See how to­day’s most buzzed-about di­ets stack up.

THERE’S NO PER­FECT DIET FOR EV­ERY­ONE. SO BE­FORE YOU PICK A PLAN, BE SURE TO DO YOUR RE­SEARCH ON WHAT IT CAN AND CAN’T DO FOR YOUR HEALTH.

Amazing Wellness - - CONTENTS - Matthew Kadey, MS, RD

Gluten-Free. Paleo. Weight Watch­ers. Whole30. Ke­to­genic. DASH. The list of di­ets, and their var­i­ous rules and re­stric­tions, is end­less. One per­son swears by fast­ing. An­other finds suc­cess slash­ing carbs. Oth­ers fill up their din­ner plates with only plants. Re­gard­less of the di­et­ing method, of the mil­lions of Amer­i­cans who em­bark on an eat­ing plan each year, many do so to lose weight. Other health mea­sures such as im­proved en­ergy lev­els and men­tal clar­ity are also mo­ti­vat­ing fac­tors. Since no time is more pop­u­lar for go­ing on a diet than the New Year, here’s how some of to­day’s most buzzy di­ets stack up, plus how to tell if any are right for you.

PALEO

Nuts and Bolts: When it comes to #trend­ingdi­ets, this is a big one. Peo­ple who fuel their bod­ies on this an­ces­tral diet es­chew agri­cul­tural-era foods such as grains, legumes, and dairy. In­stead, they fo­cus their eat­ing ef­forts on items such as meat, fish, eggs, fruits, nuts, seeds, and veg­gies that were avail­able to our hunter­gather an­ces­tors. The diet also de­ters you from drink­ing al­co­hol. Fat loss, more en­ergy, clearer skin, less bloat­ing, fewer sugar crav­ings, and a drop in dis­ease-pro­vok­ing in­flam­ma­tion are among the ad­ver­tised ben­e­fits of eat­ing the cave­man way.

Pros: If any­thing, the Paleo diet is great at weed­ing out pro­cessed foods from your diet, be­cause so many of those con­tain re­fined grains or added sug­ars—two big Paleo no-nos. So it’s bound to in­crease your protein in­take, which can help si­lence hunger to squash overeat­ing and build me­tab­o­lism-boost­ing lean body mass. It’s also not nec­es­sar­ily a low-carb diet, so you can side­step the fa­tigue, headaches, and other side ef­fects of carb-st­ingy eat­ing plans. Some stud­ies show that a Pa­le­olithic-type diet can im­prove blood sugar con­trol and blood lipid num­bers, which may con­fer pro­tec­tion against mal­adies such as di­a­betes and heart dis­ease.

Cons: Elim­i­nat­ing dairy, grains, and legumes can leave you short-changed on cer­tain vi­ta­mins, min­er­als, and an­tiox­i­dants, so you’ll need to make sure they are com­ing from Paleo-ap­proved sources. Paleo de­mo­nizes whole grains, even though re­search links them to bet­ter health out­comes and trim­mer waist­lines. Some use the Paleo phi­los­o­phy as an ex­cuse to eat too much meat and too few plant-based foods. If you fol­low rec­om­men­da­tions from the throw­back diet to eat grass-fed meats, wild seafood, and or­ganic veg­gies, the diet will re­quire a much big­ger food bud­get. And any­time food groups are elim­i­nated, eat­ing dur­ing so­cial oc­ca­sions can be prob­lem­atic.

Make it Bet­ter: Don’t just put slabs of meat on your plate. Take Paleo as an op­por­tu­nity to ex­per­i­ment with a va­ri­ety of new al­lowed foods from dif­fer­ent food groups. Arc­tic char and cel­ery root, any­one? Search on­line or in­vest in some Paleo cook­books for recipe in­spi­ra­tion so your meals stay more ex­cit­ing than chicken breast with steamed broc­coli. It can be help­ful to speak with a di­eti­tian to make sure you’re get­ting your daily quota of cal­cium, vi­ta­min D, and other es­sen­tial nu­tri­ents. If you work out reg­u­larly, be sure to eat plenty of fruits and starchy veg­gies such as pota­toes so you get enough carbs to power your stride. If you pre­fer to baby-step your way into Paleo, you can try slash­ing dairy from your diet the first week, bid­ding adieu to re­fined grains dur­ing week two, then skip­ping all grains the next week, and so on un­til you’re fol­low­ing a hard­ened Paleo diet.

KE­TO­GENIC

Nuts and Bolts: The ke­to­genic or “keto” diet is all about one thing: fat. Keto di­eters ob­tain 70–80 per­cent of their calo­ries from this macro while eat­ing very few car­bo­hy­drates (gen­er­ally fewer than 50 grams a day, or no more than 5 per­cent of to­tal calo­ries) and only mod­er­ate amounts of protein (no more than 15–20 per­cent of to­tal calo­ries). Why the fat pay­load? Pro­po­nents say the car­bo­hy­drate and protein re­stric­tion will move your body into ke­to­sis, prompt­ing it to ac­cess ke­tones gen­er­ated from stored fat as its pri­mary fuel source in­stead of carbs, lead­ing to a trim­mer waist­line, fewer en­ergy crashes, and bet­ter pro­tec­tion against cer­tain mal­adies, in­clud­ing di­a­betes. So you can go ahead and splurge on cheese, av­o­ca­dos, co­conut oil, egg yolks, fatty nuts like cashews, olive oil, and fat-dense meats such as sar­dines and ba­con with the goal of be­com­ing a bet­ter but­ter burner.

Pros: Sugar is the diet’s en­emy, so it can be the cat­a­lyst some peo­ple need to break their re­la­tion­ship with the sweet stuff. And go­ing low-carb could also help you eat less over­all, be­cause fat is gen­er­ally more sa­ti­at­ing, which can be one mech­a­nism be­hind the diet’s war on body fat. Ke­tone bod­ies them­selves may have a di­rect hunger-re­duc­ing ef­fect. Some ben­e­fi­cial meta­bolic changes that come with the ke­to­genic diet, at least in the short term, can in­clude less in­sulin re­sis­tance and lower blood triglyc­eride num­bers.

Cons: Keto di­ets can def­i­nitely help peo­ple shed those stub­born pounds in the short term, but long-term re­sults in terms of fat loss and over­all health have still not been proven. (Most stud­ies on high-fat eat­ing have been per­formed on ro­dents.) The fat-first diet is pretty re­strict­ing, so you won’t be nib­bling too much on some of the most nutri­ent-dense foods in the su­per­mar­ket, in­clud­ing beans, berries, whole grains, and sweeter veg­gies such as peas and car­rots. In fact, be­cause you are re­strict­ing so much, ad­her­ence to the diet long-term can be a chal­lenge, es­pe­cially when you limit oth­er­wise en­joy­able foods. With­out a care­ful ap­proach to keto, you risk fiber and mi­cronu­tri­ent de­fi­cien­cies. While giv­ing up pro­cessed foods is a smart move, eat­ing more cheese, steak, but­ter, lard, and ba­con can up your sat­u­rated fat in­take, which is still a con­cern for heart health. A 2018 study in the jour­nal Lancet found that peo­ple on a low-carb diet where calo­ries from carbs were re­placed with an­i­mal fat and an­i­mal protein raised their risk of early death. The loathed so-called “keto flu,” which in­cludes fa­tigue, nau­sea, and brain fog, hap­pens to many peo­ple dur­ing the first few weeks on the diet, when the body is adapt­ing to the new nor­mal. And per­for­mance dur­ing higher-in­ten­sity bouts of ex­er­cise can be com­pro­mised with a lack of car­bo­hy­drate en­ergy stores. Too much protein can throw you out of ke­to­sis, but it can also make it harder to put on lean body mass.

Make it Bet­ter: To avoid nutri­tional de­fi­cien­cies, make sure you’re not eat­ing the same ro­ta­tion of foods. In­clude a daily va­ri­ety of the al­lowed meats, fish, non-starchy veg­eta­bles, dairy, nuts, and seeds. A fiber sup­ple­ment might be needed to keep your bow­els and mi­cro­biome in work­ing or­der. It’s pos­si­ble to mod­ify the diet to em­pha­size fatty foods low in sat­u­rated fat or from plant sources such as olive oil, av­o­cado, nuts, seeds, and fatty fish. For a more sus­tain­able long-term ap­proach to eat­ing, when weight loss or other health goals are achieved on the keto diet, one may fol­low the diet for a few days a week or a cou­ple weeks each month, in­ter­changed with other days, al­low­ing a higher car­bo­hy­drate and protein in­take.

IN­TER­MIT­TENT FAST­ING

Nuts and Bolts: Not a diet in the clas­sic sense, in­ter­mit­tent fast­ing (IF) is de­fined as cy­cling your diet be­tween pe­ri­ods of re­stricted eat­ing and pe­ri­ods of eat­ing as much as you nor­mally do. There are sev­eral dif­fer­ent pat­terns of in­ter­mit­tent fast­ing, but a few of the more pop­u­lar in­clude the 16/8 method, where you fast for 16 hours and eat only dur­ing an eight-hour pe­riod; the 5:2 diet, where you eat no more than 25 per­cent of your nor­mal calo­rie in­take two days out of the week; and the eat-sto­peat method, which in­volves a full-blown 24-hour fast once or twice per week. The the­ory is that when your body is in a fasted state, it’s more likely to al­ter me­tab­o­lism to im­prove blood sugar num­bers and pull more en­ergy from your fat stores, lead­ing to a trim-down ef­fect. And since in the­ory you’re likely to nosh on fewer calo­ries dur­ing the course of a week, this it­self could help in the bat­tle of the bulge.

Pros: IF has be­come a go-to method for get­ting lean fairly quickly. In­deed, there is some good re­search that this flex­i­ble style of eat­ing can be just as ef­fec­tive in spurring weight loss as more dras­tic ev­ery­day calo­rie re­stric­tion. A 2018 study pub­lished in the Jour­nal of Nutri­tional Sci­ence found that sim­ply mov­ing break­fast and din­ner three hours closer to­gether led to drops in body fat in sub­jects de­spite no change in over­all caloric in­take. Peo­ple also grav­i­tate to­ward IF be­cause, un­like other di­ets, there are no off-limit foods—just lim­its on how much you can eat at cer­tain points. And it can help peo­ple get in bet­ter touch with their true feel­ings of hunger and full­ness as well as put the brakes on night­time snack­ing.

Stud­ies with large sam­ple sizes or deal­ing with the long-term weight-loss ben­e­fits of IF are still lacking. One in­ves­ti­ga­tion was hin­dered by a large num­ber of par­tic­i­pants who failed to fol­low the diet un­til the stud­ies ended. So IF may suf­fer from what be­falls many di­ets—high dropout rates. Side­ef­fects such as rag­ing hunger, brain fog, and ir­ri­tabil­ity dur­ing fast­ing can be too much for some peo­ple to work through. Be­cause there isn’t much fo­cus placed on what you eat, some peo­ple might be tempted to re­ward a fast-well-done by eat­ing junk food.

Make it Bet­ter: Con­sider eas­ing into IF by start­ing with a begin­ner’s 12:12 method, where you’re fast­ing for 12 hours per day and eat­ing within a 12-hour win­dow. From here, you can work your way into more chal­leng­ing fasts. Make your calo­ries count dur­ing fast and feast pe­ri­ods by fo­cus­ing your eat­ing ef­forts on nutri­ent-dense, whole foods. Items rich in fiber or protein like legumes and Greek yogurt can help tame

the hunger mon­ster dur­ing times of calo­rie re­stric­tion. A food jour­nal can help make sure you’re not overeat­ing on fast­ing days. And con­sider ex­er­cis­ing dur­ing your eat­ing win­dow so you have more pep in your step.

WHOLE30

Nuts and Bolts: Much-buzzed Whole30 mar­kets it­self as a method to re­set your diet, give your di­ges­tive sys­tem a break, and help you forge a new rela- tion­ship with food. With this elim­i­na­tion-style diet, you’re told to cut out items that are known to upset some tum­mies or are gen­er­ally un­healthy—all pro­cessed or pack­aged food, nat­u­ral and ar­ti­fi­cial sug­ars, al­co­hol, grains, beans, legumes, soy, and dairy are off the menu for 30 days straight. Even pack­aged foods like Paleo pan­cake mix with Whole30-ap­proved in­gre­di­ents are dis­cour­aged. Meat, seafood, eggs, veg­eta­bles, nuts, oils, and fruits are al­lowed. The goal is to re­wire your brain to crave whole foods and to weed out items that aren’t set­tling well with you. Af­ter 30 days, you can slowly add food groups such as beans and whole grains back into your diet as a method of test­ing for food sen­si­tiv­i­ties.

Pros: If you’re look­ing for a fairly dras­tic di­etary kick­start, es­pe­cially post-hol­i­day sea­son, this could be for you. Keep in mind that it was de­signed for only 30 days, so af­ter this time

Peo­ple grav­i­tate to­ward in­ter­mit­tent fast­ing be­cause there are no off-limit foods—just lim­its on how much you can eat at cer­tain points.

you can ease your re­stric­tions and mod­ify the diet to be sus­tain­able long-term. Many peo­ple will no­tice their pants fit a bit looser, which should be ex­pected when eat­ing less over­all. The diet can also be help­ful for iden­ti­fy­ing any food in­tol­er­ances such as lac­tose that could be be­hind symp­toms like bloat­ing. And some peo­ple praise the diet for help­ing them kick their sugar lust and prac­tice mind­ful eat­ing.

Cons: It’s a la­bor-in­ten­sive process re­quir­ing la­bel read­ing (re­mem­ber, no honey in your jerky), lots of meal plan­ning, and more cre­ativ­ity in the kitchen to side­step food bore­dom when faced with fewer cook­ing op­tions. (Yes, you can get fed up with av­o­cado.) Ac­cess to only Whole30-com­pli­ant foods when trav­el­ing or eat­ing out can be a chal­lenge. Veg­e­tar­i­ans will strug­gle to eat enough protein. Af­ter any slip-up, even if it’s just a piece of bread get­ting in the way, you’re en­cour­aged to start over—grrr. Ex­pect some side ef­fects such as fa­tigue and crav­ings that come with re­duc­ing calo­ries and carbs. There can be a ten­dency to gorge on “for­bid­den” foods postW­hole30, which can quickly undo any ben­e­fits gained from the pre­vi­ous month. And any di­ets that preach re­stric­tion risk lead­ing to cer­tain nutri­tional de­fi­cien­cies and dis­or­dered eat­ing pat­terns.

Make it Bet­ter: Whole30-fo­cused cook­books can help keep you on track by pro­vid­ing cook­ing in­spi­ra­tion with al­lowed foods. Seek­ing the ad­vice of a di­eti­tian is a smart move to make sure you’re get­ting all the nu­tri­ents such as cal­cium your body needs in ab­sence of cer­tain food groups. When the clock strikes mid­night, slowly add in the health­ier foods you’ve been steer­ing clear of such as whole grains, lentils, and yogurt so you get a bet­ter sense of how you re­spond to them. De­spite what the diet may lead you to be­lieve, most peo­ple should be eat­ing more of items like beans and whole grains, not less.

MEDITER­RANEAN

Nuts and Bolts: Among the plethora of diet reg­i­mens, the Mediter­ranean diet has gar­nered the most wide­spread praise among health pro­fes­sion­als. Es­sen­tially, the diet is about im­ple­ment­ing the com­po­nents char­ac­ter­iz­ing the tra­di­tional cook­ing style of coun­tries bor­der­ing the Mediter­ranean Sea. Namely, eat­ing plenty of fruits, veg­eta­bles, herbs, whole grains, olive oil, fish, poul­try, nuts, and legumes, while reign­ing in your in­take of red meat, re­fined grains, and highly pro­cessed pack­aged foods that are typ­i­cal of the stan­dard Amer­i­can diet. There is lit­tle fo­cus placed on count­ing calo­ries—diet qual­ity mat­ters most.

Pros: Re­search sug­gests that the ben­e­fits of fol­low­ing a Mediter­ranean-style eat­ing pat­tern are far-reach­ing: bet­ter heart health, less risk of de­pres­sion, im­proved vi­sion and bone health, weight loss, and lower rates of cog­ni­tive de­cline, to name just a few. The nutri­ent-dense whole food fo­cus of the Mediter­ranean diet is why it can do a body good. And be­cause it doesn’t call for any se­ri­ous diet re­stric­tions (yes, you can eat bread, es­pe­cially if dipped in olive oil), the flex­i­ble diet is one of the most sus­tain­able long-term.

Cons: Be­cause you’re for the most part on your own to de­cide what to eat and how much to eat, di­eters who ben­e­fit from more struc­ture or re­quire more im­me­di­ate re­sults may stum­ble with the Mediter­ranean diet. And it may trim your wal­let as well as your waist­line. A study con­cluded that sub­jects who ad­hered most closely to the Mediter­ranean diet spent more on food each day than those who ate mostly a “Western” diet.

Make it Bet­ter: Strive for i nclud­ing one to two serv­ings of veg­gies at ev­ery meal, re­place re­fined grains in your diet with their whole ver­sion, snack on fruits and nuts, and try to nosh on fish at least twice a week, with a fo­cus on omega-3 rich va­ri­eties such as salmon, trout, and sar­dines. To re­duce the pain at the check­out, scoop up Mediter­ranean sta­ples, in­clud­ing beans, nuts, and whole-grains from bulk bins. Lo­cal, in-sea­son fruits and veg­eta­bles from farm­ers’ mar­kets can of­ten be had for bar­gain prices. Though made up mostly of healthy fats, items like nuts and olive oil still pack a calo­rie punch, so por­tion con­trol is a must—an­other thing peo­ple in Mediter­ranean coun­tries are noted for. And try to em­brace the so­cial com­po­nent of eat­ing as they do in the Mediter­ranean by shar­ing meals with fam­ily and friends more of­ten.

CARB CY­CLING

Nuts and Bolts: The gist of this diet is that you al­ter your car­bo­hy­drate in­take through­out the week, month, or year. There are usu­ally high-carb, medium-carb, and low-carb days cy­cled through­out a pe­riod of time. The ra­tio­nale be­hind carb cy­cling is that when your body re­ceives lim­ited carbs, it re­lies on fat as its pri­mary fuel source, which can be help­ful for weight man­age­ment, and also helps your body to be­come more sen­si­tive to in­sulin to bet­ter uti­lize carbs

Re­search sug­gests that fol­low­ing the ben­e­fits of fol­low­ing a Mediter­ranean-style eat­ing pat­tern are far-reach­ing: bet­ter heart health, weight loss, and lower cog­ni­tive de­cline.

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