Diets! There are so many of them to choose from! How do you decide which one is right for you? There is no single, without-a-doubt best diet for every person to follow, always and forever. While you may feel like a particular nutrition idea – such as paleo or ketogenic – works for you, it doesn’t mean everyone else should follow the same program.
The human body can survive and thrive on a host of different nutritional conditions, which is clearly demonstrated by the traditional diets of various ethnic groups throughout the world. While there are huge differences in the common diets out there, they can all raise nutritional awareness and attention, they focus on food quality, they help eliminate nutrient deficiencies and they help control appetite and food intake.
The best diet is the one that works for you and takes into account your physical and biochemical differences, as well as your lifestyle such as family, life demands, work situation, income level, cooking experience and food availability. Before jumping onto the next fad diet train, take the time to research what the diet entails, what the pros and cons of the diet are and really think about why you want to consider following a restrictive diet in the first place.
Let’s take a look at some of the more common diets:
THE KETOGENIC DIET
In the early 1920s, the Ketogenic diet was used in experiments on children with epilepsy. By the 1940s the Ketogenic diet made its way into medical textbooks as a treatment for childhood epilepsy.
The Ketogenic diet is a high fat, extremely low carbohydrate diet. A typical balanced meal is about 30 percent protein, 40 percent carbohydrates and 30 percent fat. A Paleo meal would have about 40 percent protein, 20 percent carbohydrates and 40 percent fat. Ketogenic, on the other hand, is 20 percent protein, 5 percent carbohydrates and 75 percent fat.
Just how little is 5 percent carbohydrate? It’s about the equivalent of eating 10-15 grapes for the whole day. Indeed, the Ketogenic diet is the most restrictive and limited style of eating. However on the ketogenic diet, one can typically eat unlimited greens without going over the daily carbohydrate intake. For particular groups of people, ketosis is helpful, but for other people it can actually be harmful. For many populations ketosis has little to no effect, and is much too hard of a diet to follow consistently. Ketosis should not be used to try and cure ailments, it should not be used to randomly “get healthy” and should be done under close medical supervision for a specific objective.
In particular, the Ketogenic diet has probable benefits for those with metabolic diseases, neurodegeneration and brain injuries.
I have been eating a ketogenic diet for a year now – mainly to reduce inflammation and to prevent cancer re-occurrence. I do feel excellent on this diet – heaps of good, even energy all day, great focus and mental clarity, and great sleeps. I will be writing more extensively on this way of eating down the road.
If you have a specific health problem that a Ketogenic diet may help with, consult your doctor first and carefully monitor and track dietary modifications.
For Ketogenic recipes, I recommend a cook book written by Patricia Daly and Domini Kemp called The Ketogenic Kitchen.
THE PALEO DIET
The Paleo diet is a nutrient-dense, whole foods diet that claims to improve health by providing balanced and complete nutrition that heals while avoiding processed and refined foods that harm. The Paleo, or primal, diet is based on the idea that we adapted to eat certain kinds of foods and that to stay healthy and avoid chronic diseases we need to eat like our ancestors. The fundamental principle of the Paleo diet is that the change from the hunter-gatherer diet to an agricultural diet, rich in cereal grains, gave rise to modern chronic diseases such as diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease.
While proponents of the Paleo diet are correct in saying our modern Western diet isn’t healthy for us, most modern fruits and vegetables and most modern animal foods are nothing like the ones our ancestors ate. Claiming that we should eat a diet rich in vegetables, fruits and meats because that is what our ancestors ate is a bit misleading, as many of the foods we eat today didn’t exist in Paleolithic times.
The Paleo diet is fairly restrictive, avoiding many foods such as: cereal grains, legumes, dairy, refined sugar, refined vegetable oils, potatoes, processed foods and salt. According to the Paleo template, these foods have to be avoided because they are known to be inflammatory, are disruptive to hormones, and negatively impact the health of the gut.
The Paleo lifestyle reduces inflammation, regulates the immune system, supports liver detoxification, supports hormone regulation, promotes healthy digestion and can normalize weight. With regards to weight loss, the paleo diet typically helps people lose weight and feel better because the restrictions mean giving up all junk foods. But it is not a way to simply lose pounds quickly.
A typical Paleo plate of food should include a 50/50 ratio of calories from plants versus animals, which would look like 75 percent vegetables and 25 percent meat on your plate.
Some say every Paleo principle is rooted in the latest research and data, while others argue that the latest information shows quite the opposite. For example, there is evidence that ancient humans may have begun eating grasses and cereals even before the Paleolithic era and grain granules on grinding tools suggest that Paleolithic humans turned grains into flours as long as 30,000 years ago. The same can be said about legumes – they have been found at Paleolithic sites all over the world and were even discovered to be the dominant type of food available in some cases.
If the Paleo diet appeals to you, consider The Paleo Approach cookbook by Sarah Ballantyne, PhD.
THE VEGAN DIET
The vegan, or total vegetarian diet, includes foods from plants and fungi only and abstains from eating all meat as well as all foods of animal origin including eggs, dairy, gelatin and honey. A vegan diet has to be well thought out in order to obtain all the vitamins and nutrients that aren’t included in the diet. Vegans need to ensure that they supplement with B12, calcium, iron, zinc, omega-6, omega-3 and the fat soluble vitamins A and D.
Protein deficiencies can also sometimes be common among vegans, however a well-planned vegan meal can meet and exceed protein requirements. The best plant sources of protein include beans and legumes, nuts and seeds, and high-protein grains like quinoa. Minimally processed vegan protein powders are also an option.
For some excellent vegan recipes, check out Eat Smart by Niomi Smart. I have used this vegan cookbook for vegetable recipes that are also ketogenic for me. For example, the Chimichurri Cauliflower and the Miso Courgette are both excellent, as is the hummus.
Plant-based diets, usually called vegetarian diets, include vegetables, fruit, nuts and seeds, beans and legumes, whole grains and sometimes animal by-products such as dairy and eggs. Usually a vegetarian diet does not include animal flesh, although some vegetarians eat fish and seafood. Much like the vegan diet, a vegetarian diet has to be planned carefully in order to obtain the missing vitamins and nutrients, including protein.
Plant-based diets tend to be lower in saturated fat and cholesterol, and have higher intakes of dietary fiber, magnesium, potassium and vitamin C.
Evidence suggests that a diet high in plants can help us stay healthy. Both vegan and vegetarian diets offer nutrient dense foods which leave the body with a great amount of energy and valuable nutrients once the food is digested.
THE HORMONE BALANCING DIET
The hormone balancing diet is designed to help women rebalance their hormones – primarily thyroid, adrenals, estrogen and progesterone – through restoration of the digestive system, balance of a person’s sugar levels, liver detoxification and emotional well-being.
Hormone imbalances can cause a slew of problems including belly fat, depression, anxiety, sagging skin, insomnia, fatigue, hair loss, mood swings, food cravings, ovarian cysts, breast and ovarian cancer. One in 13 people suffers from hypothyroidism, 75 percent of women suffer from PMS and an estimated 85 percent of women will suffer from some degree of hormonal imbalance in their lifetime. Nutrition can mitigate many of these imbalances. Anyone suffering from thyroid disorders, Hashimoto’s, adrenal fatigue, PMS, infertility, peri-menopause, PCOS, endometriosis, estrogen dominance, fibroids, breast lumps and breast cancer can benefit from a hormone balancing diet.
An excellent website to learn more about hormone balancing, including some great recipes is https://www.hormonesbalance.com. I have made many of these recipes and have also worked with the founder, Magdalena Wszelaki, who has a highly successful nutrition practice helping women with thyroid disorders as well as hormonal imbalances.
THE BLOOD TYPE DIET
Based on the idea that foods react chemically to different blood types, the Blood Type diet claims to be the most personalized diet system.
While each blood type encourages consumption of healthy, natural foods and does not allow fatty or sugary foods for any of the blood type plans, the diet has no scientific backing and is very limiting, cutting out whole food groups. Additionally, it can be difficult to implement in a family if there are multiple blood types. Some of the recommendations in this type of diet are: Blood Type O can’t have grains, beans or dairy; Blood Type A should avoid meats and heavy proteins; Type B should stay away from corn, wheat, buckwheat, lentils, tomatoes, peanuts, sesame seeds and chicken; and type AB should avoid caffeine, alcohol, smoked and cured meats.
The Blood Type diet is most common in South Africa, New Zealand and Australia.
The Mediterranean diet promotes the consumption of fresh as well as non-processed foods such as fresh vegetables, olive oils, fish and chicken.
The list of foods to avoid on the Mediterranean diet is small: processed foods, salt for seasoning, red meat (can have small quantities) and saturated fat.
This diet is associated with preventing heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity and is viewed as one of the most balanced diets.
This is considered one of the healthiest and easiest diets to follow, as it is more of a lifestyle than a restrictive diet program. It is very easy to maintain long-term.