The Pros and Cons of Modern Diets: Part 1

January 1, 2024

Wherever you get your information, whether it’s watching TV or scrolling through your phone, it’s likely you’ve been inundated with wellness trends that promise to solve all of your health problems. With so many different diets swirling around in the sphere of information, it can become difficult to decide which one is the right fit for you. Here are the facts around ten modern diets:

1. The Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean Diet Pyramid, introduced by Harvard in 1993, is not limited to foods and includes daily exercise and the social benefits of sharing meals. It is also one of the few diets that recommends a daily dose of wine. The diet is primarily plant-based with an emphasis on healthy fats, such as from olive oil and oily fish, which is the preferred source of animal protein. Poultry, eggs, and dairy can be eaten in small amounts daily, but red meat is limited to only a few times a month. Research supports the benefits of a Mediterranean diet, which include a 25% reduced risk of developing heart disease, a 30% reduced rate of death from stroke, and 46% likelihood to live 70 years or more. Since the diet does not include serving sizes or a recommended overall calorie intake, some people may find that they gain weight because of the increased intake in healthy fats, which often comprise nearly half of your overall calories on a Mediterranean diet. This issue can be avoided though by keeping track of your overall calorie consumption.

2. The Keto Diet

Though recently popular, the Keto diet was first put in place during the 1920’s as a treatment for people with epilepsy after research showed that the diet reduced seizures. The diet consists mainly of fats (75 percent of daily calorie intake), a small amount of protein (20 percent of daily calorie intake), and very little carbohydrates (only five percent of daily calorie intake). The aim of the diet is to put the body into ketosis, where the body’s main source of energy comes from ketones instead of glucose. While the keto diet can kickstart weight loss, it may not be feasible to stick to this diet for a long amount of time. Even if the keto diet may help people with obesity and diabetes, these benefits wane after a year, and the diet often leads to higher levels of LDL cholesterol. The main concern with the keto diet according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans is that it cuts out too many food groups, including adequate sources of fiber in addition to a dramatically low carbohydrate intake.

3. The Paleo Diet

A Paleo diet is based on foods that humans may have eaten during the Paleolithic Era, about 2.5 million to 10,000 years ago. The diet includes fruits, vegetables, lean meats, fish, eggs, nuts, and seeds. These are thought of as the foods that people would have hunted and gathered. It is quite similar to the Mediterranean diet, but it does not include foods that came from small farms, such as grains, legumes and dairy products. The idea behind the diet is that our genes are not well adjusted for the modern diet that grew out of these farm foods, which changed what our primary food sources were before our bodies could adapt to the change. Believers in the Paleo diet think that chronic illness is a modern problem and is therefore rooted in our modern diets, which include sugar and highly-processed foods. Objections to this include archeological evidence of 30,000 year old tools found for grinding grain, as well as evidence of the expression of genes related to the digestion of starches and lactose. Short-term studies show that the Paleo diet might help with weight loss and improved blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels. One study in Spain found that the diet was linked to lower levels of heart disease, but that link was attributed to avoiding processed foods and eating plenty of fruits and vegetables.

4. The Atkins Diet

The Atkins diet was developed in the 1960’s by cardiologist Robert C. Atkins. The purpose of the diet is to lose weight, while Atkins claimed that the diet was a healthy lifelong approach to eating. The diet limits carbs with a focus on avoiding sugar, white flour and refined carbs. Instead of simply limiting carbs, the diet teaches participants to calculate net carbs which deduct a meal’s fiber content from the carbohydrate content. In addition to weight loss, the diet can improve triglyceride levels at least in the short term, but there are no studies that prove any long term benefits. The diet can cause nutritional deficiencies such as fiber, which are often found in complex carbs like fruits. Because the diet can cause ketosis, it is not recommended for anyone with kidney disease or who is pregnant or breastfeeding.

5. A Low Carb Diet

A low carb diet simply limits carbs and places importance on protein and fat. The diet is generally used for weight loss but may lower the risk of type 2 diabetes. Most low carb diets recommend 20 to 57 grams of carbohydrates a day, while the Dietary Guidelines for Americans say that carbohydrates should be 45% to 65% of your total daily calorie intake. The problems with a low carb diet include constipation, headaches, and muscle cramps while the long term health risks are still unknown.

6. The Vegan Alkaline Diet

The Vegan Alkaline diet is based on the premise promoted by Robert O. Young that everything we eat affects our pH balance. According to Young, an acidic environment in the body leads to diseases, like cancer, and that by promoting an alkaline environment with food, these diseases can be avoided. Alkaline foods include fruits, nuts, legumes, and vegetables, while acidic foods to be avoided include animal products, like meat, fish, dairy, and eggs. Science doesn’t support Young’s claims though, and in 2017, he was jailed for practicing medicine without a license. While the diet has become controversial, the foods that the diet focuses on have health benefits outside of pH balance. In short, a diet rich in plant-based whole foods is beneficial, while an excess of processed foods is not.

    7. The Dukan Diet

    The Dukan diet was developed in the 1970’s by Pierre Dukan, a French doctor that specializes in weight loss. In 2000, Dukan published The Dukan Diet, which outlines a four-phase weight loss plan that includes a high-protein and low-carb diet. A study that followed women on the diet found that weight loss was caused by a calorie deficit and that because the diet lacked important nutrients, it would be harmful to health in the long run.

    8. The DASH Diet

    DASH is an acronym that stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. The diet is designed to treat hypertension, or high blood pressure, and may also help to lower levels of LDL cholesterol, both of which are factors that may lead to heart disease and stroke. The DASH diet is rich in potassium, calcium, magnesium, fiber, and protein through vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. The diet limits salt to 2,300 milligrams a day, as well as sugar and saturated fats.

    9. A Low FODMAP Diet

    FODMAP are certain sugars that might cause intestinal distress, so on a low FODMAP diet, participants avoid foods high in FODMAP, such as dairy, wheat, beans, and certain vegetables and fruits like asparagus and apples. Foods low in FODMAP include meat, eggs, grains like rice, quinoa, and oats, and certain vegetables and fruits like cucumbers and strawberries. The low FODMAP diet is meant to help people with Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth. “It’s not a diet anyone should follow for long,” says gastroenterologist Hazel Galon Veloso. “It’s a short discovery process to determine what foods are troublesome for you.” The diet is only meant to be followed for two to six weeks before slowly reintroducing high FODMAP foods. Research has shown that the diet reduces symptoms in up to 86% of people but should not be followed by anyone who is underweight as it may cause unwanted weight loss.

    10. The MIND Protocol

    MIND is another acronym that stands for Mediterranean-DASH Diet Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay. The MIND protocol was created by Dr. Martha Clare Morris in 2015 because of research that had shown both the Mediterranean and DASH diets had been associated with the preservation of cognitive functioning. The combination of both diets showed less cognitive decline than when just one of the diets was followed by study participants. While both diets focus on eating plant-based foods and limiting high saturated fat foods, the MIND diet recommends specific brain healthy foods, including three servings of whole grains and one vegetable a day and six servings of leafy greens, five servings of nuts, and four servings of beans a week. The main challenge to the diet is that if participants do not cook, then they may find it difficult to include all of the diet’s recommended components.

    While you do the research in finding which diet and lifestyle will suit you best, can help you keep  track of your grocery bills, meal planning, exercise logs, and food journals. That way, you can focus on enjoying the rewards of your improved lifestyle.

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    Health and Economic Costs of Dealing with Chronic Illness

    September 1, 2023

    While the diagnosis of a chronic illness is upsetting enough, the financial ramifications of needing ongoing care often hit the hardest. Medical issues account for two-thirds of all US bankruptcies, making them the number one reason people file; forty percent of people who are diagnosed with cancer are bankrupt within four years of their diagnosis. For those who are chronically ill, healthcare is the number three line item for budgeting, while it’s number 10 for healthy individuals.

    The costs of living with a chronic illness is not limited to financial burdens though; a chronic illness can also lead to even more health and interpersonal issues. 

    A Decline in Mental Well-Being

    Health impairments can exacerbate existing mental health conditions, like depression, or cause new issues to arise, such as anxiety. Being diagnosed with an illness that’s incurable or being unsure about whether or not the symptoms will improve is going to cause an immense amount of stress in patients. People who feel ill often may also end up feeling guilty for not being able to fulfill their personal responsibilities and show up fully for their loved ones.These mental and physical chronic conditions can lead to harmful degrees of social isolation and perpetuate a cycle of declining overall health.

    When considering the connection between physical and mental health, it has been shown that those who report feeling lonely suffer from higher rates of morbidity, infection, depression, and cognitive decline. Living with a chronic illness doesn’t have to equate to a lonely life though, and may even lead to more meaningful relationships, according to Caroyn Hax, an advice columnist for the Washington Post. In her response to a reader with multiple sclerosis, she stated “Although your illness will deter some potential companions, your ability to plan it into a full, rewarding and well-managed life will attract others — specifically those people who appreciate that circumstances change but character does not.”

    An Inability to Work and Losing Health Benefits

    Many people suffering from chronic health issues may begin to find it difficult if not impossible to go to work consistently. Many people who deal with chronic health issues––such as Charlene Marshall who is a Pulmonary Fibrosis patient–– find it difficult if not impossible to go to work consistently. “Whether the fatigue I feel is from managing the disease or the disease progression, daily activities become exhausting and hard to manage,” she shares. Unfortunately, many people suffering from a chronic condition may begin to be viewed as unreliable by their supervisors, leading to termination, while others may need to resign as they find it impossible to keep working.

    For many, losing their job also means losing their health benefits. Those who can no longer work may become reliant on spousal coverage or public assistance, which is likely why 99 percent of Medicare and 80 percent of Medicaid spending goes toward the treatment of chronic disease. Not only does the inability to work affect individuals and their families, but lower labor force participation rates affect society as a whole and are linked to slower economic growth, a higher dependency ratio, and higher tax rates.   

    Straining Personal Relationships

    The inability to work due to chronic illness can lead to financial strain on an individual’s entire family. Not only may family members need to help pay for care, but they may also need to take time from work to care for their loved ones who are undergoing treatment that makes them ill, need help with daily activities, or have just had a major surgery. Between new bills and extended care, the financial struggles of the chronically ill can spread easily to those who care for them most.

    People who have a loved one that is suffering from a chronic health condition may also experience stress, concern, and an overwhelming sense of helplessness. Battling a chronic illness doesn’t always have to come with negative interpersonal effects though. Many people actually find that their relationships are strengthened through their health struggles. Marshall, for instance, shares that she is grateful for a strengthened social circle. “I’m blessed to have a network of great friends who support me despite IPF and who are always willing to listen.”  

    How We Can All Fight Chronic Disease

    By working together, we can help build up the next generation for a healthier life through education about the prevention of many chronic diseases. Eating well, regular exercise, and avoiding substance abuse are all behaviors that may reduce the risk of becoming chronically ill. On a societal level, we can address the underlying determinants of health, including one’s environment, education, and access to healthcare. For instance, since many chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and arthritis, are associated with poor diet and obesity, the FDA is currently working to make sure US eating patterns are meeting federal dietary guidelines.

    If you or a loved one are struggling through a chronic illness, know that you are not alone. The CDC estimates that 6 in 10 adults living in the US have at least one chronic disease, while 4 in 10 suffer from at least two or more. can help you keep track of medical records, doctor’s appointments, financial planning, and other important documentation regarding your health and finances. Getting organized and keeping a plan are easy ways to get more peace of mind on your life’s journey through a chronic illness.

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    Take These Five Simple Steps to be Healthy at Any Age

    July 14, 2023

    Cognition, our ability to think clearly, often declines as we get older. While some may develop Alzheimer’s or dementia, many will experience changes in learning, memory and thinking. Research proves that taking small steps toward living a healthier life helps to minimize declines in cognition, such as maintaining physical activity. Incorporating regular exercise is just one of the following five simple steps to be healthy at any age.

    1.     Exercise regularly.

    “Exercise is also one of the best things you can do to help prevent dementia and other cognitive changes,” says Argye Hillis, M.D. at John Hopkins Medicine. “Once you’re cleared by your doctor, aim for at least 30 minutes of physical activity most days of the week.” Combining eleven studies, the Alzheimer’s Society found that regular exercise reduced the risk of developing dementia by 30 percent, and the risk of Alzheimer’s specifically was reduced by as much as 45 percent.

    If exercise is something you loathe, it doesn’t take a lot of strenuous activity to improve one’s overall health dramatically. Walking for a total of 30 minutes a day helps keep the brain healthy by delivering more blood and oxygen to cells. In addition to preventing Alzheimer’s, walking can boost mood, keep bones and muscles strong, and reduce the risk of other diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes.

    When someone is ready to get serious about preventing age-related problems, resistance training is going to be the best place to start. “The average woman can lose 23 percent of her muscle mass between the ages of 30 and 70,” says Fabio Comana, an exercise physiologist at the National Academy of Sports Medicine. “Resistance workouts in particular – can increase mass and strength well into your 90s.”

    Resistance training is simply exercising your muscles using an opposing force, and the best part is that anyone can practice resistance training using no more than their body weight. Squats, push ups, and planks are all examples of resistance training that can be practiced anywhere.

    2.     Improve your diet.

    It is undeniable that the food someone eats plays a major role in how they feel. “Ninety percent of the diseases known to man are caused by cheap foodstuffs,” said Victor Lindlahr, an American nutritionist in the 1930s. “You are what you eat.” If someone wants to feel good, then there’s no way around eating better.

    In 2022, the U.S. News & World Report named the Mediterranean diet the Best Overall Diet for the fifth year in a row. According to research by Harvard Medical School, the Mediterranean diet may help prevent heart attacks, strokes, and premature death.  “The latest research shows that a low-glycemic diet high in fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein is healthiest,” Jeffrey Benabio, M.D. at Kaiser Permanente Primary Care, tells patients.

    3.     Make quality sleep a priority.

    Did you know that not getting enough sleep can put an individual at higher risk for developing diabetes, cardiovascular disease, depression, and even obesity? Recent research even shows a link between insomnia and accelerated aging of the brain. “Too many of us treat sleep as a luxury instead of a need,” says Dr. Benabio of Kaiser. “If I could encourage people to make one healthy change, it would be to sleep more.”

    The National Sleep Foundation recommends adults get 7 to 9 hours of quality sleep every night. They also point out that most sleep problems are a result of underlying medical conditions, such as acid reflux, which is why addressing any sleeping problems with one’s doctor is a good place to start.

    4.     Schedule regular checkups with your doctor.

    Regular checkups with the doctor, dentist, and other specialists are invaluable opportunities for people to catch problems early and treat them before they become bigger problems. A 2021 study by the National Library of Medicine found that individuals who went to the doctor regularly reported improved quality of life and feelings of wellness. Plus, visiting the dentist and preventing inflammation in the mouth can help manage other inflammatory conditions like diabetes and heart disease, according to the American Academy of Periodontology. Keeping up on these yearly appointments and follow ups is a simple thing that can reap life-saving benefits.

    5.     Take Time to Connect

    The World Health Organization estimates that more than 300 million people worldwide suffer from depression, with many more affected by anxiety disorders. Someone who feels lonely is more likely to get dementia or depression. This is because such individuals have higher levels of stress hormones which cause inflammation in the body and a lowered immune response. Strong friendships alleviate stress, improve emotional well-being, and are markers of physical health. Experts suggest people can grow their social connection by creating a community through their work relationships, by volunteering, and by making friendships a priority.  “Strong bonds won’t happen overnight, but starting small and prioritizing friendships as an important part of your life can bring more happiness, less stress and more support,” says Adam Smiley Poswolsky, author of Friendship in the Age of Loneliness. “You know someone is a true friend when they have your back when you’re sick, when you lose your job, when you make a mistake, when you’re going through a break-up, when you’re stressed, when you’re sad.”

    Stress is inevitable, and it is proven to negatively affect one’s health. By following these five simple steps, anyone can decrease their levels of stress and increase their overall wellness. Physical activity, eating a balanced diet, good sleep, and social support can all combat the effects of stress on the body. You may be thinking that while you’re already stretched thin, fitting in these healthy practices may cause you more stress. That’s why starting small with manageable changes will help you incorporate these steps into your routine. can help you manage regular checkups and social engagements and even keep track of medical records, diet journals, sleep data, and exercise logs. Keeping all of your information in one place makes it easy to recognize the positive impact these simple steps will have on your overall health.

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