The 5 Diet Pillars

Posted On Jan 13, 2015 By Erin Kuh, MBA, RD

The 5 Diet Pillars

With popular diets contradicting each other (think Paleo vs. Vegan), it's difficult to know what advice or guidelines to follow. Should you add more meat or cut back on it? Should you cut out sugar, dairy, and wheat completely or is a little ok? And where does fruit fit in? The amount of confusing diet guidelines is so enormous these days that even health and medical professionals are having a hard time coming to a consensus on valid advice to give.

Here are five guidelines that most experts-from dietitians to doctors to fitness professionals-agree upon. Remember, if it sounds extreme, unsustainable or promises results that sound too good to be true, there's no reason to try it.

  1. More vegetables and fruit with a heavy emphasis on more non-starchy vegetables.

    The benefits of produce, especially fresh and frozen, are undeniable. Packed full of disease and inflammation-fighting antioxidants and filling fiber, most Americans are lacking in this area. Aim for making half of your plate or bowl at lunch and dinner vegetables, except potatoes and corn. You can still include these in your diet, but keep your portion to 1/2-1 cup per day. For fruit, 2-3 small pieces or 3/4 cup sliced fruit is plenty adequate.

  2. Don't cut out entire food groups!

    If weight loss is your focus, this is an easy way to cut calories, but you don't need to avoid all bread, pasta and anything carbohydrate to drop pounds or be healthy.

  3. Reduce added sugars.

    Keeping added sugars at 40g (about 4 teaspoons) per day is considered optimal for everything from reducing weight to keeping energy levels consistent to reducing inflammation. Start by cutting back on sweetened beverages including bottled teas, fruit juice, and flavored coffee drinks. Having dessert a few times per month or a bite-size sweet treat can be part of an overall healthy diet, but reducing your total sugar intake has numerous benefits.

  4. Include fiber and lean protein at every meal.

    Both fiber and lean protein help sustain you longer, keeping hunger and energy levels consistent. Here are a few food combinations that include both nutrients:

    • Egg + Whole Grain Toast
    • Plain Oats + chopped nuts
    • Apple + peanut butter
    • Chicken + Veggies
    • Brown rice + beans
  5. Have a little healthy fat.

    Experts finally agree that eating fat doesn't make you fat and more and more research is showing that fat intake doesn't directly correlate to heart disease and high cholesterol. It's much more complex. Fat is essential for our bodies to function properly. It's important for brain health, allows certain vitamins to be absorbed and reduces certain types of inflammation. A little fat goes a long way in adding flavor to foods too. Focus on getting small amounts at each meal from plant sources. Here are some examples and healthy serving sizes:

    • 1/4 medium avocado
    • 1-2 tbsp nut butter
    • 1/4 nuts or 1/3 cup seeds
    • 1 tbsp olive, flax, or grapeseed oil