Is there the “healthiest diet”? Why it’s so important to consider things other than food.

Interested in a new diet trend you saw on TikTok? If you’re looking for a way to eat healthier, it can be difficult to know where to turn with so much conflicting and often misleading information on social media. Dietary culture can also impact mental and emotional health, including eating disorders and anxiety.

But if you want to make a change, there are ways to consider all aspects of your health.

“There is a common misconception that moving away from diet culture means not listening to your body or not prioritizing any aspect of your health,” says Kat Benson, registered dietitian at Top Nutrition Coaching.

What is the healthiest diet?

The healthiest eating lifestyle places less emphasis on “diet” and more on holistic health, according to Benson: “It’s an inherently flexible lifestyle, it’s generally nutrient-dense, and it allows you to eat foods you enjoy. »

Sure, some specific, named diets show better health results, but that doesn’t come from the cleverly named diet itself. This stems from the fundamental elements of a healthy lifestyle, Benson says.

This may include paying more attention to the food you eat, cooking at home more often, or eating minimally processed foods. For example, the Mediterranean diet has been named the “best overall diet” six years in a row. It has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease in women by 24% and is based on plant-based foods, beans, nuts, whole grains, seafood and poultry lean, with an emphasis on unsaturated fats.

But the signature Mediterranean foods are also the ones we know have the best health outcomes: at least 90% lean meat, plenty of fruits and vegetables, and essential unsaturated fats.

You can tailor something like the Mediterranean diet to your unique needs based on the best results for all aspects of health – physical, mental, social and emotional.

“If we’re doing actions that support our physical health but harm other aspects of health, then that’s not really healthy,” Benson says.

Components of the Mediterranean diet, including fish, vegetables and nuts.

What is a balanced diet?: Everything you need to know about quantity and quality

How to start eating healthy

Prioritizing your mental, social, and emotional well-being as much as your physical health is the first step toward healthy eating. Benson recommends focusing on foods that make you feel your best, using the “three Cs” model to frame your thinking:

  • Curiosity: Why do I need this food for me? What texture and taste experience do I want?

  • Compassion: When you step away from diet culture, it’s normal to feel confused. Benson says to keep in mind that “there’s nothing wrong with you, you’re trying to deconstruct this diet mentality.”

  • Context: How do I want this food to serve me in the context of my day? How can it help me focus at work, have the energy for a workout, or fuel me through a long day of classes?

With that in mind, Benson offers some concrete ways to make your diet healthier:

  1. Look for diversity in your diet

“We want diversity, so a wide range of foods that not only help us meet our needs for macronutrients like protein, carbohydrates and fats, but also micronutrients, vitamins and minerals,” says Benson .

Stocking up on a variety of proteins or a range of vegetables can be expensive, but there are inexpensive options like potatoes or beans that come in a variety of nutrient-rich forms. Variety might mean stocking your fridge with lots of vegetables, but it might also mean buying black beans one week, kidney beans the next week, and pinto beans after that. Also avoid buying diced or cubed fruits and vegetables. If you cut them yourself, you’ll save money.

“Diversity doesn’t have to be there every time you go to the grocery store,” Benson says. “Maybe every two weeks there’s a little different variety.”

  1. Stay hydrated

Experts recommend about 100 ounces of water per day, both in pure form and from other sources like fruit and other beverages. Hydration is an important part of maintaining a healthy diet because it keeps your body temperature balanced, cushions your joints, protects your spinal cord and tissues, and can even prevent chronic disease. Dehydration can cause fatigue, chills, constipation, dizziness, muscle cramps, confusion, headaches and other health problems.

  1. Choose minimally processed foods when you can

“Processed” foods exist on a broad spectrum. On one side are ultra-processed foods, which contain little or no energy-dense whole foods, and on the other are minimally processed foods, which exist in their natural state or nearly so. Consumption of ultra-processed foods “may be linked to increased burden and mortality for overall and site-specific cancers,” according to a 2023 study published in eClinicalMedicine.

“The word process can sometimes be confusing, because a bag of spinach is a processed food,” says Benson. “So we can’t just say eliminate processed foods, but…most of the time, minimally processed foods contain a variety of nutrients.”

How to get out of the diet mentality

If your TikTok is flooded with diet fads and health tips, it can be difficult to escape the “diet mentality” or the idea that you need to stick to a diet to be healthier. If you see an enticing trend, Benson says you need to do your homework: Is the evidence or research cited? Is this a flashy new phrase designed to go viral?

“It’s a huge wake-up call,” Benson says. “There’s so much research going on about nutrition, but we know what a healthy diet is, what a diet is that contributes to physical health and also won’t be very restrictive.”

Defining how you approach your daily diet can help, but there’s more to it than just “listening to your body,” which Benson says can be confusing when you start deconstructing diet culture.

“Use these tools, like the three Cs, curiosity, compassion and context to really make the best choices,” says Benson.

Experts previously told USA TODAY that replacing the word “diet” with “healthy eating plan” can also create a better overall mindset.

It’s helpful to move away from the all-or-nothing approach: Part of Benson’s recommendations for healthy eating is making room for the foods you love. You can have a donut for breakfast occasionally, but try adding a source of protein or healthy fat on the side so you have the energy you need to get through the day.

It also means making room for cultural foods or the food you grew up with – so-called “healthy” diets often demonize foods from Black, Asian and Latinx communities, which can lead to feelings of shame and harm the mental or emotional aspects of a healthy person. diet.

“You can make this Mediterranean look different, it can be moved to more different cultural foods based on the person’s background,” Benson says.

If you or someone you know is struggling with body image or eating issues, contact the National Alliance for Eating Disorders’ free, therapist-run helpline at 866-662-1235 for emotional support or treatment referrals. If you are in crisis or need immediate assistance 24/7, text “ALLIANCE” to 741741.

Discover other healthy tips for your daily diet:

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: What is the healthiest diet? The answer isn’t just about food.

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