We’ve all heard that old saying “You are what you eat,” and at a very basic level, it’s hard to disagree with it. Science continually backs up the theory that the foods we choose to nourish our bodies with have a direct impact on our health – including how we feel and look on a daily basis. I think that it’s a fair assumption to say that most people have decent intentions when it comes to eating a healthy diet, but many of us also feel that we need a sort of “template” for meeting nutritional and weight loss goals.
Enter the fad diet. Over the course of decades, we’ve become a society that’s fixated on the latest diet trend. It seems that every year there are new diets that emerge and quickly become the next big thing in both health and culinary trends.
The medical and scientific view of many of these trendy diets is a mixed bag. With about half of adults in the United States suffering from some form of chronic disease, there’s an obvious need for us to take better care of ourselves, and this begins with a solid nutritional foundation. With few exceptions, many of trendy eating plans help people focus on healthier choices overall, which can be hard to argue with – even if you disagree with some of the core philosophies behind the diet itself.
Are any of these top trending diets right for you? It’s always smart to start by discussing your dietary and health goals with a medical professional, but the next step is knowledge. Most diet trends have a list of pros and cons that should be considered. Because there’s so many of them out there, I’ve narrowed down a few of the most popular so you can learn a little more and make the best, informed decisions for your own health.
Did our ancestors, namely the hunters and gatherers, know something about optimal nutrition that we don’t? According to the Paleo plan we have plenty to learn from them. The Paleo diet is one that returns us to our ancestral, dietary roots by following the line of thought that the foods we have introduced into our lives during modern times are the cause of many of our current health issues.
The premise of the Paleo diet is really quite simple. Enjoy plenty of protein and non-starchy vegetables, with grass-fed and organic options being the preferred choices. The Paleo diet has become a popular choice today as it focuses on healthy eating options, while not going overboard with the restrictions.
According to the original diet plan, whole grains, dairy, and legumes are restricted – among a few other things. However, many people have adapted the Paleo plan to be more of a template for making healthier choices and have started including some of the restricted food groups in small amounts if their body tolerates them.
The Paleo diet is great from the standpoint that it discourages processed, unhealthy foods and encourages replacing them with lots of nutritious produce. The main opposition to the Paleo diet is that some of the science behind the concept is spotty. Our ancestors obviously had different nutritional needs than we do today, and there’s a lot that we don’t know our ancestor’s dietary habits. So, comparing their state of health to ours based on dietary habits is a little like comparing apples to oranges. However, if you adhere to the key ideas of eliminating processed foods, sugars and triggering food groups, the overall Paleo concept is one that many people can easily get onboard with.
The modern day Keto Diet is essentially a modified version of the low-carb diets of the past. A couple decades ago when the Atkins diet was bursting on the scene, low-carb eating was about simply reducing the amount of carbs taken in without much focus on anything else.
However, the Keto Diet is a little different. The goal is to enter a state of ketosis through carb restrictions, but with a careful attention to the amount of specific macro-nutrients that are being consumed – specifically, carbohydrates, protein and fats.
Strict followers of the Keto Diet adhere to a dietary ratio of about 5-10% of their calories coming from carbohydrates, 15-20% coming from protein and the remainder of approximately 70-80% being sourced from fats – yes, fats. Healthy fats like those found in nuts, seeds, avocados, salmon and omega-3 rich oils should be the primary source of calories when eating ketogenically.
According to Keto enthusiasts, the eating plan helps them lose weight, boost their metabolism, experience greater energy and reduce inflammation. While there are some members of the medical community that prescribe ketogenic eating plans for patients with specific health conditions, such as epilepsy and certain autoimmune diseases, there is still no solid consensus about the long term effects and safety of the Keto Diet for the average person.
If you’re someone who doesn’t like to cook, but still want to eat for optimal nutrition, then it’s possible that the perfect solution can be found within the Raw Food diet. Based on the concept that food maintains its most complete nutritional integrity when it’s consumed raw – meaning not heated above 104° - the Raw Food diet is one that has attracted a lot of attention in recent years.
The Raw Food concept, which centers around a plant based diet, is built on the idea that by cooking food, you’re essentially killing the natural enzymes and reducing or eliminating the nutrient content altogether. While it can be scientifically proven that heating at least changes the nutrient value of some foods, pure raw foodist believe that the cooking process kills off the life force of every food, regardless of what it is.
Those who swear by the Raw Food concept claim that the benefits of eating foods when they’re closest to their most natural state are plentiful. The nutritional boost is believed to promote faster weight loss, improve digestion and energy levels, ease the symptoms of chronic diseases and produce an overall increase in health and vitality.
If you’re interested in trying out the Raw Food philosophy for yourself but worry that you’ll quickly grow tired of crunching down on raw vegetables, you’ll be relieved to know that the culinary options for raw foodist are much broader than you might think. Followers of the diet are known for their creativity in food preparation methods such as juicing, soaking and sprouting (especially for nuts and grains), and even dehydrating which can be done at a low heat.
The Whole30 eating plan started making waves a couple years ago as it appealed to an audience that was ready to see major changes in their health, but hesitant to jump onto one of the trendy dietary bandwagons. The Whole30 approach to eating is all about cutting out the bad stuff, nurturing the body with health foods and helping each person identify if they have any dietary triggers - and what they are. The Whole30 plan is tough and not for the weak-willed, but don’t worry – it only lasts 30 days.
The concept is that by changing your eating habits for 30 days, you help to reset your body and restore it to a baseline of nutritional health. While the Whole30 plan does eliminate some major food groups, the intent is to also help you discover the minor food intolerances that can quickly cascade into inflammation, hormone disturbances and overall poor health.
The backbone of the Whole30 plan is to avoid all grains, dairy, sugars (including artificial sweeteners), soy, certain legumes, all processed foods and most of the additives that come along with them. The deal is you eat clean for 30 days and are rewarded with revived energy and improved health.
While the Whole30 diet is restrictive, those who follow the plan claim that having an end day in sight helps them to power through. Once the 30 days is over, you slowly start adding the “forbidden” foods back into your diet, if you choose to, and assess your body’s response to each. Unlike some other trendy diets, the Whole30 plan probably isn’t going to blow your bank account, especially if you focus on local, in season produce.
The main downside of the Whole30 plan is that there is absolutely no room for error. Since it’s a complete elimination diet, just one nibble or one cheat means that you need to start all over again at day one if you want reliable results from the plan.
If you were to look over all the trend diet plans and pick just one based on the deliciousness of the food choices, the Mediterranean diet would be an easy pick. The plan is based off the well documented scientific evidence regarding the health benefits of classic Mediterranean cuisine. The plan follows the basic dietary principals that have allowed people in Greece, Italy and other nearby countries to suffer from obesity and heart disease at a much lower rate than we do in the United States.
The Mediterranean diet puts a strong emphasis on whole grains, fresh produce and healthy fats – such as those found in salmon, olives and avocados. Protein choices center around fresh fish and lean poultry. While red meat isn’t forbidden, it is advised to be consumed only in small quantities. What’s really great about the Mediterranean diet, aside from how easy it is to adapt to compared to other trendy diets, is that instead of strict elimination, it reinforces moderation and a healthy attitude towards food.
If you think the Alkaline Diet sounds like something straight from a chemistry class, you wouldn’t be far off. The idea behind the Alkaline diet is to influence and balance the body’s internal pH by replacing the abundance of acidic food in our modern diets with choices that are more basic, or alkaline.
If you’re like most of us and need a little chemistry refresher, the pH scale ranges from 0 to 14, with the lower end being acidic and the growing more alkaline as the numbers increase. Many of the overly processed foods that are common today tend to be on the more acidic end of the pH scale. The theory is that an overly acidic environment is one that promotes inflammation and disease. By balancing the acidity with alkaline foods, you bring about a natural restoration of health.
The Alkaline diets limits or restricts certain acid producing foods. The biggest culprit is of course processed foods, but it’s also suggested to restrict dairy, meat and the majority of grains due to their low pH value. In place of these foods, a plant-based diet that’s rich in nutrients is recommended.
While the scientific verdict about how much you can actually affect your internal pH through diet is still out, the general premise of the Alkaline diet is one that promotes a heart healthy, nutrient dense dietary lifestyle that’s well suited for losing and maintaining weight.
Honestly, this list only begins to scratch the surface as each day more new diet trends are making their way onto the scene. Trying to keep track of all of them really is enough to make your head spin. Before you decide on trying any new diet, take time to step back and assess your health and fitness goals. A commitment to healthy eating should be a lifelong process and not a passing trend that’s impossible to maintain for more than a couple weeks. Balance, moderation and a respect for our bodies and the world around us are all part of the foundation that healthy habits are built from.