What does a healthy diet look like?

What's the healthiest way to eat? It depends on whom you ask. Many medical and nutrition experts claim to know the "perfect" way to eat for health, yet some of these dietary advocates disagree with each other in some fundamental ways. So, who's right . . . and who's wrong?

The truth is that there is no single way to eat for good health. As a species, humans are quite similar on a genetic level, yet as individual specimens we can be amazingly diverse. That's why some people may feel great on a vegan diet while others prefer a paleo diet— two dietary patterns that would appear to be polar opposites. The paleo diet includes meat but excludes grains and legumes, while the vegan diet includes grains and legumes but excludes meat and other ani-mal products.

How can both diets work? When planned well, each diet includes lots of vegetables and minimizes highly processed foods. Those are the common denominators of a healthy diet. From there, you can fill in the blanks to suit your tastes and your unique physiological needs by adding your choice of high-quality fats (nuts, seeds, avocados, olive oil, fatty fish), carbohydrates (whole grains, fruit, starchy root veg-etables), and plant- or animal-based protein (legumes, soy, fish, lean sustainably raised meat, poultry, eggs, dairy). It takes a varied diet to get the vitamins, min-erals, fiber, and phytochemicals required for optimal health, but there are many combinations of foods that can get you to that goal.

While everyone needs carbohydrates, fat, and pro-tein, there is no "magic" ratio that you should be striv-ing for, as long as you avoid extremes. In fact, a number of recent studies have found that the quality of the food you eat—particularly emphasizing whole foods over processed food—is more important than whether it's low-fat, low-carb, or somewhere in between.

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