Diets come and go – but good, sensible and well-planned diets normally stay around and are not the ‘latest fads’. This doesn’t stop the popularity of ‘lose weight quickly’ diets, but we all know that these don’t really work – as soon as you stop them, those pounds come hurrying back.
Not everyone uses a diet as a quick fix, many people do it for health reasons when it’s advisable, or they simply want to get healthier and feel better. Here we compare four of the most popular this year that have been around for at least ten years. The world in general is far more health-conscious than ever before.
In the beginning if you are contemplating a diet, think about what you are trying to achieve and compare diets that you can feasibly maintain, otherwise you are in danger of giving up very quickly.
For any changes of diet, please do refer to your doctor before altering your food consumption.
Intermittent Fasting Diet
The clue to how this works is fairly obvious. How it works on the body is a little more complicated. The principles of this diet are:
- It’s not what you eat, it’s when you eat.
- Choosing regular time periods to eat and fast. For instance, you might try eating only during an eight-hour period each day and fast for the remainder. Or you might choose to eat only one meal a day for two days a week. Your eating schedules should fit in with your daily life. It’s a programme of eating that does fit around a working life quite comfortably.
So, why does it work? Intermittent fasting works by lengthening the period of time when your body has burned through the calories consumed during your last meal and begins burning fat. However, it could potentially be dangerous if you take it to extremes and fast for over 24 hours.
Alternatively, you could adopt the 5-2 variation, which is eating on a normal schedule for 5 days per week and eating only one meal a day for the other two days. This diet is actually called the 5-2 diet and is based on the same principles of ‘metabolic switching’.
Plus Points: It’s quite a healthy way to eat and you will also lose weight. After a few weeks, you will notice that you do feel better overall.
Research has shown that this diet can be beneficial in many ways:
- Heart health
- Clarity of thought and sharper memory
- Tissue repair
- Better physical performance
- Less tendency towards obesity
- Helps to regulate blood glucose levels (good for diabetes sufferers)
Minus Points: It can take between 2-4 weeks to get used to it. You may also have some mood changes in the initial period, complaining of hunger and potentially being bad-tempered, cranky etc.
What should you eat? Based on healthy dietary needs, a diet similar to the Mediterranean diet of colourful vegetables, chicken, fish, wholegrains etc., will stand you in good stead.
The Keto Diet
The Ketogenic diet hit the scene to the tune of great excitement around 10 years ago but has increased in popularity over the past 5 years.
The principles of this diet are:
- Burning fat for fuel as opposed to carbohydrates.
- When carbohydrate intake is high, your body produces both glucose and insulin. Glucose will normally be converted to energy, so if you reduce your carb consumption, your body will divert to the use of fat and turn that into energy. When carbs are replaced by fat, you are in the state of ‘ketosis’.
- Ratios of consumption should be around 70% fat, 25% protein and 5% carbs – something that the average person would look at with horror. These percentages can vary between different books, advice and even dieticians. Putting it simply, the main criteria is high fat, moderate protein and very little carb intake. The actual amount of carbs should be between 20-50g per day.
- Fast weight loss (if that’s what you are looking for)
- Reduced blood sugar levels
- Less chances of inflammation
There are many claims made about the keto diet, but we only mention those that are backed up with science.
- Keto flu – most people feel pretty dreadful for the first week, similar to flu symptoms. It does pass though.
- Potential nutrient deficiencies resulting from lower calorie intake
- ‘Falling off keto’ – some people really cannot sustain this diet. Consuming more fat is not what we are normally told to do. If you fall off, or cheat, weight will reappear very quickly.
What you should eat: to keep good nutrition on this diet, you should eat an array of seafood, meats such as chicken, beef, a couple of vegetables and a ‘side’ of fat. No sugar. Eggs are a useful part of Keto too. If you are counting carbs, make sure you count ‘net carbs’ i.e., carbs minus fibre for the real amount. Some people don’t, but it’s up to you.
Vegan Keto Diet
This is a little trickier, but achievable. Losing the ability to eat any meat or dairy, does pose a problem for vegans, but it can be resolved by consuming foodstuffs such as plant oils, avocados, vegetables, seeds and nuts. Just think vegan food that is fat-associated (preferably healthy fats!)
The principles of keto remain, it’s a case of adjusting to find enough different foods that are vegan and keto friendly – that’s the tough bit.
The one thing that studies show is that a vegan keto diet participant is likely to lose more weight than those who aren’t vegan, around 2.5kg more in the same time span of approx. 10-12 weeks. Some people will actually go much faster in the weight loss part of this diet, more so than others.
Most aspects are the same as standard keto. Studies reflect the same benefits such as:
- Controlling blood glucose
- Lowering high blood pressure
- Assisting in avoiding diabetes.
- Losing weight.
What should you eat?
Try to stick with unprocessed food, and avoid food that has added sugar, grains, high glucose fruits, alcohol and too much bread (can cause severe bloating on keto). Presumably, as a vegan entering the keto diet, you are not likely to be eating any animal products. Use plant-based oils for cooking, dressings or marinades.
Vegans overall tend to be lighter in weight than those enjoying a diet that encompasses animal products. Whether they wish to lose weight or not doesn’t matter, if they have other issues like those listed above, it could well benefit them.
The Paleo Diet
This diet reflects (supposedly) how our ancestors ate during the palaeolithic period (think cavemen, hunter-gatherers etc), a period during which they had to survive by eating whatever they could kill or pick, i.e. plant foods. Whether this is true or not, we will never know!
This appears to be a ‘flexi-diet’, where some people have their own rules on what they can and can’t eat. It’s not as stringent as some others, and it’s up to you to get the results you want. For instance, one of the guidelines is to stay away from processed food, yet some participants will make dishes that include processed items, particularly sauces. Others will still eat legumes and peas, whereas the diet says ‘no’. It is difficult to follow but from the outside, it would appear that it’s not strict, it’s not really regular, and people do struggle to maintain it. Worst of all, there is a large consensus of opinion that it may not be healthy at all.
It focuses on increasing intake of whole foods, fruits and vegetables, healthy proteins and healthy fats. The diet also decreases processed foods, sugar and salt. This all sounds like a very familiar plan and also very healthy and well rounded. Paleo followers say they feel better, have lots of energy and have lost some weight. Proclaimers also say that their glucose levels have gone down. But there doesn’t seem to be much more to go on, other than marketing hype from individual companies somehow connected with paleo diets.
BUT, and it’s quite a big but, the Paleo diet does not condone the consumption of dairy, legumes or grains – something that doctors, and nutritionists have a bone of contention about. Their opinion is that leaving those dietary groups out, could lead to a nutrition deficit of vitamins and minerals.
There does not appear to be a great deal of concrete proof of any lasting effects or really good results from a paleo diet. Scientists will not give this the thumbs up just yet, more research is needed. The proof seems to be in the foods themselves – whole foods, no sugar, plenty of vegetables and of course, meat and fish for protein and fatty acids.
Haven’t nutritionists and doctors been saying that since Day 1? Most of the paleo diet ethics just seem like common sense.
Some doctors and nutritionists conclude that diets are all very well, but if its not broke, don’t fix it, as the saying goes. Any changes in your normal diet can have adverse effects, particularly if you have an underlying health problem. Changing to healthier food habits can be the key.