The best diet, that’s not a diet

Life Lessons

The best diet, that’s not a diet

The healthiest eating lifestyle is …

There’s no single best diet for everyone. And by diet, we mean “eating lifestyle” or “approach to eating.” We don’t mean “cutting back food intake to lose weight” — though a healthful diet might lead to weight loss. Still, one good guideline to follow is ensuring your chow pattern is balanced (read: not extreme) when it comes to types of food. In other words, if your diet is all meat and fat but no grains, that’s not balanced. If it’s only fruits and vegetables, that’s not balanced, either.

There are lots of eating lifestyles: Atkins, flexitarian, Healthy Eating Plate, ketogenic, Mediterranean, MyPlate, Ornish, Paleo, raw, vegan, vegetarian, Zone. The list goes on, and we’re not even talking ethnic diets (unless you count Mediterranean). To compound things, some diets might focus on, say, cardiovascular health while others focus on brain health. It all can get overwhelming, especially considering U.S. dietary recommendations have changed over time.

One clear and safe place to start (after keeping balance front of mind) is The Healthy Eating Plate. Created by Harvard University, it looks a lot like the Mediterranean diet, which is widely considered the overall best.

“It’s what I used all the years I was in private practice,” says Laurie Mitchell, RDN, a registered dietitian and nutritionist, who oversees Unum’s corporate wellness programs. “It’s healthy, delicious, not highly processed and a sustainable way for most people to eat.”

This is the first installment of a new WorkLife series, Healthy Living Basics for Everyone. The sanely paced plan helps you with nutrition, exercise and lifestyle and includes a mental component that helps clarify goals and identify what might hold you back.

The Mediterranean diet includes general recommendations for what to eat. The Healthy Eating Plate goes a step further with a simple, visual breakdown of how much to eat of each food type and includes easy-to-understand explanations for why that combo works.

Both eating lifestyles emphasize lots of plant-based foods such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts. They also favor healthy oils, such as canola and olive, over butter, and they both promote fish and poultry as opposed to red meat. The Mediterranean diet makes a point of encouraging the use of spices and herbs to bring out flavor and keep salt within reason — but if you’re eating the healthful foods in either diet, your salt intake will probably be fine regardless.

Why focus on plant-based foods? In the simplest terms, when you eat plants you get nutrition from as close to the source as possible. Nutritional energy first comes from a plant (which creates its energy thanks to solar energy). If you eat an animal, or say, its milk, you’re a step or two removed from the plant. If that info makes your head hurt, don’t worry. In future posts, we’ll look more closely at the components of healthy eating so you can figure out how to chart your course.

Both lifestyles also emphasize staying active, and the Mediterranean diet encourages making eating a social thing (connecting with others is important for your all-around health).

How to get started

    1. Keep in mind that the closer a food is to its original form (an apple as opposed to jarred applesauce), the better it is for you, most of the time. We’ll get into more of why that is later. Try eating some foods that are closer to the source, if you rarely do.
    2. Keep a general food diary so you can later see if you’re eating a disproportionate amount of one type of food. You’ll put the log use with the next blog post.
    3. If you’re feeling inspired and understand the suggestions of Healthy Eating Plate or the Mediterranean diet, incorporate them. If not, that’s okay. You’ll learn how to do that with future posts.


Journalist Mitra Malek regularly researches content related to nutrition and wellness for Yoga Journal, for which was once an editor. Connect with her at 

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