The Mediterranean Diet
The history of Mediterranean diet roots to the same-named region in Southern Europe where local cuisine is renowned for its flavorful food. It includes lots of vegetables, fruits, beans, grains, nuts and oils as well as moderate amounts of fish, white meat and some dairy. This makes it a very balanced diet, including lots of fresh ingredients and therefore follows almost all international recommendations.
The major fat source is olive oil, being rich in heart-beneficial monounsaturated fatty acids. Historically, this region is well-known for a reduced frequency of heart issues and a low percentage of cardio-vascular disease.
According to U.S.National Library of Medicine, following the Mediterranean diet may lead to more stable blood sugar, lower cholesterol and decreased risk of other health problems; however, they also list possible health concerns as described here.
The consensus is that this well balanced diet is beneficial for your health; however, people can suffer from the possible health concerns mentioned above.
The real test of this diet is to look at people who follow it. Mediterranean communities are well known for their happy, vibrant lifestyles and nutrition is an important part of that.
As well as the possible health benefits, Mediterranean food includes a lot of unique herbs and spices like oregano and rosemary, turning meals into moments of pleasure to be enjoyed with good company.
The Paleo Diet
How much do we really know about the nutritional health of our ancient ancestors (those who lived thousands of years ago during the Paleolithic era)?
Well it’s common sense to assume that all the foods they ate were non-refined and of natural origin.
We do not know the ratio of animal to plant-based foods in the diet of our ancestors but we do know that their diets varied depending on geography, season and opportunity.
It’s deemed that 65% of the average total energy reserves of the typical Paleolithic hunter-gatherer came from animal-based foods; with the rest comprised of berries, roots, nuts, veggies and oils.
The same-named modern Paleo-diet relies on foods which were most abundant until farming emerged about 10,000 years ago.
The diet is based on the theory that food processing has developed so quickly that the human body hasn’t genetically adapted to consume modern foods; hence the idea that refined carbs, saturated fats or gluten-rich foods lead to various disorders like celiac disease, obesity and hypertension.
The Paleo diet returns you to more natural eating.
You may follow the Paleo diet if you want to lose weight in a healthy way and to “normalize” your metabolic routes.
Some studies suggest that the Paleo diet controls your blood sugar even better than Mediterranean one. Although, remember that the Paleo diet is low in dairy so your calcium levels may suffer. If this concerns you, either tweak the diet or look at alternative ways to align your daily intake of calcium with recommended levels.
The Atkins Diet
The Atkins diet was first presented to a wide audience in 1972 by American cardiologist Robert C. Atkins in his book Dr. Atkins’ Diet revolution. This is a popular diet in today’s world of modern, low-carb eating plans.
Dr. Atkins suffered with obesity himself and set out to find easy ways to lose weight. He found that typical Western-type diets are too high in refined carbohydrates. He proposed that foods such as bread, grains, pasta, fried potato or sugary baked goods should all be avoided while on the diet.
It doesn’t require calorie counting but does require you to track carbs.
This diet consists of 4 stages and is recommended for relatively short periods of time. It is intended mostly for fast weight loss and for changing your eating habits.
During the tough first or “Induction stage” you’ll be guided to drop your daily carbs to around 20g/day, which is only about one tenth of usual consumption.
As protein becomes your major source of energy you become more reliant on high protein foods such as: eggs, fish, meat and cheese accompanied with various fats/oils and non-starch ‘foundation’ vegetables like broccoli, cucumber and peppers.
When you move into the second (“Balancing”) stage you can slightly increase your consumption of high-energy carbs until you are about 4.5kg from your goal weight.
During third (“Pre-maintenance”) stage of the diet you can widen the range of foods including more fruits, whole grains and starchy veggies but you are advised to go back to the second stage if your weight loss stops.
After achieving your target weight you can proceed to the final or “Lifetime maintenance” stage. This stage helps you to to stay at steady weight most appropriate to you.
Like all low-carb diets, the Atkins diet does result in short-term weight loss; however, such eating habits are rarely sustainable.
According to some research it can improve short-term blood cholesterol and blood sugar levels, as well as triglyceride content, resulting in better heart health.
There is also research which suggests that if the diet is applied for long periods it may increase mortality.
Prolonged carbohydrates restriction may lead to various health problems like heart arrhythmia’s, osteoporosis, kidney damage and lipid metabolism abnormalities.
If you are thinking about starting this diet you should consult your physician first to avoid any side issues.
The Low Carb Diet
Low-carb, slow-carb, no-carb… How often did you hear about these fads? Let’s shed a spotlight on low-carb or low-calorie diet (LCD).
Since the original Atkins’ diet was criticized for its high content of fats, animal foods and increased risk of heart issues, some new modifications have been designed to overcome such side effects.
One of them is the South Beach Diet which was promoted in 2003 by cardiologist Arthur Agatson in his book The South Beach Diet – Good Fats Good Carbs Guide. This low carb diet is a modern version of Atkins diet, giving more choice in foods. It uses a smarter approach by classifying different types of carbs (rather than carbs per se) and excludes certain types from meal plans.
Modern low-carb diets provides a milder and less stressful way to lose weight when comparing to the original Atkins diet.
It ranks foods according to the ability to elevate sugar blood level (i.e. Glycemic index or GI). For this diet 40-60 g/day of high-energy carbs is typical instead of recommended 200-250 g/day.
LCD pays a great attention to foods with high dietary fibre content which have a range of benefits including increased satiety to maintaining blood cholesterol.
You are not advised to go on the diet especially if you have any health conditions, such as diabetes or heart disease, so again, if you are thinking about starting this diet you should consult your physician first.
The Keto Diet
Just like anything in fashion, diets come and go. You find that old outdated diets often return with new fashionable names but in principle they are very similar to the original. The modern ketogenic diet, or simply “Keto,” is one of them.
It has been considered by conventional dietetics as a very low-carb diet (VLCD) providing 20g-50g of carbs a day which is less than one fifth of average dietary guidelines. It also provides less than 800 Cal/day which is far below the recommended daily amount for men (2,500Kcal) and women (2,000Kcal).
The name “Keto” derives from the liver’s production of ketone bodies during periods of low food intake. Ketone bodies are produced by the liver due to intense gluconeogenesis (the production of glucose from non-carbohydrate sources – i.e. proteins and lipids).
Keto-diet is usually composed of meat, fish, poultry, cheese, eggs, nuts, leafy greens, some non-starchy vegetables and lots of oils and fats. It often uses liquid formulations like protein shakes or smoothies.
This diet is intended for very fast weight loss during relatively short periods. According to some national institutes, you may lose about 3-5 pounds per week or 44 lbs over 12 weeks while on a “Keto” diet.
Such fast weight loss may serve as a motivation to partake in the “Keto” diet but be aware that it is very stressful on the body. Do not use the Keto diet if you have chronic issues, heart ailments or you are aged over 50. I’m sure you get the gist by now – If you are thinking about starting this diet you should consult your physician first.
The Gluten Free Diet
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye which causes allergic reactions in the immune system of some people. Over time, such permanent inflammation can damage the small intestine and result in serious complications.
So, in essence, the Gluten-free diet (GFD) is a treatment-oriented eating plan, alleviating hypersensitivity, which has become a fashionable diet. Currently, “strict life-long” GFD is the only effective treatment for celiac disease.
Although grains are prohibited, the gluten-free diet does offer quite a broad list of acceptable foods. First of all, grains should be replaced by gluten-free alternatives like buckwheat, soy or quinoa. Meat, eggs, seeds, nuts and most dairy products are allowed.
Initially the diet may be frustrating but with a little imagination you can create own list of enjoyable gluten-free meals.
Oftentimes the gluten-free diet may not provide sufficient amounts of certain vitamins and minerals, so ask your dietitian/doctor to revise your meal plan where necessary to ensure your body is getting the nutrients it needs.
The Vegetarian Diet
In different cultures vegetarian diets have been followed for thousands of years. The term “vegetarian” has been used in United States since 1830s.
In the 19th century, refusing meat, poultry or fish was advocated by Seventh-Day Adventist Church and particularly by John Harvey Kellogg. He is well-known for the invention of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes which he proposed as an alternative to the traditional bacon and egg breakfast.
Broadly speaking, a vegetarian is someone who doesn’t eat meat or fish but may eat eggs (ovo-vegetarians) and dairy products like butter, cheese and milk (lacto-vegetarians); however, you can get ranging levels of vegetarians based on their ethical beliefs and health views.
The Vegetarian diet is often an ethical choice made by people who ‘’think green.” These people often find alternative ways to rejuvenate their vitamin and mineral stores without the need for killing animals and contributing to industrial-scale meat production.
According to National Institute of Health the vegetarian diet could really reduce your chances of obesity and risk of heart disease, as well as resulting in lower blood pressure and lower risk of diabetes; however, individuals who follow this diet need to focus on getting enough protein, calcium, iron and vitamin B12 either through supplementation or seeking out alternatives to meat.
Those who follow this diet can get all the nutrients they need but it requires a more careful selection of foods.
The Vegan Diet
The Vegan diet is the most restrictive form of vegetarian diet – vegans do not eat dairy, eggs, or other animal products; some don’t even eat honey.
The vegan diet has a strong ethical dimension to it. Unsustainable farming, causing harm to animals and damaging the environment are high priorities on most people’s ethical lists. This diet adheres to those ethical values by not contributing towards the slaughter of animals and the destruction of the environment.
It is not as easy to get all the essential nutrients the body needs purely from plant-based foods, so it does require thorough meal planning. A wide variety of such foods need to be relied upon to cover all of the potential nutrient deficiencies and supplementation is often required.
According to the findings from Adventist cohorts and the Handbook of Nutrition and Food a well-balanced vegan diet could provide even more health benefits than vegetarian one by decreasing the risk of obesity, heart disease, type-2 diabetes, hypertension, constipation, kidney stones and gallstones. It may also prevent gout, ulcers and dementia; although, there is less evidence suggesting this.
When following this diet you will be advised to get the nutritional equivalents of animal foods from your chosen plant foods.
Your daily meal should be accompanied by vitamin and mineral supplements as well as by sources of omega-3 fatty acids which you can get from marine algae.
Hopefully this gives you a better understanding of today’s popular diets.
Nutrition is all about supplying your body with the appropriate vitamins and minerals so it can function properly (depending on your lifestyle and goals) but there are also ethical considerations that need to be addressed.
- Some people cut out certain foods because they believe it creates a healthier, vibrant lifestyle.
- Some people choose to cut out certain foods in order to lose weight quickly.
- Some people choose to cut out certain foods for medical reasons.
- Some people choose to cut out certain foods based on their ethical values.
Before you choose a diet to follow you need to understand your own lifestyle, goals and values to build a diet around.
It is true that there are a lot of fad diets out there but they do usually serve their purpose. Are they healthy and sustainable? Not always. This is where you need to align your values and goals to understand what you want from a nutrition plan; hence the quote:
I don’t diet. I just eat according to my goals.
Nutrition advice from pretty much every national health organisation is that a healthy diet plan is a based around a balanced diet, with a focus on reducing saturated fat and sugar. If you create a lifestyle for you, your family and your children based on this principle then, from a health standpoint, you won’t go far wrong.
If your ethical values or medical condition means that you have to veer slightly from this principle then more power to you.
But above all, eating well is a lifestyle – enjoy your food, stay healthy and enjoy your life!