If you’re looking for the universal perfect diet, you’ll be hard-pressed to find it. The past few decades have seen the rise and fall of dozens of dieting fads, and yet, in the US, we are as unhealthy as ever.
We’re surrounded by an abundance of diet books, expert advice, and food marketing messages, yet we’re still lost. In 2018, 80% of consumers noted they found conflicting information about food and nutrition, and 59% of them said the contradictory information made them doubt their nutrition choices.
Why Does No Universal “Perfect” Diet Exist?
One reason is because each person’s body and metabolism is completely unique and responds to food differently. The moment a bite of food hits your mouth, complex and individualized processes are set in motion that impact the way your body will respond.
The good news is that while there is no one perfect diet for everyone, there may be a perfect diet for you. This article will highlight a fairly new tool called a continuous glucose monitor that is able to track metabolic responses to food in real-time with a tiny sensor worn on the upper arm, letting people have a “look under the hood” of exactly how they are responding to food, and where there might be room for improvement. These monitors, coupled with software that generates actionable insights from this data, may help to usher in the future of personalized diets.
A continuous glucose monitor can be worn on the upper arm and transmits real-time data to smartphones, allowing for instant feedback on how food is affecting the body.
What Factors Might Make Two Individuals Respond Differently To Food?
There are many, but they include genetics, microbiome composition, recent sleep quality, stress level, fitness, hormones, insulin sensitivity, and even the time of day the food is eaten. It’s complex, but simply put: all these factors go into how foods translate to glucose levels in the bloodstream, and glucose levels are key to all aspects of our health.
For most people, when considering a perfect diet, the buck stops at “calories in, calories out.” Just “burn” more than you consume, right? Others take a more diehard approach to dieting and ascribe to the guidelines of a particular diet, with trendy names like “Carnivore,” “Caveman,” and “Ketogenic.”
But the reality is, many people are not successful at warding off lifestyle-related chronic disease, nor losing weight and keeping it off, and it may be in part because many diets may not be working in synchrony with an individual’s unique and personal metabolism. In fact, some dietary strategies push people to work against their metabolism.
Sure, you may be able to find healthy guidelines and valuable nutritional information online, but without personal data tracked over time, you’re still feeling around in the dark at best. The key is personalization with objective data: tailoring a diet to increase positive metabolic responses and decrease negative responses.
The Basics Of An Optimal Diet: Metabolism And Glucose
The metabolism makes for an easy scapegoat, and people are quick to blame it for any unwanted fluctuations in energy, weight, and health. For better or for worse, you are your metabolism. It’s basically your internal engine that converts food into vital energy, and you may as well build an intimate and pragmatic understanding of how it works best as a foundation for moving towards optimal health.
The carbohydrates you eat are broken down into a simple sugar called glucose. As glucose enters your bloodstream, your pancreas responds by releasing insulin, which helps the glucose enter your cells to be used as fuel.
Post-meal glucose levels, as well as their long-term and short-term variations, are tightly linked to your general health, wellbeing, and performance. If they’re not within a fairly tight range, you can experience a wide variety of unpleasant symptoms. Too low, and you might feel shaky, dizzy, nauseated, hungry, or anxious. Too high, and it can contribute to fatigue, weight gain, mood issues, and trouble remembering things.
What’s more, consistently elevated levels of glucose over time are associated with increased risk for more serious dysfunction, like type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, stroke, cancer, dementia, acne, erectile dysfunction, polycystic ovarian syndrome, infertility, depression, obesity, and more, which makes it critical to understand how your body responds to the food you eat.
An optimal diet, particularly within the scope of glucose levels, should focus on foods that minimize post-meal glucose spikes. By minimizing the variability in glucose levels, individuals are able to not only stay clearer, but also reduce their risk of developing a myriad of unpleasant and life-threatening conditions.
The tricky part about figuring out how to eat to optimize glucose is that traditional tools, like the glycemic index (GI) scale, are meant to guide entire populations, and lack the granularity necessary to be relevant to an individual.
In addition, these scales can be impractical. Glycemic index is a marker of the expected rise in glucose levels after intake of 50 grams of carbohydrates of a specific type of food, but people rarely eat exactly 50 grams of any particular food in isolation. This scale also fails to take into account significant personal differentiators such as genetics, weight, sleep quality, stress levels, gut microbiome, insulin sensitivity, and the combination of foods eaten together.
More recently, it’s been noted that individuals actually have completely unique glucose responses to the same foods, a fact that throws a wrench into the idea of using standardized scales to predict responses to food. For example, if Matt and Jeff both eat the exact same cookie, Matt might have a huge glucose spike, and Jeff’s glucose stays relatively stable. So, if Matt and Jeff were to eat a bunch of these cookies over time, Matt would theoretically be more at risk for development of symptoms and diseases related to poor glucose control.
Different levels of glucose elevation in different individuals in response to the same foods.
Continuous glucose monitoring is able to provide a much more personalized approach to food choices, and therefore a gateway to optimized mental and physical performance. Levels, a company on a quest to spread metabolic awareness to improve health, has created software to interpret this glucose data, helping people unlock, aggregate, and analyze precious metabolic data in real-time so that they can make dietary decisions that best serve their unique body.
The “perfect diet” is likely not going to be found in a book, because the truth is, all of us are different and have different dietary needs. Given our unique metabolic blueprint, the first step in discovering the perfect diet for ourselves is to use personal insights to gain a more clear awareness of how our bodies work and respond to food.