What’s the Science Behind These Fad Diets?
In the last few years, there has been no shortage of the latest and greatest diets, all guaranteeing smaller waistlines, brighter skin, and healthier tomorrows. With the rising costs of healthcare, many Americans are taking their preventative health more seriously than ever, and utilizing new diet plans to reduce their risk of weight-related health issues. We’ve pulled together 3 of the more popular “fad” diets of the last few years to determine what science supports their claims.
What was once for new-age naturalists has now become a mainstream lifestyle adopted by celebrities, bloggers, and fitness gurus everywhere. A plant-based diet is one that discourages the consumption of meats, dairy products, and any refined or processed foods. Meals like chilled soba with tofu and sugar snap peas, quinoa with grilled zucchini, and citrus-glazed carrots comprise a typical all-plant diet. These may sound appealing to some, and seriously lacking to others, but the science to support this lifestyle is impressive. The National Institutes of Health found that, “plant-based diets are cost effective, low-risk interventions that may lower body mass index, blood pressure…and cholesterol levels.” The study found that sticking to this lifestyle change also reduced the amount of medications needed to treat chronic illness and even lowered ischemic heart disease mortality rates.
But it’s important to note the difference between a “vegetarian” diet versus a plant-based one. The multitude of health benefits were only apparent when participants had a higher intake of rich whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, and avoided less healthy foods like sweetened beverages, refined grains and potatoes. So, it’s up to each specific user to make the most of their plant-based diet to get the maximum rewards.
Promises of fat burning while still eating a diet high in fat sounds like a fairy-tale. In a nutshell, the keto diet’s purpose is to force the body to burn fats instead of carbohydrates by following a diet high in fat, with moderate amounts of protein and low levels of carbohydrates. The theory is that through this consumption style, you can change how your body uses energy (fat for energy versus carbs for energy). Ketosis occurs when your body turns to fat for fuel, instead of carbs. There’s a great deal more theory behind the processes and safe practices, but what do the results say?
Research shows that following a ketogenic diet can improve blood sugar control, and can lead to faster weight loss compared to participants on a traditional low-fat diet. But the jury may still be out on leaning towards keto completely. Marcelo Campos, MD, notes that, “it is hard to follow and it can be heavy on red meat and other fatty, processed, and salty foods that are notoriously unhealthy. We also do not know much about its long-term effects, probably because it’s so hard to stick with that people can’t eat this way for a long time.”
The paleo diet came into the conversation of healthier eating some years ago, and continues to have a large and dedicated following. This diet consists of foods that were most often eaten by early humans – things like meat, fish, vegetables, and fruit. It excludes dairy, grain products, and processed foods. A low-carbohydrate diet has been shown to help people lose weight faster than a low-fat diet, and even maintain the weight loss over a period of time. Another study out of the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that those who stuck to a paleo diet showed reduced cholesterol, triglycerides, and diastolic blood pressure.
Some critics of this diet say that while it’s a step in the right direction of banning refined and processed foods, there’s a serious lack of foods with calcium, fiber, and vitamins that we all need. Marlene Zuk, an evolutionary biologist out of UC Riverside, notes that our bodies have since evolved from the time of hunter-gatherers, and we now require more than just proteins.
It’s clear that each of these trendy diets have their own positive and negative attributes. All three show potential for improved health benefits and preemptive self-care, but each may not be right for everyone. It’s important to always consult your physician before making drastic changes to your diet. Whatever you select, a plan that you can stick with for the long-haul will likely yield the best results. Getting plenty of exercise, eating healthy foods, and resting at least 7 hours per night will keep you feeling great without the need for a yo-yo diet plan.