It’s the new year, and advertisements and buzz for diet plans abound. But too often the focus is on quick results and not a longer-term approach to healthier living. From miracle diets to fat burning pills, we’re bombarded with lots of ways to lose weight.
As a registered dietitian, and to help you sort through the clutter and hype, I’ll break down five popular diet plans that I frequently see in my work at Intermountain Alta View Hospital. I’ll share pros and cons of each plan to help you get on track with a healthy plan that works for you.
The Mediterranean Diet
This heart-healthy diet is based on (and aptly named for) the eating habits of those living in the Mediterranean region. The diet emphasizes healthy fats (olive oil), seafood (omega-3 fatty acids), fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and legumes. Although red meat is not recommended on this plan, some dairy products (yogurt and cheese) are allowed.
- Easy to stick to: This diet offers varied flavors and food options, and it covers all major food groups.
- Heart healthy: Low in saturated and trans fats, and high in healthy unsaturated fats
- Decreases risk of heart attack, stroke, certain cancers, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease
- Improves glucose control
- Dairy products are limited, and you may need to increase your calcium intake.
- Wine is permissible, but avoid drinking more than 1–2 glasses per day since too much alcohol is linked to breast, esophageal, oral, laryngeal and liver cancers.
- Lots of fat: It may be healthy fat, but it still is high in calories.
- The ability to cook meals on your own is preferred.
- Mediterranean Diet recipes contain lots of garlic, which could be good or bad depending on how much you like garlic.
The Atkins Diet
This high protein diet prohibits carbohydrates (the body’s usual fuel source) to burn fat and accelerate weight loss. The four phased diet plan starts by limiting carbs to 20 grams per day – to jump start weight loss – and gradually increases until weight loss slows or stops. Then healthy carbs are permissible (fruits, legumes, oats, rice, potatoes) as participants near the maintenance phase.
- The diet is pretty black and white when it comes to what you can and cannot eat, (no carbohydrates and all the protein you want) so in that sense, some find it easy to stick to this diet.
- No calorie or portion counting
- Glycemic control: Limiting carbohydrates helps regulate insulin and eases metabolic syndrome, pre-diabetes, and diabetes.
- Unbalanced diet: Completely eliminating food groups eliminates necessary nutrients, vitamins, minerals, fiber, phytochemicals, anti-oxidants, and it’s hard to get these nutrients from a pill or supplement.
- Lack of calcium: New research indicates that people who get sufficient calcium through food (1,200 mg a day) lose weight and maintain the weight loss. Supplements are not as effective.
- Dehydration: Carbs hold onto water, so when you don’t eat carbs, you lose water weight. This can cause gout, increase calcium loss through urine, and overwork your kidneys and liver.
- Bowel obstructions and even kidney failure have been reported with this plan.
The Paleolithic (Paleo) Diet
So easy a caveman can follow it? Kinda. This diet operates on the premise of eating only foods consumed when man first roamed the earth. So basically if a caveman didn’t eat it, you shouldn’t either.
Eliminating foods with little nutritional value — high-sodium, high-sugar processed foods, along with emphasizing lean proteins, fruits, and vegetables are the foundation of this plan. And although not created for weight loss, restricting certain food groups (dairy, legumes, refined sugar) can result in weight loss.
- Relatively healthy: Focuses on lean meats, and fruits and vegetables that are high in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and anti-oxidants.
- Simple: Eat the foods that are acceptable and avoid those that are not. There’s no pre-packaged meal plan or diet cycles to stick to.
- Emphasis on exercise: This plan emphasizes exercise which is an important part of a healthy lifestyle and can accelerate weight loss.
- It can get boring as most foods are eaten plain [without salt or spices]
- It can be expensive: Only organic foods and/or grass-fed beef are recommended on this plan, which can cost more.
- Eliminates healthy food groups: Dairy, legumes, cereal, grains, starchy vegetables are unnecessarily restricted on this plan.
- Low in certain nutrients, including calcium
- Lack of scientific proof: There’s no scientific proof that Paleo or hunter-gatherer diets ward off disease. Any evidence of its benefit is anecdotal.
The Ketogenic Diet
Originally created to treat epilepsy in children, this high-fat, adequate-protein, low-carbohydrate diet excludes fruit, starchy vegetables, bread, pasta, grains, and sugar. However, it does allow for nuts, cream, butter, and coconut oil.
- Nearly half of children with epilepsy who tried some form of a ketogenic diet saw the number of seizures drop by about half, and the effect persists even after discontinuing the diet.
- Very filling: Naturally if you’re eating more fat and protein, you’ll eat less.
- Controlled blood sugar levels may improve insulin sensitivity
- Constipation: About 30 percent of patients I see that are on this plan report constipation due to fluid restriction.
- Kidney stones: This is also a risk factor
- High fat: Could potentially have a negative affect on cholesterol levels and heart health
- Excludes food groups necessary for growth and overall health (fruits, veggies, whole grains). Deficient in vitamins, minerals, fiber, and potentially protein.
- On this diet, some patients may complain of the ‘keto flu’ and have symptoms such as poor energy and mental function, increased hunger, sleep issues, nausea, digestive discomfort and decreased exercise performance.
The DASH Diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension)
Originally developed to lower blood pressure, this plan emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds, legumes, and healthy fats. It’s low in red meat and processed and high sodium foods. It also emphasizes antioxidants that may help protect against certain cancers, reduce the risk of stroke and heart attack, and improve blood glucose levels.
- Well balanced and nutritionally adequate
- Low in saturated fat and cholesterol
- Moderate amount of protein (lean meat, poultry, fish, nuts, beans)
- High in fiber
I haven’t found too many cons for this plan except that with the expectation that you will eat lots of fruits, veggies, and unprocessed foods, it could get expensive or the food could go bad if not consumed quickly enough.
At the end of the day, you can see that most of the named diet plans have some good and some not so good qualities to them. The key is to choose the plan that works best for you. Work with your physician or dietitian to choose a plan based on your health history.
Remember, diet means ‘way of life,’ so try not to overhaul your diet in one day. Just look at your overall health and ask yourself these questions: Can I maintain this lifestyle? Do I enjoy eating this way? Chances are, if you can answer yes to both of these questions, you’re set up for success.
Cheers to 2018 being the year where you live your healthiest life possible.