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The Best Way to Diet Success

The simplest trick to a long and healthy life?: Eat real food.

The simplest trick to a long and healthy life? Eat real food.

I tend to think of myself as “impressionable.” If someone says I should do something for better health or clearer skin, I’m all over it — few questions asked. Clearly, this tendency needs to be moderated, especially in the area of diet. I mean, I can’t be gluten-free, Paleo, Mediterranean, dairy-free, sugar-free, and vegan, can I?

Okay, maybe I can, but why should I when I have no allergies or sensitivities? When all I’m looking to do is feed myself and my family as healthily and practically — with as little hassle as possible? Certainly there is an easy way to do that. Something simple, that won’t make it difficult for me to pack some snacks while we’re out and about, or for us to eat at friends’ houses — if anybody is feeling intrepid enough to invite our family of five over for dinner.

And so, in an effort to “quiet the noise” regarding all the diet options/fads, I decided several years ago to try to ignore it all and to eat by this simple rule: I will feed myself and my family real food. And I mean real, as in I buy the raw ingredients and prep them myself — with as little industrially-processed food as I can manage.

The hardest part of this decision, for me, is to keep the diet noise quiet, as over the years I’ve learned to truly enjoy cooking and baking from scratch. But, as I said, I’m impressionable, and every time another friend or acquaintance mentions that they are “going off” gluten or sugar or meat or whatever, I have to remind myself that just because it is right for them, doesn’t mean it is right for everyone, including me.

Over the past several months I have, perhaps in an attempt to seek my own kind of people, read a couple of books that have strengthened my resolve and helped me to feel more confident in my position of diet-neutrality: Cooked by Michael Pollan and Salt, Sugar, Fat by Michael Moss. And while I have continued to read more and more research (and opinions) regarding the absolute necessity of cutting out processed food and eating “real” food as much as we can, I had not yet encountered any scientifically tested comparisons between various popular diets — until now.

Dr. David Katz, of Yale University’s Prevention Research Center, and his colleague Stephanie Meller did the comparison and the research. Their findings were published in a paper titled, “Can We Say What Diet Is Best for Health?” And, after comparing Paleo, Mediterranean, mixed/balanced (DASH), low-carb, low-glycemic, and low-fat/vegetarian/vegan, the winner is … REAL FOOD.

Or, as they write: “A diet of minimally processed foods close to nature, predominantly plants, is decisively associated with health promotion and disease prevention.”

Many of these popular diets follow the basic idea of “eating real food” and eliminating processed food, but some of them make eating “right” harder than it needs to be — and none of them are any better than the others when it comes to promoting health and wellness. Getting rid of the diet label (Paleo, Mediterranean, etc.) and simply eating real food — and cutting out the processed pseudo-food — is as simple as it gets.

I appreciate Dr. Katz’ analysis, of course. Mostly because I need all the people I can get reminding me that feeding my family well really doesn’t have to be that hard.

Photo credit: Lizzie Heiselt

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