Ever since the 30’s we’ve all been through the ringer of what the FDA deems as “healthy” when it comes to the food we eat. Every food group has had its turn on the list of shame. First, fat was the devil. Then it was sugar. Next was dairy. And now, carbs are currently taking a hit. It’s hilarious to look back at it now, after 40 more years of research, to see what trends were completely bonkers and what actually had some substance behind it. I think we’re finally starting to grasp how the body works, how to optimize our health, and how to maintain a healthy weight.
I often get really funny looks from new patients in clinic when I ask “how is your diet?” at that particular portion of our intake. Many of them respond with…. “I’m not on a diet,” with an uneasy look on their face like I’m administering a lie detector test. Obviously the word “diet” has many connotations. When we talk about it, ultimately we just want to know WHAT you’re eating.
There are so many different ways to eat based on your budget, lifestyle, ethics, health concerns, etc. Some people eat everything! And if that works for you - have at it. However, if you’re one of those that is constantly chasing the scale trying to get in shape, or looking for alternatives to relieve various symptoms, some of the diets listed below might be a good option for you. I’ll go through a few of the current fad diets, so you all have an idea of what each means and what would be the benefit of eating that way.
The paleo diet is based on “what a caveman (or woman) would eat.” The theory is, early humans were foraging and eating what they could find and kill, so that represents the cleanest form of food. Paleo has a higher emphasis on protein from meat and carbs coming from veggies. Processed foods aren’t allowed on the paleo diet.
YES: All veggies, fruits, fat, nuts, seeds, and meats. (Yes, bacon included).
NO: Grains of any kind, corn, soy, legumes, dairy, sugar.
Now, this one has varying degrees of intensity. If you’re doing a Whole30, which is a super strict paleo cleanse for 30 days, you’re more restricted in what you can have. If you are trying to find a healthy balance, and be less restricted, then supplementing with things like organic local honey in your tea, cooking with organic butter (Kerrygold is my personal favorite) and eating nuts and seeds, is 100% fine.
I gravitate towards the paleo style of eating because to me, it makes the most sense. It removes the 3 heavy-hitters (sugar, dairy, grains) that so often contribute to inflammation in the body. You’re not eating processed foods, so it becomes more of a lifestyle shift as well, by cooking lots of the meals you consume. This is most often my recommendation to people trying to lose weight, identify allergens, target symptom inducers, or just to be healthier overall. If you aren’t a meat eater however, this might not be the best fit for you.
The ketogenic diet is similar to the paleo diet, with a few distinguishing characteristics. The goal is to use FAT instead of CARBS to shift your body into “ketosis” or a metabolic state to create and use its own energy. In this way of eating, the macronutrient distribution in your diet dramatically shifts. Keto has a higher emphasis on fat instead of protein, unlike the paleo diet. The macro breakdown looks like this: fats should be about 60-80% of the diet, protein at 20-30% and carbohydrates at 5-10% of the diet. I know all of you low-fat-diet people are screaming bloody murder out there. Remember: fat is our friend, not foe! In the keto diet, you have to stay within the very strict guidelines in order to actually achieve ketosis. Any variability might negate the body’s ability to actually get there, which nullifies the point of being keto.
YES: Fat, protein, dairy, limited fruits and veggies.
NO: Grains, legumes, sugar, most fruits, and starchy veggies.
Studies are showing that unless recommended otherwise by your doctor, the keto diet should only be utilized in small spurts of time. Because it is so heavy on the fats, people with high cholesterol, heart disease, or other conditions needs to be closely monitored in order to make sure serious health conditions are stable. Ideally, doing a two-week stint on a keto diet to jump-start your metabolism 3-4 times a year is ideal. In between those times, incorporating a paleo-like diet seems like a great combination to lose some substantial weight. If you want to read more about the difference between paleo and keto, go here. (link: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/paleo-vs-keto#keto )
Vegetarian diets are just like they sound -- all plant-based. There is really good research that says that eating a plant-based diet is the BEST way to eat. Even though I’m not personally a vegetarian, I try to pile on as many veggies as I can with meals so I’m getting all of that good fiber. The only questionable foods vegetarians can overdo are grains and soy products. Tofu and tempeh are commonly used as meat-alternatives for vegetarians. In moderation, this is fine, but both products are heavily processed and are estrogenic, so not necessarily the best choice for an every-day thing. You don’t want to mess with the hormones too much. Over time that can lead to some serious health concerns. If you need another good option, try jackfruit instead! Most vegetarians will still have eggs, which is a great source of protein for this category of people.
YES: All veggies, soy, grains, dairy, beans, legumes, fruit, eggs, and fish (if pescatarian).
All the same information goes for vegans as vegetarians, but vegans take out dairy, fish, and eggs as well. There’s only a small percentage of people that really thrive on this type of diet. Most of the time, we see people who have tried going vegan and unfortunately, their digestion tanks and are chronically fatigued after a short period of time. On the other hand, some research shows that eating vegan or vegetarian raises the pH in the system and can be incredibly beneficial for someone who is fighting cancer. With a higher pH, the body becomes more alkaline. The theory is, cancer can’t thrive in an environment that is alkaline in nature. A list of acidic foods (which lowers the pH of the body) can be seen here https://www.healthline.com/health/acid-foods-to-avoid#highacid-food-and-drink. This list includes a lot of fish and meats, which are considered acidic.
YES: All veggies, soy, grains, beans, legumes, fruit
NO: Meat, dairy, eggs, fish
Intermittent fasting is a really interesting way to look at HOW you eat; not just WHAT you eat. This is something you can incorporate with any of the diets above or whatever diet works for you. Dr. Valter Longo is one of the premier doctors researching how intermittent fasting can benefit your health and longevity of life. According to his research at USC, there are a couple different ways to go about intermittent fasting. His ideas are that we give our body and mind a rest by sleeping every night, why wouldn’t we give our digestive tract a rest? If we’re constantly eating and digesting food, it never gets a break.
He came up with a couple of ways to go about trying intermittent fasting: The first way is to do a 5-day water cleanse to reset the system. Heavy exercise or work during this period of time is not recommended, as you can imagine. This seems really, really hard and crazy-making. I pride myself on experimenting with all sorts of diets and intermittent fasting, but I haven’t worked up the courage to try this one yet. If I decide to try it, I’ll make sure I update you on my findings! There’s a good chance someone might have to bail me out of jail by the end of the 5 days though. Or check to make sure my husband is still alive…
The second way is MUCH easier and I personally incorporate this trick at least 3 times a week. Here’s how it works: you have an 8 hour window to eat and fast for the other 16 hours of the day. For example, I’ll often have my first meal at 12:00 pm and my last meal or snack by 8:00 pm. The hours can vary based on your schedule/ bedtime/ wake time/ etc. It’s easier than it sounds, due to the fact that you can have plenty of fluids or a cup of coffee in the morning. That helps curb the cravings for food and help reset the metabolism.
To find out more information about Dr. Longo’s findings and programs, listen to this podcast I found fascinating. https://goop.com/the-goop-podcast/is-intermittent-fasting-the-key-to-health/
All in all, my advice is to do your research and TRY different kinds of diets. It’s really fun to experiment and see how you feel adding or subtracting certain things into your daily routine around food. Like Kailey said in her article, it’s about the quality of life and appreciating the ambivalent middle. My only recommendation is to stay away from any “diet” that sells you premade meals or food. I’m not talking supplements, but actual meals or meal-replacements. Those tend to have high amounts of sugar and ingredients that are less than ideal. Say it with me: Real food = real health. If you experiment with these diets and/or the intermittent fasting, let me know! I love hearing stories of people trying new dietary things and how it makes them feel. Give it a try!