There are many ways to eat a healthy diet: it can depend on where you live, what’s available, the time of year, how physically active you are, and how it makes you feel (among other things). The information age means there are heaps of resources on healthy eating out there, and it also means it’s easy to get overwhelmed or confused about how a healthy diet looks.
Today let’s look at some of the most popularized diet trends and their validity (or lack thereof).
According to the paleo diet’s self-proclaimed founder, paleo is primarily based on the foods available to humans in the Paleolithic era. In a nutshell, this diet promotes the consumption of vegetables, fruits, nuts, roots, meat and organ meats, fruit oils (such as olive, coconut, and palm oil), fish, and eggs. Paleo also advocates eliminating processed foods, preservatives, cereal grains, legumes, dairy, refined sugar, potatoes, refined oils, and salt.
- Paleo encourages eliminating processed foods, dairy, refined sugar, and generally promotes a whole food diet.
- The research just isn’t there to back this diet.
- There are a limited number of controlled clinical trials comparing the Paleolithic diet to accepted diets.
- A 2016 review of the existing research states, “There is concern for bone health over the long term due to inadequate calcium sources.”
- There are limitations in paleo studies, and results should be cautiously considered.
- This diet may be “meat-heavy,” which is concerning for its environmental impact – including food sourcing, water quality, and use, as well as CO2 emissions. You can learn more about the environmental impact of your diet here.
You can still be plant-based and paleo! If most of this sounds useful to you (and let’s be honest, a whole food diet is always great), but you aren’t on board with consuming animals, there is a wave of individuals living the plant-paleo life.
Evidence suggests that Paleolithic humans did eat grains. A 2015 study reveals that archeologists have found grain and flour residue on grinding tools and dental calculus from Grotta Paglicci, an important Paleolithic site.
If you are concerned about lectins, know this: while they tend to be higher in grains and legumes, lectins are found in just about all plants. However, there is no substantial or recent research (most research is from the 70s, and there is a handful from 2004) about them being harmful. Although not well researched yet, it is believed that soaking, sprouting, cooking, fermenting, and chewing your food breaks these down.
The ketogenic diet is less about what you eat, per se, and more about reaching a specific biological state known as ketosis, or ketoacidosis. This diet focuses on fat intake, making up to 90% of one’s caloric intake; this forces your body to rely on ketone bodies – which the liver produces from stored fat – for fuel. In rare conditions, a monitored variation of the diet may have benefits. If you are working with a medical professional, be sure to discuss any changes with them first.
- May aid in weight loss.
- Little research on the long-term effects on the general population. Most scientific research on keto is geared towards those with kidney disease or children with epilepsy.
- Since initially writing this, more research has surfaced on the dangers of this diet. A 2019 study concluded that a keto diet is associated with increased cholesterol and inflammatory markers associated with chronic disease.
- Limits or eliminates fruit; this is a big red flag for me as a nutritionist; fruits are some of the most nutrient-dense, healing foods on the planet!
- Only the short-term effects of this diet have been studied; long term health implications are still unknown.
- Side effects may include nausea, vomiting, headache, fatigue, dizziness, insomnia, difficulty in exercise tolerance, and constipation.
- Long term adverse effects may include hepatic steatosis, hypoproteinemia, kidney stones, and vitamin and mineral deficiencies.
- Be aware of your other ailments. This protocol is contraindicated in those with pancreatitis, liver failure, fat metabolism disorders, primary carnitine deficiency, carnitine palmitoyltransferase deficiency, carnitine translocase deficiency, porphyrias, or pyruvate kinase deficiency.
IF IT FITS MY MACROS/IF IT FITS YOUR MACROS (IIFMM/IIFYM)
IIFYM uses personalized calculations of your macronutrients (fats, carbs, and protein) to meet your weight loss and/or fitness goals using: basal metabolic rate, activity level, and weight goals. It is a way of controlling calories without counting calories and counting macros instead.
- Less restrictive than the diets above as there are no “forbidden” foods.
- May help with weight loss.
- You can do this as a meat-eater, vegetarian, or vegan.
- There is no clinical research on this diet’s effectiveness.
- It ignores the importance of micronutrients and other compounds like vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and antioxidants. However, some more savvy advocates for the diet do make a note that micronutrients are essential.
- There is a lot of “counting” with each bite, and for some, this kind of tracking can cause stress or even lead to disordered eating.
- This diet’s sole goal is weight control.
- Since IIFYM focuses on hitting specific macronutrient goals, not on particular foods, it’s easy to slip into the habit of eating heavily processed or highly sugary foods.
- The founder has no medical or nutritional training.
If you’re choosing this option: All diets should still include whole foods dense in micronutrients, which are imperative for all-out pathways (including neurological function, digestion, cell and tissue repair, and much more).
Bonus: Whole Food Plant-based
I couldn’t sign off without recognizing my favorite easy and scientifically backed diet. This one is simple: eat all plants from a variety of sources. I have been consuming a plant-based diet for nearly 25 years. Here is why.
- Research shows that plant-based diets are cost-effective, low-risk interventions that may lower body mass index, blood pressure, HbA1C, and cholesterol.
- It can be done in many forms: IIFMM, keto, paleo, raw, macrobiotic, and so on.
- There are tens of thousands of plants you can consume.
- It can be better for the environment.
- It can fit with most cultures and traditions.
- Plants have phytonutrients that you can’t get in meat or dairy.
Myths that are considered cons.
- Myth: “You can’t get enough protein.” This one has been around for so long I’m shocked it is still in the discussion, and it couldn’t be more false. There are so many ways to get your protein in, including nuts, seeds, beans, legumes, vegetables, jackfruit, edamame, quinoa, pasta, and more. Research shows that those on plant-based diets are not at risk for protein deficiency. If you still aren’t convinced, give a quick social media search for #teamplantbuilt. Thank me later.
- Myth: “It’s expensive.” It doesn’t have to be! Grains, beans, and produce are some of the most affordable foods out there. Many books and social media accounts are dedicated to teaching you how to have a healthy, whole-food, plant-based diet without breaking the bank. I was a broke college student and worked for a non-profit for nearly a decade, and I was able to maintain my plant-based diet while stretching my dollar.
- Myth: You won’t get enough B12 or calcium; this is another one that still lives on with no quality clinical backing. I’ve seen hardcore meat-eaters with far more deficiencies in my clinical practice than those on a whole food plant-based diet. If you are concerned about nutrient deficiencies, reach out to get lab work done.
Do you follow a specific diet? Tell us below in the comments!