At one point or another, we all come to the realization that we need to eat healthier — be it for weight loss, energy, fertility, digestion, or any other number of reasons.
But despite the motivation to eat healthier, it can be tough to define exactly what eating healthy is. Healthy looks a little bit different for everyone, thanks to genetics, activity levels, medical history, and more.
That’s where diets come in. Although, we wouldn’t consider the eating patterns on this list to be “diets” in the typical sense of the word. Instead, view them as frameworks for healthy eating that fit your lifestyle, rather than crash diets designed for rapid weight loss.
With that said, here are some of the best diets for health and wellness, along with tips to help you choose the diet that works best for you.
Carb Manager’s Top 11 Diet Picks (in no particular order)
The most important step to enter ketosis is to limit your carb intake — so you’ll need to avoid bread, pasta, sugar, sugary drinks, sweets, most fruits, potatoes, rice, and most other grains and beans. However, Keto diets are full of low carb vegetables, animal proteins, and healthy fats like avocados and olive oil.
If you are seeking to lose weight or improve your blood sugar control, Keto may be a good choice.
The Paleolithic diet — Paleo, for short — is an eating style based on what our Paleolithic ancestors may have eaten. It places a big focus on food quality, and you should choose sustainably-sourced meats and organic vegetables when possible.
Paleo diets are rich in animal protein, healthy fats, and seasonal produce. However, they’re also free of grains, dairy products, processed foods, added sugars, and legumes.
Paleo may help ease certain digestive problems thanks to its focus on food quality and avoidance of common trigger foods, but the diet can be expensive to follow.
If you’re already fairly healthy but looking for a diet to help optimize your health, paleo might be worth a try.
3. Low FODMAP
“FODMAP” is an abbreviation for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols. These are certain types of carbohydrates found in foods that are commonly associated with digestive problems. A low FODMAP diet is often a necessity for people who are sensitive to these foods.
Foods high in FODMAPs include apples, pears, cherries, onions, garlic, some mushrooms, wheat, many legumes, milk, yogurt, cashews, sugar alcohols, honey — and many others too. These foods should be avoided on a low FODMAP diet.[*]
A low FODMAP diet can bring digestive relief and help you identify trigger foods, but it can be tricky to identify which foods are low or high in FODMAPs without the help of an expert.[*]
If you’re experiencing persistent digestive issues and you don’t know the cause, trying a low FODMAP diet may be a good idea.
Monash University is the leading authority on low FODMAP diets and you will find a comprehensive set of resources here.
The Whole30 program is a popular 30-day elimination-style diet. While on Whole30, you should strictly avoid sugar, grains, legumes, dairy, alcohol, artificial sweeteners, processed foods, processed ingredients, and healthy versions of junk foods (for example, gluten free chocolate chip cookies or paleo pizza).
This diet may help you reset your taste buds, break bad eating habits, or identify foods that trigger digestive issues for you. However, it is extremely restrictive — and that’s why it’s designed to be temporary.
Trying Whole30 may be a great fit for anyone who wants to break their dependence on processed or sugary foods, or for people who want to try an elimination diet for digestive issues.
On a vegan diet, animal foods are strictly avoided — this includes honey, which isn’t made from animals but is made by animals.
Typically, vegan diets are full of fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, and grains. Studies show that vegans tend to be healthier than most other people, but this may not necessarily be due to avoiding animal foods — it may be due to other healthy lifestyle choices that most vegans make (like not smoking, being physically active, and eating lots of antioxidants from fruits and vegetables).[*][*]
If you have strong convictions about animal welfare or animal rights, a vegan diet may be the most conscientious option for you.
Vegetarians eat a primarily plant-based diet, like vegans, but they may also include animal products such as cheese, milk, yogurt, honey, and eggs. In addition, the pescatarian diet is considered a subsection of the vegetarian diet that also includes fish and shellfish.
Like vegans, vegetarians tend to be healthier than other people, according to some research — but this may be due to lifestyle factors other than avoiding meat.[*]
Some cultures or religions traditionally eat vegetarian diets, but a vegetarian diet may also be a good choice for people who want to eat more plant-rich foods or those who don’t necessarily like meat very much.
7. High Protein
High protein diets are rich in protein, which is crucial for muscle-building. Protein also helps you to stay full and satiated.
High protein diets can include protein from sources such as meat, dairy, beans, nuts, seeds, protein powders or bars, eggs, or plant-based meats. However, most people won’t need to eat more than 35% of their calories from protein.[*]
A high protein diet may be a good fit for people who are trying to build muscle (because it provides the raw materials needed to synthesize new muscle), as well as people trying to lose weight (because it promotes fullness).
A Carnivore diet is typically all-meat and zero carbs, although some carnivores may also include dairy products like cheese and cream. Sometimes, Carnivore is referred to as the ultimate elimination diet.
Most people will turn to Carnivore due to persistent digestive problems, as meat is generally the one type of food that doesn’t cause gastrointestinal irritation - at least in some people.
However, being all meat, it can get old fast unless you really like steak. With zero plant foods, you may also miss out on powerful antioxidants and some of the benefits they provide. In this instance, you may prefer an 'animal-based' approach. This includes all the same foods as a Carnivore diet, with the addition of some of the least toxic plant foods.
Regardless, although little research has been done on Carnivore diets, one 2020 review shows that - with some planning - the diet can provide all of the essential nutrients the body needs. Researchers have also noted that tribal societies with traditionally Carnivore diets appear to be mostly healthy when following this diet as well.[*]
Carnivore may be worth a try if you are trying to resolve persistent digestive issues or other chronic health problems, but we strongly advise working with a health practitioner to ensure you are still meeting all your nutritional needs.
9. Low Histamine
Histamine is a compound that our immune cells release in response to a pathogen or allergen. It causes swelling, inflammation, redness, itchiness, and watery eyes. Some people are sensitive to foods high in histamine and have allergic-type reactions, and a low histamine diet may help to manage this.[*]
High histamine foods that should be avoided on this diet include fermented foods, cured meats, alcohol, nightshades (tomatoes, eggplant), vinegar, and tinned fish.
By avoiding high histamine foods, people with histamine intolerance may be able to alleviate their symptoms. However, a low histamine diet can be very restrictive.
If you suspect that you have histamine intolerance or that you may be having allergic reactions to certain high-histamine foods, work with a trusted healthcare practitioner to see if a low histamine diet may be worth your consideration.
10. Low Carb
People on low carb diets are typically able to incorporate more fruit into their diet, along with small servings of grains or starchy vegetables.
Low carb diets offer many of the same benefits as Keto, but the results may not be as quick or dramatic. For many people, though, the flexibility offered by a low carb eating style may be more sustainable.
The Mediterranean diet is based on the traditional diet eaten in Mediterranean countries like Italy and Greece - where chronic lifestyle diseases like heart disease and type 2 diabetes are less common than in places like the U.S.
The hallmark of this diet is an abundant use of olive oil, but the diet also highlights fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, legumes, whole grains, seafood, and lean meats. As such, it is one of the least restrictive diets on this list. [*]
The Mediterranean diet is also one of the most heavily researched diets around. Large reviews of research studies have noted that the diet may offer protection against cancer, heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. [*][*][*][*]
The Mediterranean diet may be a good fit for you if you don’t want to eliminate grains and legumes, but still want to reap the benefits of consuming a less processed, whole food diet.
How to Pick the Right Diet for You
So how do you pick the right diet? Finding a diet that you can stick with for life, makes you feel great, and helps you meet your health goals might take a little bit of trial and error. But here are three steps to help you figure out which diet may be best for you:
- Determine your values. Your values are your non-negotiables when it comes to the types of foods you eat. If you are religious, you may have certain dietary requirements related to your religious beliefs. If you care deeply for animal welfare, you may choose either a vegan diet or a diet containing only humanely-raised, free-range, or wild-caught meats.
- Consider your health needs. Next, consider your health needs. If you have frequent digestive issues, try a diet that eliminates most of the foods that typically cause digestive issues — like Carnivore, Whole30, or Paleo. If you’re building muscle, choose a diet that provides plenty of protein. Overweight or diabetic? A diet lower in carbs may help you manage your weight and blood sugar levels.
- Make it fit your preferences. Finally, keep your personal likes and dislikes in mind, too. If you’ve never been a big meat eater, don’t decide carnivore is the right diet for you — try paleo or Keto first, both of which can contain as much or as little meat as you’d like.
Thinking through these points can help you figure out the best diet for you personally. But don’t be afraid to tweak any of these and make them your own. Low carb vegan? Keto paleo? High protein vegetarian? Unless it’s vegan-carnivore, it can be done — and Carb Manager can help you every step of the way with our suite of logging, tracking, recipes and meal planning tools. And don’t forget, if health issues are driving your need to switch diets, be sure to enlist the help of a qualified dietician or health professional.