The Best Diet for Optimal Health

Forget the fads. This plan is all you need to reach your ideal weight--and maintain it.
by Lindsay Wilson

There is much wisdom in the old saying “You are what you eat,” and doctors and dietitians alike will tell you that good health starts with a good diet. To help make eating well as simple as possible, we teamed up with four nutrition specialists to create an easy-to-follow diet plan that’s good for everyone. Even better: Turn the page, and you’ll see how to customize the plan to make it work for your needs.

The Experts

Victoria Maizes, MD, executive director, Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine

Beth Reardon, MS, RD, an integrative nutritionist at Duke University

Grace Avila, a San Francisco–based chef and nutrition consultant

Taryn Forrelli, ND, a naturopathic physician

Choose 7 Veggies a Day

Leafy greens: spinach, collard greens, kale, romaine, and arugula

Cruciferous veggies: broccoli, cauliflower, kale, and cabbage

Root veggies: carrots, beets, sweet potatoes, and radishes

Others: tomatoes, squash, peppers, onions, asparagus, and mushrooms

Make it easy:

• Toss a handful each of spinach, tomatoes, and mushrooms into an egg-white omelet for 3 servings of veggies.

• Pile slices of roasted beets on toasted, sprouted bread with romaine lettuce and goat cheese for 2 servings.

• Add 11/2 cups each diced and sautéed carrots, peppers, and onions to brown rice when fluffing it for 3 servings.

Grace’s quick tip:

“When your energy starts to wane in the afternoon, have a green drink instead of a cup of coffee or tea. That will help alkalize your body, giving you not only a shot of energy but also about 4 servings of veggies per 8-ounce serving.”

Choose 3 Fruits a Day

Blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, cherries, kiwi, melon, papaya, apples, lemons, limes, oranges, pomegranates, and avocados

Make it easy:

• Top a spinach salad with 1/2 cup each sliced strawberries and cubed apples for 2 servings.

• Garnish marinated fish or chicken with chunks of mango and avocado (1/2 cup each) for 2 servings.

• Peel, core, and heat 5 Granny Smith apples, 1 bag frozen mixed berries, and 1 tablespoon cinnamon until tender. Serve as a side with dinner or for dessert for 2 servings per helping.

Beth’s quick tip:

“I like to serve a side of fruit along with veggies at dinner. It is an easy way to sneak in another serving, and a good reminder for my family that fruit is a great option all day.”

Choose 3 to 6 Servings of Whole Grains a Day

Brown rice, quinoa, millet, amaranth, sprouted bread, oatmeal, and barley

Make it easy:

• Mix a cup of your favorite fruit into a 1/2 cup of hot oatmeal, and drizzle with agave nectar for 1 serving.

• Toss 1/2 cup cooked quinoa with a little olive oil, basil, sliced nectarines, and goat cheese for 1 serving.

• Add 1/2 cup amaranth to a pot of vegetable soup during the last 15 minutes of cooking time for 1 serving.

• Spread hummus on a piece of sprouted bread, top with sliced red peppers and low-fat cheddar cheese, and toast for 1 serving.

Beth’s Quick Tip:

“I make some kind of brown rice or quinoa salad every weekend, mixing the grains with olive oil, veggies, and spices. It makes a great dinner—and tastes even better later in the week served cold because the flavors have had a chance to develop.”

Choose 1 or 2 Servings of Healthy Fats a Day

Nuts and nut butters: peanuts, almonds, walnuts, cashews, and Brazil nuts

Healthy oils: extra-virgin olive oil, extra-virgin coconut oil, organic canola oil, hempseed oil, and flaxseed oil

Omega-3s: salmon, sardines, herring, tuna, fresh ground flaxseeds, and avocados

Make it easy:

• Spread 1/4 of a ripe avocado on sprouted bread, and top with 1 ounce ground almonds for 2 servings.

• Dip apple or pear slices in almond butter for 1 serving.

• Make your own salad dressing using 6 parts extra-virgin olive oil, 2 parts champagne vinegar, 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard, 1 tablespoon honey, and salt and pepper to taste for 1 serving.

• Toss a handful of cashews or peanuts into your next curry or stir-fry for one serving.

Taryn’s Quick Tip:

“Add 2 tablespoons of freshly ground flaxseed to your cereal—hot or cold. It’s such a quick, easy way to sneak in some healthy fats.”

Grace’s Quick Tip:

“Substitute flaxseed or hemp oil for olive oil in your salad dressing; drizzle on lettuce or raw vegetables.”

Choose 2 Servings of Lean Protein a Day

Beans: black, kidney, lentils, and garbanzos

Meat /fish: organic, free-range chicken or beef, buffalo, wild fish, and wild game

Eggs/dairy: cottage cheese and organic, free-range eggs

Make it easy:

• Mix 1 cup fruit into 3/4 cup cottage cheese, and drizzle with honey for 1 serving.

• Add 1/2 cup kidney or garbanzo beans to a garden salad for 1 serving.

• Poach 1 organic, free-range chicken breast; let cool; chop; mix with light mayo, salt, pepper, and 1/2 cup red grapes for 1 to 2 servings.

Victoria ’s Quick Tip:

“Choose organic and grass-finished meats, which contain healthier fats than conventionally raised meat.”

Eat as Many Herbs and Spices a Day as You Like:

Garlic, ginger, parsley, rosemary, cilantro, basil, cumin, oregano, cinnamon, and turmeric

Make it easy:

• Sprinkle cinnamon on top of oatmeal or cottage cheese.

• Add a teaspoon of grated ginger or minced garlic to your favorite meat or fish marinade.

• Add a dash of turmeric or cumin to canned soup before heating.

Taryn’s Quick Tip:

“Keep a rosemary and a basil plant growing inside or out so you always have access to fresh herbs.”

Make This Diet Work for You

Simple tweaks and supplements to help you stave off or treat one of these 7 common conditions.

If you’ve got digestive issues, add...

Almonds. An Institute of Food Research study shows that eating almonds increases the levels of good bacteria—called pre-biotics—in the gut. These friendly bacteria not only keep you regular, but they also defend against harmful bacteria and strengthen your body’s immune system. How can almonds help? By providing the healthy fats probiotics need to grow.

Raw foods. Uncooked veggies, sprouts, and seeds can all lead to better digestion, according to re search. Heating foods above 115 degrees, say raw food experts, destroys the enzymes in food that assist in the digestion and absorption of nutrients.

Licorice root. Your stomach naturally secretes a mucosal lining, which acts as armor to protect digestive acids from eating away at your stomach wall. Licorice root stimulates the creation of this lining. Take 750 mg three times a day. Look for “DGL” licorice, which has had its blood pressure–raising glycyrrhizine removed.

If you’re going through menopause, add...

Soy nuts. Research from the Beth Deaconess Medical Center in Boston shows that women who swap non-soy protein, such as meats, for half a cup of soy nuts, experience a 45 percent decrease in hot flashes. Soy nuts (soybeans that have been soaked in water and baked until crisp) are chock-full of isoflavones, an estrogen-like substance found in plants, which makes them a natural hormone replacement. Bonus: Adding soy nuts to your diet may ease other menopausal symptoms, such as loss of libido and night sweats.

Beans. Almost all edible beans—not just soybeans—contain two important compounds: genistein and daidzein. These plant estrogens help control hot flashes and other discomforts of menopause.

Black cohosh. This herb targets the serotonin receptors in the hypothalamus (the part of your brain that controls body temperature) to regulate hot flashes. Take 40 mg two times a day for both hot flashes and night sweats.

St. Johns wort. This herb eases mood swings that accompany menopause by regulating your brain’s serotonin levels, a neurotransmitter responsible for mood. Take 300 mg three times a day.

Bioflavonoids. These strengthen capillaries, the small blood vessels that deliver oxygen to your organs, which makes them less likely to dilate and quickly fill with blood (what causes hot flashes). Take 1,000 mg daily along with 2,000 mg of vitamin C, which helps with the absorption of the bioflavonoids.

Siberian rhubarb extract. Studies published in the medical journal Menopause over the past two years suggest taking 4 mg daily of Siberian rhubarb extract provides significant benefit for hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms. Sadly, you can only get the extract in Europe right now, but it should be available in the US soon. Pycnogenol, a pine-bark extract, may help calm hot flashes and anxiety and boost sex drive, according to a Scandinavian study. Try 200 mg a day.

If you have bone and joint issues, add...

Vitamin D. Maintaining strong bones is especially important for women, particularly as they age—and vitamin D is the key to keeping bones in top shape. A new study in Mayo Clinic Women’s HealthSource reports that 800 to 1,000 IU of vitamin D a day will boost bone strength in most adults. Bonus: The vitamin has been shown to prevent several forms of cancer, fight autoimmune diseases, and lower the risk of heart disease.

A little alcohol. Need a good excuse for that daily glass of wine? How about this: It can reduce your chances of suffering from rheumatoid arthritis by 50 percent. Scandinavian researchers report that people who drink a moderate amount of alcohol daily are the least likely to develop arthritis, though the scientists don’t know how or why alcohol prevents the condition. One thing they know for sure? Smoking is known to be a major risk factor for developing arthritis.

Vitamin K. This important vitamin keeps calcium from getting stuck in your arteries, where it’s inaccessible to your bones. Take 90 to 180 mcg daily.

Potassium. This mineral helps balance the body’s pH; over time, an acidic pH can cause bone loss. Take 99 mg a day.

Magnesium. Studies show that magnesium improves bone mineral density and helps your body utilize calcium. Take 300 to 400 mg daily.

Boswellia. The herb works as an anti-inflammatory to reduce joint pain. Take 250 mg once or twice daily.

If you have high blood pressure, add...

Skim milk. When Harvard researchers analyzed the diets of nearly 30,000 women middle-aged and older, they found those who drank two or more servings of fat-free milk each day reduced their risk for high blood pressure by up to 10 percent. The calcium in skim milk seems to be the key ingredient for lowering blood pressure, though researchers aren’t sure why.

Cranberries. Researchers at Tufts University in Boston found that the phenols in cranberries reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by lowering blood pressure and LDL cholesterol (the “bad” kind). Red yeast rice extract. This supplement boosts levels of HDL cholesterol (the “good” kind) and lowers LDL levels, prompting docs to refer to it as “nature’s statin.” Take 600 mg two times a day.

Plant sterols. When plant sterols travel through your digestive tract, they block cholesterol, preventing it from being absorbed into your bloodstream. Take 400 mg twice a day.

If you’re overweight, add...

Dairy. Research shows that obese adults who eat a high-dairy diet lose significantly more weight and fat than those who eat a low-dairy diet containing the same number of calories. Why? Calcium has been shown to boost weight loss by increasing fat breakdown in fat cells.

Mushrooms. Scientists at John Hopkins Weight Management Center say overweight patients who swap the meat in their favorite recipes for mushrooms feel just as full and satisfied as carnivores and can save more than 18,000 calories and nearly 3,000 grams of fat each year.

Trans resveratrol. This supplement helps your body make more mitochondria, the “energy powerhouses” of your cells. In turn, the mitochondria produce ATP, which drives our body’s metabolism and is critical for maintaining a healthy weight. Take 125 mg daily.

D-ribose. This naturally occurring sugar helps your body better metabolize food. Take 5 grams with a meal, twice a day.

Co-Q10. This supplement shuttles nutrients to the cell’s mitochondria. Take 50 to 200 mg daily.

If you suffer from diabetes, add...

Broccoli. Long touted as a supergreen, broccoli is now proving to be extra-spectacular. Scientists at the University of Warwick in England discovered that the compound sulforaphane, found in broccoli, helps the body produce enzymes that protect blood vessels, which lessens the risk of cardiovascular disease for diabetics. This is especially important, as diabetics are five times more likely to develop heart disease than those without the condition.

Chamomile tea. New research published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry shows this popular herbal sip may help prevent complications—such as nerve and kidney damage, as well as vision loss—resulting from diabetes. Chamomile tea appears to inhibit enzymes and sorbitol in diabetics, elevated levels of which are associated with these complications.

Chromium and biotin. By delivering glucose (sugar) from the bloodstream to tissues and muscle, this combo lowers diabetics’ blood sugar levels. Take 600 to 1,000 mcg a day.

Alpha-lipoic acid. This helps reduce the tingling, burning, or numbness that diabetics experience when blood sugar gets too high. Take 600 to 1,200 mg per day.

Omega-3s. Essential fatty acids reduce blood fat levels (triglycerides), a buildup of which raises blood sugar levels. Take 4,000 to 5,000 mg a day.

If you’re at risk for or suffer from dementia, add...

Omega-3s. Research from the French National Institute for Health and Medical Research suggests that people who regularly consume omega-3 oils, such as walnut oil, canola oil, and flaxseed oil, lower their risk for developing dementia by 60 percent. It appears that these oils act as anti-inflammatories and improve blood flow to the body and brain.

Turmeric. This popular Indian spice contains curcumin, which gives turmeric its yellow pigment. Research shows it may reduce the buildup of beta-amyloid proteins in the brain, a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease.

DHA. Research demonstrates that people with the highest levels of these omega-3s have a 78 percent lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Take 600 to 800 ml daily.

Vitamin B12. Too little of this vitamin raises homocysteine levels in your brain, which dramatically increases your risk for Alzhiemer’s. Take 500 mcg daily.

The Experts :

Jacob Teitelbaum, MD (digestive)

Holly Lucille, ND (menopause)

Susan Brown, PhD (bone and joint)

Carrie Louise Daenell, ND (obesity)

Ryan Bradley, ND (diabetes)

David Perlmutter, MD (demenita)