chicken and fish are eaten in small amounts. Fatty fish such as salmon, herring and tuna are encouraged because they are good sources of polyunsaturated fats and Omega-3’s. Instead of butter and saturated fats, try olive oil and nuts. When your plate is filled with plant-based foods, there is limited room for other options. Processed foods, animal products and saturated fats are not a part of this plan. Cutting out these foods is a big reason people see health improvements.
There are many benefits associated with the Mediterranean Diet. The largest benefit is improved heart health and the reduction of LDL (bad) cholesterol. Many people also see improvements in their blood glucose levels, resulting in a lower risk for diabetes. This plan has also been shown to reduce inflammation.
Clean eating has many variations and has gained popularity over the last several years. This plan focuses on choosing whole foods and minimally processed foods and is more of a philosophy instead of a diet. The goal is to choose foods as close to their natural state as possible. Focusing on fruits, vegetables, meats and whole grains is a great start. Processed foods such as chips, cookies and fatty dishes are limited.
Unlike other meal plans, clean eating doesn’t focus on calories and portion sizes. Some people find this plan easier to follow for that reason. There is limited research on “eating clean.” However, a clean diet is mostly plant-based and low in saturated fats. There are numerous health benefits associated with this way of eating.
Intermittent fasting (IF) consists of cycling through time periods of eating and not eating. Instead of focusing specifically on what to eat, you focus more on when you eat. Food is not eaten during periods of fasting, but calorie-free beverages are encouraged so you stay hydrated.
New research on intermittent fasting is coming out rapidly, but there is evidence showing health benefits. One of the most common benefits is weight-loss because people typically eat less when they restrict eating to a small window of time. After not having food for several hours, the body burns its carbohydrate stores and begins burning fat. Intermittent fasting has also been shown to improve heart rate, blood pressure and the risk for diabetes.
Mindful eating is discussed often amongst those who focus a lot of time on health and nutrition. It is simply about paying attention to your food from the moment you buy it at the store to the moment you eat it. This is a very simple concept, but it doesn’t fit with our current fast-paced environment and erratic eating schedules. Many people are ditching diets, rules and structure to focus on one thing… eating mindfully.
What is the best meal plan for you? Since there are so many options out there, so make 2023 the year you find a plan that you enjoy and can stick to. Make an appointment to talk to a healthcare professional about your options and ask for their recommendations.