Research clearly shows that a “bad diet” will shorten your life and likely make final years unpleasant. But, it is easy to be confused about what is a “good diet” with so many eating plans being promoted. Since we are all busy, I will present my thoughts on the subject so briefly that you will get the most important part even if you don’t make it past the first paragraph. Michael Pollan, author of In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto said “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” That is a good start. I would clarify that when he says “food” he means something that your great grandmother would recognize as such…going back to nature’s original plan. Mostly “plants” to me means we need a lot more vegetables than most of us are getting. I would add that most people should greatly reduce their intake of refined grains and try to eliminate added sugar and that certainly includes soft drinks and the sugary coffee concoctions. Oh, and if you still have an old “food pyramid” hanging around, put that in the trash.
After that, you can get fancy depending on your special health needs and philosophy. If you want to follow an eating plan that has a name, The Mediterranean Diet as described by the Mayo Clinic (which they will tell you is not pizza and spaghetti) has a lot of scientific backing. It is a plan that is not hard to follow because of the variety and flavors. In their description they say to add olive oil and I agree. But, I don’t think you have to eliminate butter. Look at the French. They eat a lot of it and are healthier than Americans. Mayo also suggest using herbs instead of salt. Herbs and spices are very healthful, but overly restricting salt is not ideal for everyone. And the beans the diet recommends don’t work for all of us. (They may be better tolerated if they are cooked in a pressure cooker.)
Many diets like the low-carb, Paleo and Keto restrict carbohydrates. None of them should keep you from eating copious amounts of green vegetables. Although most studies favor the low carb way, especially for weight loss, the science on them is confusing. That’s because some people do skimp on vegetables or overdo protein or get too much red meat which contains iron that can be an aging factor. Many of the negatives studies on low carb don’t distinguish between pasture-raised meats and the stock yard variety with its hormones, toxins and antibiotics. They often don’t even separate smoked and cured meats which are not as healthful. I recently wrote in defense of fats. Part 1 and Part 2.
Dr. Gundry’s Plant Paradox diet would have you give up what are otherwise healthful plant foods because they contain “lectins”. Sherry Rogers, MD says lectins are not a problem if your gut bacteria are in balance and your gut lining is healed. On the other hand, overdoing lectins may add to leaky gut.
Vegetarian / Vegan. Keep in mind that you could eat nothing but Twinkies and call yourself a vegetarian. Some people on a balanced diet of vegetarian foods do fine. (I am not one of them.) Vegans can take the idea to what is too often an unhealthy extreme. Lierre Keith, author of The Vegetarian Myth: Food, Justice, and Sustainability, is a reformed militant vegan. She had to give that up to regain her health. Her book exposes a lot of the widely held yet misguided ideas about animal foods.
Since we are each different, you can make up your own, e.g. the “John Doe Diet”. You might start with a base of a low carb diet with loads of vegetables. Make most proteins from wild fish and pasture-raised meats and eggs. Then, assuming you aren’t working on a major weight loss goal or a yeast overgrowth, add modest amounts of antioxidant and nutrient rich foods such as true whole grains (not brown colored white bread with some bran on top), fruits that aren’t very sweet (e.g. berries and green apples), and fermented whole fat dairy (it fares well in studies). Many people are gluten-sensitive, so they should perhaps avoid wheat, rye and barley. If there is a special treat that you love but which breaks all the rules…have it once in a while and slowly savor it so that the feeling lasts a long time.