“What is the best diet for me?” is an often-asked question. It may be a New Year’s resolution or troublesome health symptoms that have sparked your desire to practice healthy eating. No matter the reason, starting a new diet can be overwhelming. After all, there are countless healthy eating plans, each with its pros and cons.
If you are looking for the right answer to “What is the best diet for me?” keep reading. In this article, we’ll detail the best wellness-focused diet plans to help you simplify your search.
4 Principles of a Healthy Diet
Many people assume a healthy diet means weight loss goals achieved with low-calorie foods, lean protein, low-fat dairy, and meal replacement drinks. But we prefer to focus on an end goal other than weight loss — gut health, which is closely tied with healthy living.
Depending on your dietary goals, a healthy diet plan should aim to do these four things.
1. Control Inflammation
Many chronic health conditions are rooted in inflammation. A diet that is too high in processed foods, sugar, and unhealthy fats can trigger chronic inflammation. So, a basic principle for healthy eating is to eat more whole unprocessed foods. Make fresh vegetables, fruit (in moderation), legumes, nuts, seeds, fish, seafood, and pastured meats the foundation of your diet plan.
2. Control and Balance Blood Sugar
Uncontrolled blood sugar is commonly associated with chronic metabolic conditions like type 2 diabetes while affecting your weight, sleep, and energy levels. Blood sugar dips release cortisol, creating a stress response in your body. Lower-carb diets (like the Paleo diet) cut out grains and starchy foods to balance out your blood sugar levels. Eating regular meals that include protein and healthy fats can help get you off the blood sugar roller coaster ride.
3. Find Your Ideal Intake of Carbohydrates and Prebiotics
Individual factors such as your physical activity level, body weight, and gut health make carbohydrate intake a highly personalized factor. In other words, a low-carb diet may not be for everyone.
You should also consider how much prebiotics you should consume — if any. Prebiotics are promoted as healthy because they feed good bacteria in the gut. However, they also feed bad bacteria. While healthy individuals can safely consume prebiotics, those with gut imbalances like small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) may not tolerate prebiotics well.
4. Identify Your Food Allergies and Intolerances
Some diets are designed to help you pinpoint food allergies and intolerances. For some individuals, certain foods cause immune-triggered inflammation and a wide variety of symptoms. Gluten, dairy, and eggs are among the most common food triggers. An elimination diet temporarily removes possible trigger foods to provide symptom relief and help you figure out which foods to avoid in the future.
Other Factors To Consider When Choosing a Diet Plan
As you ask yourself “What is the best diet for me?” keep these factors in mind:
- Start with an anti-inflammatory diet. No matter your health condition, an anti-inflammatory diet is the best starting place for reducing inflammation and symptoms. If you’ve been eating lots of processed foods, this change alone will make a big difference in how you feel. Paleo and Whole30 are good choices to begin your healthy eating journey.
- Follow up with an elimination diet (if necessary). If you don’t see enough symptom improvement after 1-2 months on an anti-inflammatory diet, try an elimination diet to identify your trigger foods. Different elimination diets address various health concerns. The low FODMAP diet is a good elimination diet for gut-related symptoms. Autoimmune paleo diet (AIP) is focused on reducing inflammation and can be helpful for those with autoimmune diseases like Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and rheumatoid arthritis. If allergy-like symptoms are bothering you, try a low-histamine diet.
When trying a new diet, follow it for at least 2-3 weeks to see if it works for you. Keep a food diary to track any improvements in symptoms (or not) and to identify foods that trigger your flare-ups.
What Is the Best Diet for Me? A Guide To Healthy Eating
To help you reach your healthy eating goals and find the best dieting approach for your unique health needs, we recommend a process that progresses from basic anti-inflammatory diets to more restrictive elimination protocols to address mild to severe symptoms and to improve gut health. This process helps you to zero in on the least restrictive diet that also helps you manage your symptoms.
1. Paleo Diet
The paleo diet — or the Stone Age diet — is a good starting place for a healthy lifestyle change. It emphasizes whole, healthy foods and restricts processed foods to:
- Promote a healthier gut microbiome [1, 2] and control inflammation [3, 4]. The paleo diet has been shown to help those with inflammatory bowel disease , rheumatoid arthritis , autoimmune diseases , and heart disease [8, 9].
- Exclude unhealthy fats, processed ingredients, chemicals and preservatives which are highly inflammatory.
- Eliminate common trigger foods like dairy, gluten, and soy, which can cause food reactions in some people..
- Lower carb intake by eliminating grains, beans, pulses, and refined sugars [10, 11]. This can help to reduce bacterial overgrowths in the gut, balance blood sugar levels, and promote weight loss.
The paleo diet is ideal if you want to:
- Reduce inflammatory foods, test your reaction to common dietary allergens, and improve gut health.
- Lose weight — several studies show that paleo is an effective weight loss diet in the short and long term [12, 13, 14, 15].
- Improve your metabolic health. One systematic review and meta-analysis found that the paleo diet is more effective in reducing cholesterol, high blood pressure, and blood sugar levels than other diet plans .
If you wish to learn more about this dietary protocol, check out our paleo diet guide.
2. Whole30 Diet
The Whole30 diet is an anti-inflammatory diet that focuses exclusively on fresh, whole foods with little to no processed ingredients. It has similarities to the paleo diet and is also a good starting point for healthier eating. Steering clear of problematic food groups — sugars, alcohols, grains, legumes, and dairy — for 30 days, this diet plan  aims to:
- Improve metabolism
- Reduce systemic inflammation
- Regulate hormones and blood sugar levels
- Boost digestive health
The Whole30 diet is ideal if you want to:
- Reduce inflammatory foods, identify common food allergens that may be affecting you, and improve gut health.
- Improve your relationship with food.
- Reset your eating habits to improve your overall health.
After 30 days, you’ll slowly reintroduce different food groups into your eating plan to compare physical and psychological improvements before and after the diet.
3. Low-FODMAP Diet
If paleo (or other anti-inflammatory diets) do not fully resolve your health concerns, the low-FODMAP diet may be a good next choice. It’s especially helpful for digestive issues like IBS and IBD (inflammatory bowel disease).
FODMAP stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides, And Polyols, all of which are fermentable starches and sugars. High-FODMAP foods feed inflammatory gut bacteria, causing digestive and non-digestive symptoms that may include gas, bloating, abdominal pain, diarrhea, constipation, fatigue and brain fog.
The low-FODMAP diet is an elimination diet low in these fermentable carbohydrates and designed to starve unhealthy microbes. The low-FODMAP diet:
- Can reduce leaky gut, gut inflammation and digestive symptoms, such as bloating, abdominal pain, and gas [18, 19, 20, 21].
- Improves IBS symptoms in patients with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) [22, 23, 24, 25, 26].
- Positively impacts gut endocrine cells, which can normalize bowel function [27, 28, 29].
- Reduces pain for fibromyalgia patients .
The low-FODMAP diet is ideal if you:
- Struggle with digestive issues like gas, bloating, abdominal pain, diarrhea, and constipation.
- Have IBS, IBD, SIBO, leaky gut, or fibromyalgia, which did not improve fully with the Paleo diet.
- Lack specific digestive enzymes to break down fermentable carbohydrates. A common example is lactose-intolerant individuals who have difficulty breaking down lactose in dairy products.
Like all elimination diets, the intention with the low-FODMAP diet is not to keep you on a highly restricted diet plan forever. Instead, follow it strictly in the short term to identify which fermentable carbohydrates cause symptoms and which ones you can safely eat.
Start by following the low-FODMAP diet for 2-3 weeks to see if you notice any symptom improvement. If you do, continue to follow the diet until your symptom improvement plateaus. If you don’t notice any symptom improvement, you can discontinue the diet and try another approach.
Once your symptom improvement has plateaued, you can slowly reintroduce one high-FODMAP food at a time (start with the one you miss the most!) to identify which foods trigger symptoms. Wait at least 48 hours or until symptoms have calmed before trying another food reintroduction.
Track your food triggers with the goal of maintaining symptom remission while broadening your diet as much as possible. If you find it difficult to plan meals, work with a nutrition coach or registered dietitian who understands the low-FODMAP diet.
4. Autoimmune Paleo Diet (AIP)
The autoimmune paleo diet (or autoimmune protocol) is a more restrictive adaptation of the paleo diet. While the paleo diet eliminates gluten, dairy, legumes, and grains, AIP goes one step further in eliminating potential trigger foods to exclude:
- Nightshade veggies like tomatoes, peppers, and potatoes
- Nuts, seeds, and seed-derived spices
Research shows that even though AIP did not significantly alter thyroid function or antibodies in patients with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, this dietary protocol reduced inflammation by 29% .
The autoimmune paleo diet is ideal if you have:
- An autoimmune disorder and want to identify food triggers causing your flare-ups.
- Haven’t experienced enough improvement with the paleo diet and your symptoms are mostly inflammatory.
Do note that AIP is a more restrictive version of the paleo diet. The AIP’s requirements require extra attention when shopping for groceries or creating meal plans.
5. Low-Histamine Diet
Histamine is naturally produced in your body to regulate your immune response toward allergens. This chemical is also present in varying levels in many foods. Some people produce high levels of histamine, possibly due to a gut imbalance or gut infection. In this case, consuming too many histamine-rich foods can produce allergy-like symptoms, a condition known as histamine intolerance.
The low-histamine diet is ideal if you are already on the paleo diet or low-FODMAP diet, and experience unexplained allergy-like symptoms.
After following the low-histamine diet for three weeks, your symptoms should improve. Once your symptoms plateau, you can slowly reintroduce foods to find your ideal threshold, i.e., the level at which you’re consuming more histamine than your body can metabolize.
The Best Diet Is Tailored to Your Body
A healthy diet is one of the foundational pillars of health and wellness. There is no one right diet for everyone, however a number of approaches are recognized for specific health benefits.
When you try a new dietary approach, think of it as a learning process. Listen to your body and pay attention to which foods make you feel good and which foods trigger symptoms. The ultimate goal isn’t to follow a specific diet template — it’s finding the dietary approach that best suits your body.
Sometimes, even when you have all the necessary information at hand, new dietary guidelines can still be hard to navigate. When this happens, don’t hesitate to reach out to an experienced healthcare professional for help. A functional doctor, health coach, or nutritionist can help you select and implement any of the above diets.
At Austin Functional Medicine, our experienced team of functional medicine doctors and a nutrition coach will work closely with you to help you answer the question: What is the best diet for me? Book an appointment with us to learn more.