The Pros and Cons of Modern Diets: Part 2

January 15, 2024

There are definitely enough diets out there to make your head spin. But once you start putting in the research, there are commonalities to almost every diet, including the lifestyle recommendation to exercise more and stress less. When it comes to food, if there is any one thing everyone can agree on avoiding, it is processed foods. A few days ago we explored ten modern diet trends. Today we will cover facts around ten additional diets:

11. The Flexitarian Diet

The Flexitarian Diet is a flexible vegetarian diet. While you’re focused on plant-based foods, you may still occasionally eat meat. In this way, it is quite similar to a Mediterranean diet and is ranked just behind it as the #2 Best Diet Overall according to the U.S. News Best Diet Rankings. While the diet is flexible, there are guidelines. On a flexitarian diet, you should choose high-quality animal products, such as organic, free-range, and grass-fed choices. Lean meats are best, and any meat that you eat should be limited to just a few times a week. The benefits of the diet include weight loss, a decreased risk of both heart disease and type 2 diabetes, and cancer prevention. The risk of eating less meat is that you suffer from nutrient deficiencies, such as not getting adequate amounts of B12 in your diet.

12. A Volumetrics Diet

With a volumetrics diet, the promise is that you may still eat a large amount of food and still lose weight. The concept was created by PhD Barbara Rolls so that people could find healthy foods they enjoy without depriving themselves. With volumetrics, the focus is on feeling full. Food is separated into high energy density and low energy density categories. People should eat mainly low energy density foods, which have fewer calories and more volume. The diet relies heavily on water-based foods, or fruits and vegetables. In short, the diet is effective in helping people lose weight and doesn’t come with any risks. People are simply learning how to make smarter food choices, focusing on eating nutrient-dense foods that won’t add unhealthy calories to their diets.

13. Intermittent Fasting

While most diets focus on what to eat, intermittent fasting is based on when to eat. When intermittent fasting, you only eat during a specific window of time. “Our bodies have evolved to be able to go without food for many hours, or even several days or longer,” says neuroscientist Mark Mattson. “In prehistoric times, before humans learned to farm, they were hunters and gatherers who evolved to survive — and thrive — for long periods without eating.” In the age of screen time, people stay up later, eat more, and exercise less. Adopting a lifestyle of intermittent fasting may help curtail the negative side effects of our modern world. “Many things happen during intermittent fasting that can protect organs against chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, age-related neurodegenerative disorders,” Mattson says. “Even inflammatory bowel disease and many cancers.” One study showed, however, that intermittent fasting was not proven to be an effective solution in both short term weight loss and long term weight management. Going too long without eating can actually cause the body to start storing fat in response to being starved. Fasting also isn’t safe for everyone; children, pregnant women, people with type 1 diabetes, and anyone with an eating disorder are strongly advised against intermittent fasting.

14. A Pescatarian Diet

With a pescatarian diet, people focus on eating a vegetarian diet while allowing fish and seafood as additional sources of protein. The omega-3 fatty acids found in fish are believed to reduce the risk of heart attacks, high blood pressure, and strokes, as well as regulate inflammation in the body. In addition to the fat found in fish, a diet high in vegetables is also associated with a reduced risk of heart disease. One study even showed that a pescatarian diet protected against colorectal cancer, which is the second leading cause of U.S. cancer deaths. The biggest disadvantage to eating a lot of seafood is the consumption of mercury because of polluted waters. The risk can be minimized by avoiding fish known to be high in mercury and focusing on fish low in mercury, including canned light tuna, salmon, pollock, shrimp, and catfish.

15. An Ornish Diet 

The Ornish diet was created by Dr. Dean Ornish to help people reverse heart disease, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes. In addition to dietary changes, the Ornish diet is a lifestyle that incorporates moderate exercise, stress reduction techniques, and social support. It is a vegetarian diet that limits fat to ten percent of one’s daily calorie intake, as well as allowing only ten milligrams of cholesterol a day. On an Ornish diet, people may eat any fruit and vegetable, whole grains, legumes, soy products, and herbs and spices. Small amounts of egg whites, nuts and seeds may be eaten, but meat, fish, and egg yolks are eliminated. The plan also recommends taking a multivitamin and B12 and fish oil supplements. While vegetarian diets can lower the risks of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer, the Ornish diet is shown to reduce coronary artery disease after just one year. Because of how many foods are eliminated, nutrient deficiencies are a risk and people with a history of eating disorders are advised against the diet.

16. The TLC Diet

The TLC diet is an acronym for Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes and was created by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute with an aim to improve cholesterol levels. The program combines diet and physical activity to lower high cholesterol and improve heart health. The diet limits saturated fats and cholesterol from foods, and increases plant stanols and sterols that can be found in whole grains, nuts, legumes, olive oil, and avocado oil. It also urges increases in soluble fiber from fruit, beans, and oats. Both soluble fiber and plant stanols and sterols block the body’s absorption of cholesterol and fats. Similar to the DASH diet, the TLC diet also limits salt to 2,300 milligrams a day. Increasing physical activity is a key part of the diet, as a lack of physical activity is a major risk factor for heart disease.

17. An Anti-Inflammatory Diet

An anti-inflammatory diet focuses on what you should eat and what you shouldn’t eat in order to reduce inflammation in the body. In this way, it is a simple plan for people to follow. On an anti-inflammatory diet, people stay away from ultra-processed foods, which have little to no nutritional value and are often high in fat, sugar, and salt. Research shows that sugars, grains, and salt from these highly processed foods can alter the bacteria in the gut, damage intestinal lining, and switch on inflammatory genes in cells. These processed foods are also linked to shorter life spans, cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. To combat inflammation, aim for whole foods, like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, fish, poultry, nuts, seeds, olive oil, and small amounts of low-fat dairy. You may add spices to these foods to increase both flavor and the health benefits. The evidence in minimizing inflammation in the body is strongest against arthritis, gastrointestinal and heart health, and autoimmune diseases.

18. The Noom Diet

The Noom Diet is an anti-inflammatory diet that comes with a costly app, $50 a month to be exact. While it encourages more of certain foods, it doesn’t ban anything. Noom uses colors to label food, so green labeled foods like produce are encouraged and orange labeled foods like pizza should be minimized. Noom labels do contradict U.S. Dietary Guidelines which support healthy fats like olive oil; on a Noom diet, olive oil is an orange-labeled food. The main benefit of the app is guided support for people who struggle to make big lifestyle changes on their own. Otherwise, simply following an anti-inflammatory diet as described above will be far easier to navigate and afford.

19. The Pritikin Diet

The Pritikin Program for Diet and Exercise written by engineer Nathan Pritikin in 1979 recommended a low-fat, high-fiber diet paired with regular exercise to avoid heart disease and maintain a healthy weight, protocols that have become standard today. He suggested starting meals with a soup or salad, limiting high-calorie drinks and foods, avoiding snacking, eating whole foods, limiting salt and red meat, exercising, and controlling stress. The Pritikin diet is proven to help people lose weight and is approved as being heart-healthy.

20. The Zone Diet 

Similar to the Noom diet, Dr. Barry Sears developed the Zone diet to reduce inflammation. It involves rules, which include eating within one hour of waking, starting each meal with protein followed by healthy carbs and fats, eating every 4-6 hours, eating lots of omega-3 fats and polyphenols, and drinking at least 64 ounces of water a day. Before every meal, a person should assess their hunger level, and if they are not hungry, then they are in the zone, hence the diet’s name. The Zone diet aims to control hormone levels through diet in order to reduce inflammation. Because of this, the diet is popular with people who have diabetes. There is no evidence, however, that supports Sears’ claims that the diet reduces inflammation. Experts recommend simply staying away from processed foods if inflammation is a concern.

While there is a plethora of diets out there to try, there are factors that nearly every diet has in common, such as a focus on whole foods, especially fruits and vegetables. can help you keep track of your lifestyle changes, including physical activity monitoring, meal plans, diet changes, and medical records. While you put in the hard work to find which methods will help you most, will take one chore off your plate by keeping all of your information in one organized place.

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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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