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Healthy eating, no labels required

Paleo. Vegan. Vegetarian. Mediterranean. Gluten-free. Flexitarian.

Don't want to go 'all in'? Who says you have to label yourself?

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"When you look at all these diets together, you see that they all have commonalities that make them good," says Los Angeles-based Andrea N. Giancoli, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Here's how to take the best lessons of each diet and eat healthier today.

Paleo

"I think what's in common with all of these diets, and the best things to take out of them, are the plant foods," Giancoli says.

From the paleo diet, Giancoli says people can learn to eat more nuts and fish. She says, "Everyone should be eating fish a couple of times a week, regardless of the diet they choose. Fish contains omega-3 fatty acids, which are important for eye health, heart health and is one of the lean proteins, which the body needs."

Vegan

Vegans get much of their nutrition from beans and lentils, Giancoli says, and "combining them with greens, brown rice, barley and quinoa is very good for you."

She adds, "Some of the whole grains in the vegan diet are foods that are healthy for us anyway, even if you don't want to go vegan."

Giancoli also speaks highly of soy foods like tofu, which is a good source of protein. "Soy products are also a good way to go because they have all the aminos your body needs," she says.

Vegetarian

"Whenever there are a lot of plant foods in the diet, that's a good thing. Its not that we have to go vegetarian or vegan by any means," Giancoli says.

Vegetarians can supplement their plant-based diet with dairy and eggs. "That makes for a lot more flexibility," says Bonnie Taub-Dix, a registered dietitian and author of "Read It Before You Eat It" (Plume 2010). "I'm a fan of veggie burgers that are more natural, where you can see the vegetables that are in there. They have many that are made with beans and those are very tasty, and you can melt a slice of cheese over there and it would give you calcium, fiber and protein."

Mediterranean

"The Mediterraneans didn't sit around and say, 'Let's make a diet.' This is more of a lifestyle," Taub-Dix says. "The basis of the diet is fish, whole grains, nuts, lots of fruits and vegetables, healthy fats like avocado and olive oil and wine. Don't forget the wine."

 Gluten-Free

Keep in mind that the gluten-free diet is "meant for people with allergies to gluten or who have celiac disease who have to avoid gluten," Giancoli says.

"The good part of the gluten-free diet is eating more beans and concentrating more on grains that are gluten-free, like quinoa, brown rice and buckwheat," she says. "Going gluten free is tough unless you have a diagnosed allergy. Otherwise, it's not something I would recommend."

Flexitarian

"What I love about this diet is that it allows a lot of different things so that you don't have to call yourself a vegetarian or a carnivore," Taub-Dix says.

"The heart of the diet is based on more of the vegetarian diet, like beans and grains," she explains. "But if you want to have the occasional hamburger, go ahead and eat meat. The world is open to you."

Taub-Dix adds, "It is a diet that could help you lose weight. It's good for your heart."

The key is lean protein sources like beans, tofu, eggs, nuts, seeds and lentils, says Amy Jamieson-Petonic, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics spokesperson in the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute. "These are packed with B vitamins, dietary fiber and a slow, steady source of carbs for maintaining health blood sugars," she says. •

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