What is a diet?
Think back to the first time you heard the word “diet”. You were probably young, and had no idea what a “diet” was. Like me, you probably thought it sounded like a pretty awful thing where people couldn’t enjoy all the wonderful food in the world, like candy. As you grew older, you started learning more about the different types of diets and various reasons why people were on them: weight management, food allergies, blood pressure, etc. Flash forward to today, and you’re probably on a diet yourself, for similar reasons. In this post, we’ll breakdown some of the popular diet trends today and give you information that will help you identify if one of these diets is right for you.
Let’s start by reframing what a diet is. A diet is simply eating specific foods for health and weight management purposes. This is usually done by consuming a specific volume of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, also known as macros. The difference between most diets is the suggested volume of macros and types of foods you should eat. The Standard American Diet consists of a high intake of red meats, processed and pre-pacakged foods, refined grains, high-fructose corn syrup, and sugar. This diet has led America to rank #1 among OECD countries in obesity among adults. In 2015, 39.8% of American adults, or 93.3 million of US adults, suffered from obesity. It’s estimated that 45 million US adults go on a diet every year, and spend over $33 billion on weight loss products. The proliferation of new diets has increased with so many Americans becoming more conscious of their health and the foods that they consume. The most popular diets today are the Ketogenic Diet, Paleo Diet, Whole30 Diet, Vegan and Vegetarian Diets, Weight Watchers Diet, and the Atkins Diet.
The Ketogenic Diet
The Ketogenic or “keto” diet is a very low-carb diet that helps burn fat more effectively by replacing the body's primary energy source from carbohydrates to fat. The body begins to produce fuel molecules called “ketones” which is an alternative energy source when blood sugar (glucose/insulin) is in short supply. This is great for weight-loss due to the fact that fat stores in the body are used to burn as energy for the body. This leads to less hunger, higher alertness and focus, and a steady supply of energy. The main goal of the keto diet is for the body to enter ketosis, which is a metabolic state that increases metabolism in individuals. Weight-loss isn't the only benefit of the keto diet; it's become very popular with individuals with diabetes because it helps them maintain optimal blood sugar levels decreasing the reliance on insulin injections and other medications.
In order to adhere to a ketogenic diet, individuals need to replace carbs in their diets. Foods that are restricted include:
- starchy vegetables
- artificial sugars
- processed foods
Food groups that are allowed include:
- vegetables that grow above ground
Examples of fats are butter, olive oil, mayonnaise, an cream. All meats and seafood are allowed in the keto diet. Keto also does not restrict dairy products such as eggs and cheese. The guideline to which vegetables are allowed is straight-forward as well. Any vegetables that grow above ground are permitted. This means root vegetables such as potatoes, carrots, etc. are restricted. There are also restrictions on the type of fruits allowed. Keto friendly fruits include all berries, such as raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries. Nuts low in carbs are also allowed like pecans, macadamia, and brazil nuts. Individuals adhering to the keto diet also have to consider portion sizes of the fruits, nuts, and vegetables consumed to make sure that the daily carbohydrates intake is below the recommended 50 grams threshold.
The Paleo Diet
The main concept of the paleo diet is to eat foods that humans ate and had access to during the Paleolithic era over 3 million years ago. The diet helps improve health by cutting out high-fat and processed foods and focusing on fruits, vegetables, and meat that are loaded with healthy vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Eating paleo friendly foods also helps curb apatite's, reducing the amount of calories consumed in a day. Regular exercise is highly encouraged in order to replicate the hunter-gather lifestyle of the Paleolithic era.
Unlike the keto diet, fats are a main restriction. Restricted foods under a paleo diet also include:
- all dairy products (milk, cheese, yogurt, and butter)
- cereal grains (wheat, rye, rice, and barley)
- legumes (beans, peanuts, and peas)
- starchy vegetables
- artificial sugars
- processed and cured meats
- all highly processed foods
Foods that are allowed include:
- lean cuts of meat
- game animals (venison, bison, elk, etc.)
- eggs (but no more than 6 in a week)
- vegetables that grow above ground
- tree nuts
- olive oil in moderation
While there aren't any restrictions on portion sizing, the underlying assumption of the paleo diet is that individuals adhering to it will eat less because the foods allowed are more filling. People are allowed to eat as many fruits, vegetables, and meat as they'd like.
The Whole30 Diet
The Whole30 diet restricts certain foods deemed to have a negative impact on health and fitness. According to the founders of the diet, by avoiding certain food groups, the Whole30 diet will help reduce weight, remove aches and pains, and fix symptoms such as skin disease, digestive issues, and seasonal allergies. The diet program challenges individuals to adhere to it for 30 days at a time with the goal of turning it into a habit.
Food groups restricted by the Whole30 Diet include:
- Sugar (natural and artificial)
- Alcohol in any form
- Baked goods
- Junk food
Permitted foods include:
- Unprocessed Meats
- Nuts and Seeds
- Natural Oils and Ghee/Clarified Butter
The Whole30 diet doesn’t enforce strict macro counts, so individuals can eat as much as they’d like as long as the food is in the permitted food groups.
Vegetarian & Vegan Diets
The vegetarian diet is a simple one. People adhering to this diet are restricted from eating meat or fish products. Most other foods including eggs and milk products are permitted. Adhering to a vegetarian diet is difficult for many people due to the limited availability of these types of options without preparing all meals at home. Also, many vegetarian food options aren't necessarily healthy ones. For example, a cheese pizza is technically vegetarian, but not very healthy.
The main difference between a vegan diet and a vegetarian diet is that dairy products including eggs are not allowed. A vegan diet is heavily focused on consuming fruits, vegetables, and grains. Leading a vegan lifestyle is challenging in today's world due to the fact that most vegetarian foods contain a form of dairy or cheese, and options outside of the home are very limited.
The Weight Watchers Diet
The Weight Watchers Diet uses a SmartPoints system that assigns a point value to foods based on macro counts such as carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. An individual is assigned a set amount of points determined by their age, gender, height, and weight management goals. There are no restrictions to what someone can eat, as long as they don’t use up all of their SmartPoints. Healthier foods cost less points compared to unhealthy foods like chips and soda. Individuals are encouraged to eat more low cost foods rather than wasting their points on more expensive, unhealthy food options.
The Atkins Diet
The Atkins Diet was created in the 1960s by cardiologist Robert C. Atkins, with the belief that the intake of too much sugar and refined carbs leads to an imbalance of blood sugar levels, weight gain, and cardiovascular health issues. The Atkins diet is broken into four phases: induction, balancing, pre-maintenance, and lifetime maintenance. In the first two phases, carb consumption is reduced to 12-15 gram so of “net carbs”. In phases 3 and 4, certain carbs are reintroduced dependent on carb tolerance and maintenance. While the Atkins diet doesn’t enforce portion control, it does require tracking carb consumption to make sure intake levels remain at the right minimum for each phase of the diet.
With so many diet options available, it can be hard to figure out which one is right for you, and even harder to stick to a meal plan long-term. Cookd provides ready-to-eat keto, paleo, whole30, vegan, and vegetarian meal options to try to Cookd aims to provide healthy, ready-to-eat options to help support you on your pursuit to better health.
*Talk to your physician before starting a new diet and consult with a nutritionist to determine the right nutrition and diet plan for you.