We all know the statistics around weight gain and obesity in society today and the associated risk of chronic disease. Many of the clients that I see in clinic are seeking advice on what's the best diet to lose weight with and ask my opinion of which one they should use.
Popular diets are usually talked about a lot in the health arena but also in the public atmosphere. This is because they are often controversial, attacking supporters and objectors at both sides. It makes it really hard to know which diet is right for you.
In this blog I am looking objectively at the most popular diets, including Paleo, Mediterranean and Low Carbohydrate-High Fat diet (LCHF).
The Paleo Diet
This diet is also known as the caveman or hunter-gatherer diet and is designed to replicate the diet of our pre-agricultural ancestors and is named after the Palaeolithic period. Paleo advocates argue our bodies haven't evolved quickly enough to digest and appropriately handle foods of modern age. The diet was the most googled diet in 2014.
Animal protein, seafood, fruits, non starchy vegetables, eggs, nuts, seeds and oils
What I like about this diet is that it is based on whole foods and removes processed foods by encouraging lean meats, vegetables, nuts and fruit. It is high vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, fibre and monounsaturated fats. With the avoidance of cereals and sugars, this will help diabetes, insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome.
What worries me about this diet is that it restricts some food groups, such as grains, legumes and dairy. This can take the joy out of eating and removes nutritional aspects of these foods. When you totally remove wholegrains and legumes, you risk removing valuable fibre and phytonutrients which provide important prebiotic benefits to our digestive health. Increased intake of meat can also be problematic as high meat intake is associated with increase in all over mortality.
So the bottom line of this diet is that the positive benefits do provide considerable health benefits, however, such strict diets may be unsustainable and it is less clear whether the avoidance of cereals and dairy products is a pre-requisite for optimal control of metabolism. There is very little research on long term benefits.
Unlike the Paleo Diet, the mediterranean diet is largely plant based and encourages the consumption of legumes. This diet is one of the most researched and studied diet and has been associated with longevity with reduced risk of coronary heart diseases.
What it includes:
High intake of olive oil, vegetables, fruit, complex grains, nuts, legumes, moderate intake of fish, dairy (mostly cheese and yoghurt) and moderate red wine.
What's off limits:
Meat and processed foods
What I love about this diet is that it doesn't promote exclusion and includes all major food groups, and encourages the consumption of a large range of bright and colourful, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant rich foods and it's not nearly as restrictive as most. The research shows that this diet is associated with a decreased risk of morbidity and mortality associated with cardiovascular disease, it is very heart healthy. It also allows for a glass of good red wine and that's always a good thing and has an emphasis of fresh seasonal produce.
There are a couple of negatives with this diet, one being, portion sizes are not specified, therefore sizes are subjective and interpreted as high or low, which may not necessarily promote weight maintenance - especially in those who are prone to eating larger portions. As good as it is to encourage the glass of red, alcohol consumption may not be appropriate or tolerated by some.
So the bottom line is that following this diet extends to the bigger picture of the mediterranean lifestyle that emphasises community, stress reduction and strong social support therefore increasing well being. Like all diets, it's important to consume in moderation, particularly the red wine. Overall the largely plant-based diet has considerable robust research to support its benefits in reducing cardiovascular disease risk.
Low Carbohydrate-High Fat Diet (LCHF)
Whilst the mediterranean-style diet is not designed to promote significant weight loss, LCHF diets such as the Atkins diet, have been promoted for quick weight loss. These diets promote fat burning as a fuel source through the production of ketone bodies and therefore promote fat loss as overall weight reduction.
High fat foods such as butter and cream as well as high protein foods such as beef, chicken, pork, eggs and fish. Fresh non-carbohydrate vegetables are also included.
What's not allowed:
Limit carbohydrate rich foods such as breads, pasta, rice, potatoes. fruit and starchy vegetables.
The main advantages of this diet is that it will promote weight/fat loss in most people and in particular obese individuals. It is also very useful for better blood sugar and insulin management. The higher the protein intake also helps preserve lean body mass during weight loss. There are several negatives associated with this type of diet, Although those who advocate for this diet say that they feel healthy and happy, there are higher than normal incidents of weakness, fatigue, constipation and headaches being reported and it may also affect mood and cognition. This diet is definitely inappropriate for people with renal disease as high protein in the diet increases acid load in the kidneys, increasing the risk of stone formation. I am also cautious of excess amount of saturated fats. Not all fats are created equal.
So the bottom line of this diet is that it would definitely help overweight individuals lose weight and lower their overall risk factors associated with obesity. I would suggest that a high protein, high fat diet should be avoided long term due to the risk of kidney disease and the effects of higher saturated fat.
Now in conclusion:
No one diet fits all and although there remain some contentious issues with all 3 diets, there are healthier ways to interpret these diets, especially placing emphasis in whole natural foods including fresh vegetables and fruits, lean proteins, dairy, whole grains and legumes. Allowing for flexibility can certainly optimise
health benefits. If you would like to know which diet may benefit you, please contact the clinic on 0260210557.