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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