What is the Healthiest Diet? (+ the Diet I Follow)

by | Jul 18, 2019 | Wellness

Aside from focusing on eating real food, I always tell others that the most important factor in eating well is listening to your body. In today’s post I’m diving deep into the topic of what the the healthiest diet is, and what I personally eat.

Over the years I’ve been asked the question: “Meghan, what do you think about this diet or that diet?”

The world of nutrition is complex and differing opinions make for a whole lot of confusion. And if I’m being honest, I doubt there will ever be an absolute consensus on this topic. I do believe, though, that every professional out there sharing quality information is correct to some degree and while there’s a ton of conflicting information regarding what the healthiest diet is, there’s also a lot of harmonious information, too.

The topic of what the healthiest diet is or even pin-pointing any one particular diet and sharing my perspectives on it publicly is something I’ve intentionally chosen to avoid because I prefer not to go down the controversy rabbit hole. But I also think it’s important for me to share my thoughts on diets as a whole because, well, it’s part of what I do for a living as a holistic nutritionist! Analyze diets. Prioritize health. Stay up to date on the latest nutrition research. And while I’d be a fool to sit here and state that I have all the answers — which I do not — I do know that there are a few basic diet characteristics that most of us can generally agree on when it comes to optimal health.

Characteristics of a Healthy Diet

  • High vegetable and fruit intake (plant diversity)
  • Low sugar, flour, and refined carbohydrate intake
  • Avoidance of highly processed foods that contain simulated flavours, colours, or trans fats
  • Balanced intake of healthy fats (e.g. omega 3, 6 and 9)
  • If animal products are consumed, grass-fed or pasture-raised is better than factory farmed
  • Organic and free of pesticides, antibiotics, and added hormones

There is no doubt that a diet that consists primarily of whole vegetables, fruits, berries, nuts, seeds, mushrooms and other plant foods, is of utmost importance for human health. These foods contain specific compounds such as polyphenols and fibres that fuel our cells, prevent oxidative damage, and feed the immensely critical and intricate bacteria that reside in our colon (our gut microbiome), not to mention help to prevent cancers and other diseases.

Animal-based foods such as eggs, fish, meats, organ meats (e.g. liver), etc. also contain plenty of bioavailable nutrients like iron, zinc, amino acids, b12, and omega-3 fatty acids. It’s not to say that these nutrients cannot be found in the plant kingdom, because they can, but many animal-derived nutrients are much more readily available.

The consumption of animal products is probably the most controversial aspect of the human diet. There’s no shortage of fiery opinion on this matter and I’m well aware of that. Some camps are absolutely 100% against the consumption of any type of animal product whatsoever, whereas others welcome it abundantly.

Again, I’m not saying I have all the answers here, but one way to consider this is how closely related we are to primates such as chimpanzees and gorillas. Great apes eat mostly vegetarian — stems, bamboo shoots, leaves, fruits — but sometimes small mammals and insects. Our digestive systems are very similar, not to mention our DNA (a homology of more than 98% in chimpanzees!) But great apes aside, evolutionarily speaking, humans also thrive on eating primarily plant foods.

That being said, I don’t think there’s strong enough evidence to suggest that including a little bit of unprocessed meat in your diet, alongside a plethora of plant foods, is unhealthy or a cause for illness. The development of illness is generally not a simple, straightforward thing. Disease develops as a result of many factors: stress, exposure to toxins, genetics, damage to gut barrier and/or microbiome, poor diet and unhealthy lifestyle choices, to name a few. It’s complex stuff. But like anything, too much is not a good thing, and this goes for plant and animal foods alike. You could be a junk food meat-eater just as much as you could be a junk food vegan. Neither of which are good for you.

We can also consider what’s known as the Blue Zones — 5 places around the world where people consistently live over 100 years old — in which mostly plant foods and small amount of animal foods make up their diet. But these communities aren’t the stars of longevity because of diet alone, but because of several other factors. They move their bodies regularly (some walking 5 mountainous miles a day or more), they have purpose in life, they manage their stress, they don’t overeat, they belong to some kind of faith, they prioritize family, they have good friends, and some even drink alcohol moderately!

We humans love complicating things. I do it all the time! But when it comes to eating well, it really is simple: eat real, unprocessed food with a primary emphasis on plants (as a recap, this includes vegetables, leafy greens, fruits, berries, nuts, seeds, mushrooms and other plant foods like legumes). Anything that strays from this basic concept, such as lots of highly processed animal, plant, or sugar-laden foods, diverts you away from a state of optimal health.

Bio-Individuality

Bio-individuality is a term that was coined several years ago that means there’s no “one-size-fits-all” approach to diet. Everybody has individual nutritional requirements, microbiomes, health histories, metabolisms, and body compositions that influence dietary needs. Essentially, it’s the idea that the foods that make you feel good for your unique body may not be best for someone else.

If we want to add even more to the equation, we also all have different socioeconomic statuses, preferences, upbringings, and circumstances. All of this makes achieving “the perfect one-diet for every single person on the planet” next to impossible. It’s obvious that there are limitations to what humans can and cannot eat from a biological perspective, and that a standard diet intended for human anatomy and physiology exists to some degree, but differences will continue to exist between each of us because of that bio-individuality.

In any case, aside from focusing on eating real food, I always tell others that the most important factor in eating well is listening to your body. Having a good understanding of what foods make you feel great and which ones simply do not. This may be as simple as using a food journal to gain these insights or it may mean going a step further and working with a practitioner to help you uncover the root causes of your health concerns. Either which way, what matters most is that we aren’t prescribing ourselves to one single label that we have to live up to, but instead consuming foods that make us thrive (and help us achieve better health if needed).

While I don’t believe that there’s truly one specific diet to be followed — aside from the general guidelines of eating lots of fresh, whole, unadulterated foods as discussed earlier — I do believe that some specific diets can be followed under unique circumstances. There are many therapeutic diets that can be very beneficial for some:

  • Elimination diets are useful when trying to uncover food sensitivities, allergies, or intolerances
  • Gluten-free diets are necessary for those with Celiac Disease or a sensitivity
  • The avoidance of certain foods is essential for those with severe allergies (e.g. peanuts)
  • AIP (Autoimmune Paleo) can be useful for those with autoimmune conditions
  • Low FODMAP diets can be very helpful temporarily for many IBS-sufferers (Irritable Bowel Syndrome)

Dietary modifications are necessary at certain times, and we all do it whether we realize it or not. If you have the flu, you bet you tend to eat differently. Likewise if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, if you’re an athlete, if you’re traveling, or if you’re on certain medications. But all in all, I think we can at least mostly conclude that eating real food and listening to your body both help to create your healthiest diet. If for you that means eating exclusively plant-based, then that’s great! If it means eating some animal protein, then that’s great too! Both ways of eating can be healthy.

The Diet I Follow

So, what diet do I follow? I focus on eating what makes me feel my best. As such, I do not follow any particular kind of label. But that’s not to say I never have!

I’ve been vegan, raw vegan, vegetarian, and strict paleo. I’ve also been on an AIP diet, the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD), and low FODMAP diet. This is because I’ve struggled with IBS after having gastroenteritis (you can read more about my C. diff story here) which warranted some of these dietary interventions. If you’re subscribed to my YouTube channel, you’d know that many of my recipe and food-related videos over the past couple of years have been largely paleo-focused.

But all labels aside, my diet consists of vegetables, leafy greens, fruits, nuts, seeds, eggs, fish, and other meats. I do not consume dairy and I’m predominantly gluten-free. Sometimes I’ll eat grains or legumes but I do not thrive on these kinds of foods as too much of them tend to cause a flare up for me (abdominal pain and bad acne breakouts).

Is this to say that I could never thrive on a 100% plant-based diet? Maybe, maybe not. Things change, circumstances change, and our bodies change all throughout life. I stick to what makes me feel my best, and yes, I also allow some wiggle room to enjoy myself! Because something that we easily forget about is the effect that stress has on our body and digestion, including the worrying-about-every-little-thing-I-eat kind of stress. It’s easy to slip into obsessive thinking over what we eat (myself included), and that isn’t healthy for us, either.

I would love to hear from you. What kind of “diet” do you follow? (And please, keep all comments respectful! 🙂

by Meghan Livingstone

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15 Comments

  1. Joanne Lucey

    Meghan,

    I am so great full for your You Tube page and your Blog.

    Your information is so refreshing and encouraging. A newbie to the healthier way of eating and living, I turn to you and my nutritionist for guidance and direction.

    Thank You.

    Reply
    • Meghan

      Hi Joanne! Thanks so much for reading. I’m happy to help xx

      Reply
  2. Sylvia Spiegel

    Just completed Argentyn 23 protocol, 3rd time, for Sibo infection, following low fodmap diet
    dairy, gluten free, no garlic/onions , very little grain, white rice . Been tested for sensitivities
    have 19 foods need to avoid for 3-6months, furthering my diet choices. Thanks for all you do
    to encourage all of us to move forward, great recipes you post!

    Reply
  3. anna

    hi! for the past 2/3month i have been vegan! (went vegetarian a month before those 2/3) and im feeling better than ever. my colesterol has reduced a lot (i was amost at 200) and my iron (witch was very low) its now perfect. and i also feel better mentaly knowing that im giving money to people that kill and use animals and that im helping the enviroment a little bit (i also became low-waste)

    Reply
  4. Annette Tice

    Hi Meghan, I follow a “paleo” diet because I have “Hashimoto’s thyroiditis”. Only stage two, so I have a chance of saving my thyroid w/o taking prescription meds. No gluten, dairy, soy, and very small amount of sugar. I recently added organic corn into my diet. Everything I eat is organic and non gmo. Started eating liver and sardines lately… best for my body, but not easy to get excited about. Thanks for the recipes and blog posts; helped me a lot.

    Reply
    • Meghan

      Hi Annette! Good for you for taking those steps to support your thyroid naturally. And I agree with you on the liver! It’s so very nutritious but not always easy to eat!

      Reply
  5. Lee Hatcher

    Hello Meghan, I am likely one of your oldest followers – a 59 year old mother of three, grandmother of seven.
    I struggled horribly through menopause with weight gain and inflammation and I am on a low dose high blood pressure medication. Through out the last few years I tried all my old tricks – cutting calories, drinking gallons of water, and weight watchers. During this time nothing seemed to work for me. Very depressing.
    Then one day I stumbled on your site and tried one of your smoothie recipes. It opened up a new world for me.
    My diet now consists of one smoothie a day – usually in the morning. It is like a magic pill as it sets me up for the rest of the day already feeling like I’ve done something good. That lead me to try many new recipes – yours, 100 Days of Real Food and some of Dr. Hyman’s recipes.
    I’m happy to say that the swelling in my legs is gone and I have a ton of energy to chase my grandchildren around. My doctor was blown away.
    I especially like your Orange Turmeric Detox Smoothie – I add 1cup of spinach to it .
    I want to tell you what a delightful person you are and how much I enjoy following you. You are an inspiration and I wanted you to know the positive effect you have had on one of your followers.

    Reply
    • Meghan

      Hi Lee! Wow, this is absolutely amazing to hear! A true testament to healthy eating. So glad you love that smoothie! It’s one of my favourites, too. xx

      Reply
  6. Rachel

    I love that your “diet” doesn’t have labels! I think it’s much better to be health focused, somewhat flexible, and determine what works for you. That being said, for myself, it seems to take a lot of time to find out what works for me. But cutting back on grains, sugar, and dairy seem beneficial. And avoiding the stress of keeping to a certain dietary regime. Thank you for sharing your knowledge on the subject!

    Reply
    • Meghan

      I agree! Stress is a big part of the picture, too. Thanks for reading Rachel!

      Reply
  7. Petra

    Meghan, your way to tell people all those important things is incredible. I love your perspective, respect and kindness in your words. Your words embrace me. You speak of my soul. Thank you. <3 (And sorry for my english if it´s not correct – I´m from Czech republic. 🙂 )

    Reply
    • Meghan

      Hi Petra! Thank you so much. So glad you enjoyed this article!

      Reply
  8. Mariam

    Great article.
    I personally don’t follow a specific diet, but recently i’m focusing on plant-based foods, as you’ve mentioned i’m trying to listen to my body, and plant-based foods really make me feel energetic and happy.

    I like to make a big bowl of green salad, topped with seeds with my every meal, i think it makes me full for a long time.

    But the problem is that I belong to a culture that appreciate “Bread”, it’s the king of our meals, even so I want to get rid of that culture; as I heard and read a lot of articles which said that Bread or pastries are like toxins in our body (Need You To Talk More About That Side).

    To sum up, I am a big fan of plant-based foods, but I also eat eggs, fish, meat and poultry with a great deal of moderation and balance.

    Thanks for everything.

    Reply
  9. Adele

    Hi Meghan !

    I like your views on this topic, however there is a point you didn’t mention in this article: How often should we eat ?
    I’m french, and we are used to a very precise schedule of 4 meals per day at precise hours. But my boyfriend, german, has completely different (and irregular) habits. Do you have any recommendation on this problem ?

    Thanks for everything !

    Reply
    • Meghan

      Hi Adele, great question. I would say the best “rule” to follow here is to eat when you are hungry. Precise meal timing isn’t necessary in my opinion, although it is ideal not to eat a large meal before bed 🙂

      Reply

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HI, I’M MEGHAN.

I’m a Certified Holistic Nutritionist with a passion for simple living, digestive wellness, and all things healthy and natural. I’m here to inspire you to live a life you love living.

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