By Nicole Ferring Holovach, MS, RD
A new year signifies a fresh start. The holiday indulging is over and there are a good six months until swimsuit season. Your friend/co-worker/mom/sister may be raving about a particular diet, and you're thinking about giving it a try. Because there has to be an easier way to lose weight than eating healthier and moving more, right?
Many people try fad diets because they're looking for a faster way to shed pounds. These popular diets can give a sense of structure and routine to your daily meals, and even result in some initial weight loss by restricting you to eating certain food groups. But the main problem with many fad diets is that without encouraging lifelong changes in eating habits, the weight is likely to come back. You simply cannot change your eating habits for a few weeks or months, then go back to your old ways and expect the weight to stay off. And diets that restrict too much are difficult to maintain long term.
That withstanding, if you still want to give a fad diet a go, here is our take on the latest diets that are driving health professionals crazy!
The Skinny: The Paleo Diet is based on the idea that we should eat like our ancestors. And by ancestors, I don't mean grandma. Think caveman ancestors. The diet shuns everything modern agriculture has brought us, including grains, sugar, legumes and in some versions, dairy products. What can you eat? Anything you can pick or catch — nuts, vegetables, berries, fish and meat. Proponents of the diet claim that its effect on blood glucose makes weight loss easy and cures everything from to acne to diabetes.
Pros: The Paleo Diet isn't inherently bad. Eating vegetables and lean protein is part of a healthy diet. And the diet promotes "wild" meats like grass-fed beef, pastured chicken and wild salmon, which are better for the environment and for your health. Also, cutting back on processed foods and sugar would do a lot of us a world of good.
Cons: Healthy foods like whole grains, legumes and some fruit are restricted on the Paleo Diet. The diet can be high in fat, which was great for our hunting and gathering ancestors, but not so great for our current sedentary lifestyle. And cutting out entire food groups makes a diet hard to maintain over time.
The Bottom Line: There hasn't been much research on the Paleo Diet, but there are mountains of research on the health benefits of diets high in some of the foods the diet restricts, like whole grains, legumes and low-fat dairy. If you aren't a huge bread or starchy carb lover, you might succeed with this diet. But watch your fat intake, look for lean protein sources and beware of OD'ing on nuts.
The Skinny: It's the latest version of the low-carb diet, which supposedly helped Kate Middleton lose two dress sizes before her wedding to Prince William in 2011. The diet's popularity skyrocketed soon after. The diet limits fat and oil and promotes the daily consumption of oat bran and lean protein. Carbohydrates are built into the different stages of the diet in increasing amounts.
Pros: The diet promotes 20 minutes of walking everyday, which would benefit anyone trying to lose or maintain their weight. And the daily dose of oat bran might prevent constipation, which is common with low-carb diets.
Cons: You're not allowed to eat much of anything at first, which might explain why it promises weight loss of two pounds a week. Also, restricting carbohydrate intake can lead to headaches, mood swings, low energy and lack of concentration.
The Bottom Line: While it's true that most Americans eat too many carbs (especially unhealthy, refined carbs), healthy carbohydrates are an essential part of the human diet. The Dukan Diet is just a complicated way to cut calories.
The Skinny: Popular books like Skinny B*tch, Veganist, Eat to Live, and The Kind Diet promote veganism as a way to lose weight. The vegan diet eschews all animal products, including honey, milk, eggs and fish. The diet tends to be low in cholesterol and saturated fat and, if planned right, full of fruits, vegetables, nuts and lean proteins like beans and tofu.
Pros: Besides the ethical and environmental reasons for adopting a vegan diet, many eat this way to improve their health. Most plant foods are nutrient-dense and low-calorie, which is a good formula for weight-loss.
Cons: You don't need to cut out all animal products to eat more fruits and vegetables. Again, any diet where you cut out entire food groups is difficult to maintain long term. And animal products especially are often full of nutrients that are hard to get elsewhere. It's much easier to get vitamin B12, vitamin D, zinc, iron, omega-3 fatty acids and choline from animal sources.
The Bottom Line: If you're looking for a low-calorie diet, veganism isn't necessarily the way to go. Just like any other way of eating, if your portion sizes are too big or you eat too many high-calorie foods, you can still gain weight. But with careful planning and supplementation, you can get most of the nutrition you need if you opt to go vegan — and you may even lose a few pounds.
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