America is constantly on the lookout for exciting, new diets that actually work. Currently, the Paleo diet, the sugarless diet, the gluten-free and the vegan diet are most popular among health buffs. While each of these have health benefits and dedicated celebrity following, how do you know which one’s for you? Should you eat like a caveman, eschew all sugary products, consume only plant-based food, or skip everything made of wheat? Read on to understand what goes into these four different ideologies, and pick one that’s best suited to you.
1. The Paleo Diet
It topped the list of Most Googled Diets in 2013 and converted nearly 3 million Americans, according to a study done by The State University of New York (SUNY). Emphasizing foods that mimic the food groups of pre-agricultural, hunter-gatherer ancestors, it pushes for more protein, fewer carbs, and moderate intake of healthy fats. Paleo favors grass-fed meats, nuts, greens, and seeds, while forbidding dairy, grains, legumes, refined sugars, and salt.
At least 16 human studies indicate that this diet has favorable short-term results on conditions like multiple sclerosis, diabetes, and heart disease. This clean-eating, low-carb diet can be beneficial to health, if administered correctly.
Many Paleo dieters complain of constipation after abstaining from fibrous grains and adding more meat to their diets. If they’re not careful, they can end up eating too much saturated fat, which is hard on the heart, and too few carbs, causing fatigue.
2. The Vegan Diet
Being vegan means abstaining from the use of animal products and animal-derived substances entirely. That means no meat, poultry, seafood, eggs or dairy. Vegan diets are based on grains and other seeds, legumes (particularly beans), fruits and nuts.
This plant-based diet appears to benefit people at the risk of heart disease and diabetes. Joel Fuhrman, MD and author of several books states that the biggest advantage of following this diet is the removal of animal products and the inclusion of nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables.
With veganism, it is difficult to get enough protein, iron, and B12 (all abundant in meat) and DHA-EPA omega-3 fatty acids (found in fatty fish). Doni Wilson, a New York–based naturopath, adds that vegans who eat just pasta and bagels are going to end up with a very high-carb diet and miss out on the nutrients that come from animal sources. Vegans are often advised to eat foods fortified with these nutrients, or take supplements.
3. The Sugarless Diet
The extreme form of a sugar-free diet restricts all foods that contain added sugars as well as fruit and vegetables that contain natural sugars such as peas, carrots and parsnips. The less extreme form of the diet permits fruit (but not juices) and vegetables and restricts all added sugars, honey and processed foods that contain sugars such as sugar-sweetened drinks, confectionery, sweet snacks, biscuits, cakes, pastries, ice cream and desserts, sweetened yogurt, most breakfast cereals, sauces, soups and marinades.
Cutting sugar out of your diet can reportedly lead to more energy, healthier moods, clearer skin, and greater focus. Needless to say, the pounds will start to shed.
Biochemist Leah Fitzsimmons warns that cutting all sugar from your diet is difficult to achieve and that the drastic approach could be fatal because fruits, vegetables, dairy products and dairy replacements, eggs and nuts, all contain sugar. Eliminating them would leave you with few options, such as meat and fats. Dr Rosemary Stanton recommends sensible eating and says that it is best to avoid going to the extremes. For example, indulging in a small serving of birthday cake makes more sense than avoiding all treats, and then binge eating.
4. The Gluten-Free Diet
Gluten is a protein composite naturally present in wheat, barley, and rye; it’s also added to baked goods to make them chewy and used to thicken sauces, soups, condiments, and other processed foods. This diet requires you to give up on all these foods. According to the Archives of Internal Medicine, one in 133 people has celiac disease (CD) and at least another six percent of the US population suffers from non-celiac gluten sensitivity.
People who go off gluten, whether they have CD or not, tend to lower their intake of all refined carbohydrates, which can improve the health and help them lose weight. Some studies show eliminating gluten can quell irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, and psoriasis.
Gluten-free junk foods augmented with fat for taste can add to the pounds. Those who go off gluten should ensure they are supplementing their diet with B vitamins, iron, folate, and fiber, often present in whole grains and breads.
Dr Mark Hyman, an American physician, scholar and best-selling author says that reaching an optimal diet can be achieved in several ways. If everybody is fighting with each other about what kind of foods we should be eating, we are missing the bigger picture of how industrialized foods are destroying the earth. The key to good eating is moderation, common sense, and listening to your body.