Written by our friends at Tufts Medical Center.
It seems like every day, you open up Facebook or Instagram and see another blogger, celebrity or influencer touting a different diet that helped them achieve their goals. They swear by it, and based on what you see, you’re intrigued enough to want to try. But how do you wade through the good, the bad, and find the REAL? Tufts Medical Center clinical registered dietitian Alicia Romano, MS, RD, LDN explains 3 of 2018’s top diet trends – and points out some of the drawbacks!
Whole30 Diet & Paleo Diet
What does it involve?
Hugely popular, especially when New Year’s rolls around, Whole30 & Paleo are “clean eating” programs designed to eliminate foods that may (or may not) have “negative” impacts on your health.
The Paleo diet centers around the idea that we will be healthier people lose weight and cure disease if we eat like our ancestors did 10,000 years ago. This diet includes foods that can be hunted or gathered: grass fed meats, poultry, fish, organic vegetables, roots, fruits and berries. By eating a Paleo diet, you cut dairy, grains, legumes, nuts, sugar or salt.
Whole30 takes the restrictions a step further and cuts out both natural and processed sugars such as honey & maple syrup. Whole30 does not require that meat be grass fed or that fruits and vegetables be organic. It does, however, restrict you from recreating processed foods like pizza or cupcakes with Whole30 compliant ingredients.
A Paleo meal might include:
- 5oz grass-fed ground beef burger cooked in ½ tbsp. avocado oil seasoned
- 2 large leaves of bibb lettuce for serving
- Top burger with ¼ large avocados, sliced & 1 slice of thick cut bacon, cooked
- Serve with 1 medium baked sweet potato
A Whole30meal might be:
- 4oz roasted chicken thighs cooked in ½ tablespoon avocado oil reasoned with herbs
- 2 cups of sweet potatoes, onion, garlic and carrots roasted in 1 tablespoon avocado oil or ghee and seasons with herbs
What are the potential benefits?
People who follow Whole30 & Paleo report short term weight loss, improved digestion, energy and sleep quality, awareness of potential food sensitivities, and decreased sugar cravings. Unfortunately, the program lacks scientific evidence to support these claims. The inclusion of more fruits and vegetables and less processed foods (including less processed sugar and salt) are one of the plus sides of these diets.
What are the down sides?
As with any restrictive eating plan, Whole30 & Paleo might be hard to sustain. If you don’t plan properly, cutting out highly nutritious foods such as whole grains, legumes, nuts and dairy can put you at risk of vitamin and mineral deficiencies. You also might consume too much saturated fat with the increase in meat consumption.
Alicia’s Whole30 Verdict
Whole30 is not supposed to be a long-term commitment – it should serve as a “jump start” program before re-introduction of some of the eliminated foods, to see what works best for each person. Use it as a template for developing better eating habits by cutting away processed foods, added sugar and salt and alcohol. Maintaining those elements of the diet while eventually reintroducing healthy foods like whole grains, legumes and dairy will make this diet more sustainable and balanced for the long haul.
Alicia’s Paleo Verdict
Like Whole 30, the Paleo diet can be a good starting point for building a healthy diet, while eventually adding in beans, lentils, nuts, whole grains and dairy or other calcium rich sources to the diet for balance.
What does it involve?
The ketogenic diet is a high fat, moderate-protein and very low-carbohydrate diet. Traditionally, doctors have used it as a treatment for refractory epilepsy in children, but it’s recently gained hype as a weight loss diet.
Staple foods on a ketogenic diet include meat, fish, butter, eggs, cheese, heavy cream, oils, nuts, avocados, seeds and low-carb vegetables. You cut out nearly all carbohydrate sources, including beans, rice, legumes, potatoes, milk, cereals, potatoes, fruits and even some higher-carb vegetables.
A sample meal might include:
- 4 oz of steak (fattier cuts preferred) cooked in ½ tablespoon olive oil
- Sauce made of mushrooms, 1 Tbsp butter, 3 Tbsp heavy whipping cream, garlic & spices
- ½ cup asparagus steamed and topped in 1 Tbsp butter
What are the benefits?
Unfortunately there is lack of strong evidence for the health claims associated with the keto diet. Aside from potential short term weight loss, I do not see any benefit that would compel me to recommend this diet.
What are the downsides?
The ketogenic diet is a restrictive diet plan limiting fruits, vegetables and fiber filled foods – all the things common sense and research tell us are good for you and have major health benefits. It emphasizes large amounts of saturated fats which may have negative effects on health. A high fat diet, especially one high in saturated fat can increase your “bad” (LDL) cholesterol and total cholesterol, which may put you at risk for cardiovascular disease and may be linked to inflammatory conditions.
The keto diet puts individuals at risk of many vitamin, mineral and trace element deficiencies if not planned and supplemented appropriately. Uncomfortable side effects such as constipation may erupt given the high fat & low fiber consumption. It is not uncommon to experience fatigue, headaches, sluggishness or brain fog when transitioning into this diet.
I do not recommend following a ketogenic diet, unless it is for medical purposes. The lack of balance in this diet, potential side effects and the restrictive nature make it risky and difficult to sustain. If you choose to pursue a restrictive eating pattern like a ketogenic diet, it should be discussed with your physician and done under the guidance of a registered dietitian (RDN) – like someone at the Tufts MC Frances Stern Nutrition Center.
Intermittent Fasting (IF)
What does it involve?
Intermittent fasting (time-restricted fasting) is a diet in which you restrict eating to only during a certain time of day or set number of hours. Various fasting strategies are available, including:
- The 16/8 method: fasting for 16 hours daily, keeping the eating window to 8 hours daily
- The 5/2 method: eat normally for 5 days, fasting for 2 (i.e. restrict to 500-600 calories)
- Eat-Stop-Eat: do a 24 hour fast 1-2 times per week
- Alternate day fasting: fasting every other day (fasting days can sometimes include 500 calories)
What are the benefits?
The evidence on IF remains limited due to the lack of human trials. Many preliminary studies show that IF could help with short term weight loss and provide metabolic benefits if planned appropriately.
What are the downsides?
IF requires planning, preparation and commitment in order to be effective, and to make sure you eat enough to sustain you. There are many different protocols, with different levels of restriction. This diet is certainly not appropriate for those that have a history of disordered eating as IF could become a crutch to amplify these issues. Additionally, those who are underweight or people with diabetes or blood sugar control should take caution before starting an IF program.
Overall, the major pitfalls associated with IF include the risk of developing an unhealthy obsession and preoccupation with food as well as a limited ability to make healthy choices when indulging during the “eating period.”
Some evidence has shown that IF may be associated with chronically elevated cortisol levels, especially in woman- cortisol is stress hormone which may lead to increased fat storage and muscle breakdown. Side effects such as fatigue, irritability, fogginess, digestive upset etc may also result during the fasting period.
Done correctly (key term), intermittent fasting result in short term weight loss/fat loss and may allow you to re-evaluate your relationship with food (sometimes it’s OK to be hungry). Overall, IF seems to be more of a trend than a sustainable way of eating and is not appropriate across the board, especially for those who are underweight, have a history of eating disorders, or people with diabetes or problems with blood sugar control. Those with medical conditions should consult with their physician prior to starting any diet program. If you are serious about pursuing IF, a visit with a registered dietitian would be recommended to ensure you are following an appropriate diet to meet your nutritional needs.
Interested in learning more about Alicia Romano and the Frances Stern Nutrition Center? Visit tuftsmedicalcenter.org/nutrition.
Disclaimer: The content provided in this post is intended solely for the information of the reader. This information is not medical advice and should not replace a consultation with a medical professional.