There are so many diet trends floating around. Paleo. Vegan. Low-fat high-carb. Low-carb high-fat. High protein. Ketogenic. Blood type. Gluten free. Low FODMAP. DASH. Mediterranean. Raw. Vegetarian. Flexitarian. Fruitarian. I-only-eat-on-Sundays-arian. Confused? Not surprisingly!
The word is derived from the Greek word daita, meaning ‘a way of life’, and traditionally means ‘the kinds of food that a person, animal, or community habitually eats’. However, it is the more modern depiction of the word that we are all far more familiar with, being ‘a special course of food to which people restrict themselves, either to lose weight or for medical reasons’ – in other words, cut out ‘x’, to achieve ‘y’.
Some diets have been seen to be effective in improving overall health and wellbeing. Others are chosen for ethical reasons. And there are diets warranted for those with certain medical conditions, which should be followed when under direction of your healthcare practitioner.
How about we get a little low-down on what a few of these diets entail, and better, what they all have in common.
An oldie but a goodie, eating Mediterranean has good science to support improved health. Comprising mostly of vegetables, fruit, legumes, seeds, nuts, herbs, spices, whole grains, seafood and extra virgin olive oil, it has been shown to decrease blood pressure and cholesterol levels, aid in weight loss, decreased risk for Alzheimer’s disease and prostate cancer, and among an array of other conditions. (6)
People seem to be able to stick to the diet too! Importantly, the diet avoids refined and processed oils, sugars, meats and grains; includes poultry and dairy in small amounts daily; and limits servings of red meat to 1-2x per week.
The caveman diet is EVERYWHERE. And on trend for a good reason. When people begin to eat this way, they are largely removing processed and refined sugars, grains and fats, sticking to wholefoods sources, which the body loves! Current concerns with the diet are the branches that purport it as a meat centric diet, like eating bacon at every meal.
However, the majority are moving toward a focus on vegetables, with lean meat, fish and eggs on the side, along with inclusion of nuts, seeds, fruit and sometimes legumes (depending on who you talk to). Studies are in early days, but possible health benefits include reduction in weight, improved glycemic control, and reduction of cardiovascular risk factors (often when compared to a diet higher in processed foods, refined oils and low-fat dairy). (5)
Vegan, Vegetarian and Flexitarian
Rising in popularity is going meat-free, or plant-based. This can mean eating no animal products whatsoever (vegan); including dairy and eggs but excluding fish or meat (vegetarian); or occasionally including some animal products (flexitarian). So long as the diet is full of whole foods (and not refined carbs or heavily processed fake meats), all nutritional needs can be met.
Except in the vegan diet.
The only real nutritional concern within a vegan diet is insufficient vitamin B12 intake. A vegan diet generally excludes foods containing this nutrient such as eggs, dairy, and meat. (2) B12 used to be sourced from microbes existing on foods such as mushrooms, but due to decreasing levels of these B12 producers in soils, supplementing or eating fortified foods is recommended.
Aside from that, plant-based (i.e. high vegetable, fruit and wholefood) diets have been shown to prevent, and even reverse, heart disease, type 2 diabetes even some cancers, as well as being a fabulous source of fibre, phytochemicals and our anti-aging friends, anti-oxidants. (1,4,7)
So, for general health and wellbeing, what should we all be considering?
Just eat real food
Have you noticed what these 3 dietary examples all share in common? It is the focus on eating real foods, whole and unprocessed, having vegetables as the main part of each meals, and limiting intake of the refined sugars, oils, meats, and grains – which is what That Sugar is all in support for!
Remember, not all calories are created equal. Diet trends of old were based around the calorie in versus calorie out equation. But is the real nutritional value of 1 cup of avocado the same as a standard packet of M&Ms (both containing on average 240 calories)?
Consider what bang you can get for your caloric buck.
In general, we have to remember we are all different. Not one ‘diet’ size fits all. Put simply – just eat real food. Learn to listen to your body. If you are nearing full, stop. Ask yourself if you are thirsty, or if you are eating because you are stressed. And if you eat something ‘unhealthy’, let go of the guilt – it will do you more harm than good. The more attune you become, the better choices you will make, and the better you can feel!
- Barnard, N, Scialli, A, Turner-McGrievy, G, Lanou, A, & Glass, J 2005, ‘AJM theme issue: Obesity and diabetes: The effects of a low-fat, plant-based dietary intervention on body weight, metabolism, and insulin sensitivity’, The American Journal Of Medicine, 118, pp. 991-997
- Gilsing, AJ, Crowe, FL, Lloyd-Wright, Z, Sanders, TB, Appleby, PN, Allen, NE, & Key, TJ 2010, ‘Serum concentrations of vitamin B12 and folate in British male omnivores, vegetarians and vegans: results from a cross-sectional analysis of the EPIC-Oxford cohort study’, European Journal Of Clinical Nutrition, vol. 64, no. 9, pp. 933-939
- IARC 2015, ‘Carcinogenicity of consumption of red and processed meat’, Lancet Oncology, no. 16, p. 1599
- Kahleova, H, Hrachovinova, T, Hill, M, & Pelikanova, T 2013, ‘Vegetarian diet in type 2 diabetes – improvement in quality of life, mood and eating behaviour’, Diabetic Medicine, vol. 30, no. 1, pp. 127-129 3p
- Manheimer, EW, van Zuuren, EJ, Fedorowicz, Z, & Pijl, H 2015, ‘Paleolithic nutrition for metabolic syndrome: systematic review and meta-analysis’, The American Journal Of Clinical Nutrition, vol. 102, no. 4, pp. 922-932
- Trichopoulou, A, Martínez-González, MA, Tong, TY, Forouhi, NG, Khandelwal, S, Prabhakaran, D, Mozaffarian, D, & de Lorgeril, M 2014, ‘Definitions and potential health benefits of the Mediterranean diet: views from experts around the world’, BMC Medicine, vol. 12, no. 1, pp. 112-112 1p
- Tuso, PJ, Ismail, MH, Ha, BP, & Bartolotto, C 2013, ‘Nutritional update for physicians: plant-based diets’, The Permanente Journal, vol. 17, no. 2, pp. 61-66