Different Strokes for Different Folks


Not all diets are created equal. And at the same time, one diet may work great for Tom and Sally, but not be optimal for Julie’s health. And maybe Sally enters a new phase of her life and the diet that was once optimal for her health is no longer meeting her current nutritional needs. Luckily, we have flexibility in our diets due to the abundant food supply in the U.S., and so we can decide which diet may work best for us based on our own unique bioindividuality.

Here are some different diet options, a list which is by no means all-encompassing, and all of which can be customized to your needs. But first, let’s look at two different frameworks for viewing diets: the MyPlate framework, as put forth by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the Healing Foods Pyramid, as proposed by the University of Michigan (UM).

Frameworks of Eating Patterns

MyPlate: The USDA has developed guidelines to encourage Americans to eat healthfully. These guidelines are presented as the “MyPlate” graphic, designed to illustrate a pattern of consumption per meal that, when portion sizes are followed, will result in the proper balance of nutrients and calories. The MyPlate sections are proportionately divided on the plate: grains and low-fat proteins comprise one half while fruits and vegetables, the other; a low-fat dairy serving is also included. These categories are further expanded into portion serving sizes and number of servings per day based on caloric needs, gender, and activity level, with suggestions of foods that meet category criteria. Physical activity is encouraged. USDA guidelines consider dairy important for calcium; view unprocessed saturated fats as poor choices while allowing refined vegetable oils; suggest that only half of consumed grains be whole; allow fiber-less fruit juice to count as a serving of fruit; and sanction moderate sugar and alcohol consumption. Fortified, refined, and highly processed foods are permitted, as are empty calories. Benefits of organic or sustainable foods are not mentioned. The aggregate of healthful and poor choices make up the foundation of an acceptable diet as long as adequate nutrients are obtained.

Healing Foods Pyramid:
The Healing Foods Pyramid focuses on foods that heal and nourish the body rather than strictly provide energy. The 13-category guidelines emphasize a plant-based low-fat diet, with optional small quantities of animal-based products consumed for their health benefits. Water, tea, and moderate amounts of alcohol and dark chocolate are viewed as health supportive. Emphasis is placed on clean and sustainable food sources: uncontaminated water; unlimited quantities of organic whole fruits and vegetables; organic whole, unfortified grains; optional small weekly quantities of unprocessed pastured meats and sustainable seafoods; healthy fats; daily legumes, eggs, and dairy; and phytonutrient-rich seasonings. Starchy vegetables can substitute for grains. Attention is paid to the glycemic index of food; calories are only loosely considered. Healthy omega fat ratios are also discussed. “Personal space” within the pyramid allows for occasional special treats that are individually healing and nurturing. Exercise is discussed in relation to water intake needs.

Different diet options
Standard American diet (SAD): This diet is intended to be supported by practicing the MyPlate framework discussed above. However, it’s not often followed corrected, and what remains is the nutrient-poor diet followed by most Americans. The bulk of this omnivorous diet is based on refined grains, sugar, red meat, and processed foods and beverages, as evidenced by household grocery spending patterns. Large quantities of restaurant foods, processed snacks, and desserts have resulted in overconsumption of sodium, poor quality fats, sugar, and overall calories while not enough fruits, vegetables (particularly brightly colored), whole grains, dairy products, fish, and lean meats are consumed. Americans eat a much higher percentage of refined than unrefined grains than is recommended. Fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean meat and dairy, seafoods, and plain water are under-consumed. Fruit and vegetable consumption is so low that in a study examining eating habits by state, the CDC found that at best the residents of only a few states eat two servings of fruit or three servings of vegetables a day. Overall animal and dairy consumption, particularly high-fat, in the SAD is far greater than recommended as well. Meanwhile, the average American is sedentary, and obesity and disease rates have increased.
Plant-based: About 5% of Americans follow a predominately plant-based, low-fat diet; minimal, if any, animal products are consumed. Lacto-ovo-vegetarians consume dairy and eggs, while pesco-vegetarians eat seafood. Vegans eat only plant-based foods. Reasoning for following a plant-based diet ranges from ethical concerns about animal welfare, to eating on a strict budget, to promoting overall health. In fact, numerous studies examining vegetarian diets have shown increased cardiovascular, metabolic, and endocrine health benefits. However, vegetarian and especially vegan diets have increased potential for nutrient deficiencies due to limited food sources. Vegans must ensure adequate nutrition by seeking plant-based proteins and nutrients such as calcium, iron, and B12, all of which are commonly found in animal products. Additionally, many plant-based highly-processed imitation foods have been made to mimic meat foods, such as soy patties and vegan sausage, and are highly popular among plant-based diet followers. These foods can be harmful to health due to their ingredients and manufacturing methods.
Omnivorous: Most Americans are omnivorous: animals and plants are consumed. There are no set guidelines for what types of plants and animals must be eaten, and so a wide range of nutrients can be obtained.

Traditional: Traditional diets are followed by populations isolated from Westernized foods. People consume only nutrient-dense, geographically and seasonally available foods; they do not eat highly processed, preservative-laden, nutrient-devoid imported products. Eating seasonally allows variety in food choices not by day or week, but across the year (The George Mateljan Foundation, 2016b). Hirshberg (2015) reviewed anthropological studies by Dr. Weston Price and Dan Buettern, both of whom examined traditional eating patterns across the world, and noted that while each observed group varied in the traditional foods consumed, the populations were healthy. For instance, the Maasai tribe thrived on cow milk, blood, and meat with small quantities of fruits and vegetables and no grains or fish. Meanwhile, the Okinawans thrived on starchy vegetables, soy products, fish, pork, and lard, with no grains, fruits, or dairy. The groups also got daily exercise. Hirshberg (2015) concluded that humans can attain good health from a non-processed limited-variety diet, and no one pattern of consumption is best in achieving health. The Weston A. Price Foundation has chapters across the globe supporting individuals wishing to eat in a traditional manner.

Ancestral: The Paleo diet, also referred to as the caveman diet, is an ancestral way of eating. Paleo followers seek clean sources of pastured animal proteins, organic produce, healthy fats, and unprocessed foods. It allows lean grass-fed proteins, fruits and vegetables, healthy fats including some from saturated sources, nuts, and seeds. Dairy, legumes, grains, processed foods, alcohol, and refined sugars are viewed as harmful to good health. Exercise is encouraged. This diet has been shown to reverse both diabetes and autoimmunity (Wolf, 2016). However, followers can fall into the trap of eating too much animal proteins and not enough fiberous fruits and vegetables, which can cause constipation.

Gluten-free: Those with Celiac disease and gluten intolerance avoid wheat, rye, barley, triticale, and cross-contaminated oat products. All non-glutinous grains are permitted. Whole grains are not valued over refined. This population must be vigilant of hidden ingredients and cross- contamination when purchasing prepared foods and eating in restaurants (Stone, 2010).

Americans have the ability to follow a multitude of dietary patterns. While there is no one correct pattern, some diets offer followers a more nutrient dense eating plan than others. Intake guidelines such as found in MyPlate and the Healing Foods Pyramid have attempted to help consumers take the guesswork out of making healthy choices by suggesting how much of what is to be consumed; however, ultimately we need to take control of our health to ensure we are getting what we need from our food.


Greger, M. (2012, May 22). SAD states: Standard American diet state-by-state comparison. Retrieved from http://nutritionfacts.org/video/sad-states-standard-american-diet-state-by-state-comparison/

Hirshberg, B. (2015). Traditional nutrition: From Weston A. Price to the Blues Zones: Healthy diets from around the globe. Fort Worth, TX: Eudaimonia Press.

Myklebust, M. & Wunder, J. (2011). Healing foods pyramid 2010. Retrieved from http://www.med.umich.edu/umim/food-pyramid/index.html

Philpott, T. (2014, January). The standard American diet in 3 simple charts. Mother Jones. Retrieved from http://www.motherjones.com/tom-philpott/2014/01/standrard-american-diet-sad-charts/

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Smolin, L.A. & Grosvenor, M.B. (2013). Nutrition: Science and Applications (3rd ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

Stone, D. (2010, April 9). The gluten-free diet 101: A beginner’s guide to going gluten free. Retrieved from http://www.celiac.com/articles/22060/1/The-Gluten-Free-Diet-101—A-Beginners-Guide-to-Going-Gluten-Free/Page1.html

The George Mateljan Foundation (2016a). A practical look at plant-based diets. Retrieved from http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=george&dbid=362

The George Mateljan Foundation (2016b). Healthy eating with the seasons. Retrieved from http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=faq&dbid=28

The Vegetarian Resource Group (2016). Veganism in a nutshell. Retrieved from http://www.vrg.org/nutshell/vegan.htm

Wolf, R. (2016). What is the Paleo diet? Retrieved from http://robbwolf.com/what-is-the-paleo-diet/

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