A glaring apparent contradiction in diet and nutrition mantra seems to be whether or not a healthy diet contains "variety." Critics balk at the lack of variety and exclusion of food groups that characterize many fad diets. But this is an important part of the reason why some fad diets help you to loose weight! Is it okay to exclude entire food groups and limit dietary variety during the quest for a better body?
More importantly, loosing weight through Atkins or another low-carb type diet will result in weight loss. If you have a health condition that is significantly improved through weight loss alone (high blood pressure is a good example), doesn't that mean that severely limiting the diet is good for you in that case?
On the other hand, we are continuously discovering new compounds and new function of old compounds. Each natural food is so special in the mixture of chemicals that give it its color, taste, and health benefits. For instance, resveritol, the newly discovered antioxidant in red wine and other foods. Researchers recently discovered the ability of phytosterols to lower cholesterol. By the way, phytosterols are not only supplemented in margarine but exist in every plant-based natural food (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, etc).
Furthermore, my lab has been involved in research looking at specific proteins in dairy products that may contribute to weight loss. In research, meat-eaters have lower body fat percentages than vegetarians consuming a diet of the same macronutrient breakdown; meat is a natural source of creatine. By limiting entire food groups, you are surely missing out on a host of health benefits.
Variety or limited variety?
A study published out of Tufts University in the Journal of Nutrition sums it up pretty clearly. The variety of sweets, snacks, condiments, entrees and carbohydrates consumed was positively associated with body fatness, whereas the variety of vegetables was negatively associated with body fatness. Practically speaking, what does this means for you on a long-term healthy diet that allows you to loose weight?
1. Eat a variety of vegetables, and make them the base of your meals--don't smother them with a variety of condiments.
2. Choose several lean protein sources, including dairy, and include those at most meals--good examples are fat-free cottage cheese, chicken breast, any fish, and 96% lean ground beef--don't drench your protein in a variety of sauces.
3. Pick one whole grain you like and eat it sometimes (1 or 2 meals per day). My grain of choice is old-fashioned oats in the mornin'.
4. Pick only fresh seasonal, local fruits--you will maximize the vitamins and nutrients from your fruit; have 1 or 2 pieces per day.
5. Eat mostly plant-based fats and pick one or two that you like to use; use sparingly.
6. Limit processed foods in general! Note that the first three foods listed that have a high association to body fatness are all bottles/jarred/preserved, etc. They have lots of calories and no special nutrients, chemicals, or antioxidants that make them worth eating! 'Nuff said.