Keto, vegan, fasting … are these trending diets really nutritious, or just the latest food fads? Healthy Food Guide staff give popular diets a closer look to help you decide what’s best for you.
Diet culture is all around us and becomes especially ubiquitous around this time of year, when people start to think about losing weight or getting healthier for the new year.
The thing is, if you do need to lose weight for some reason, dieting is not the most effective way to do it. In fact, most people gain back whatever they lose on a diet (and some) once they go back to their old habits.
In most cases, if a diet is restrictive enough to make us lose a lot of weight quickly, it’s almost inevitable we’ll quit that diet and return to old patterns, because diets like that make life miserable. It’s called the diet cycle and it’s a very unhealthy pattern both for the psyche and the physique.
It’s time to smarten up about what we put into our bodies and sort the wheat from the chaff when it comes to sustainable weight loss, or maintenance, and overall health. Let’s look at some of the diet trends for 2020 to see what comes out on top.
The diet: Low carb (keto)
First popularised in the 1970s by the book Dr Atkins’ Diet Revolution, low-carb diets are still around, with the ketogenic diet being the most popular version these days. The common thread when it comes to low-carb diets is the dramatic restriction of carbohydrates, including bread, grains, pasta, legumes, potatoes and even certain fruit.
Low-carb diets are effective for fast weight loss because carbs are stored in your body with water, so most initial weight loss is actually just water. Restricting carbs will also likely reduce kilojoule (calorie) intake, so eventually your body will start to burn fat for energy. The keto diet was originally developed to treat epilepsy in children, which it did successfully, and may have some further applications as a medical diet for other conditions.
You are likely to cut back on high-carb processed foods, such as cakes, biscuits, chips, soft drinks and pastries.
Excluding nutritious carb-rich foods, such as fruit, wholegrain breads, cereals and legumes, puts you at risk of missing out on the fibre you need to keep your bowels healthy and to feed the good bacteria in your gut. A low-carb diet can also lead to headaches, mood swings and low energy levels.
The diet: Mediterranean
The traditional Med diet is linked to a raft of health benefits, including lowered risk of heart disease, obesity and even some cancers. A recent study found that even after age 65, following the Med diet potentially increases longevity.
Touted as one of the healthiest in the world, the Mediterranean diet has a large body of research supporting it. Communities around the Mediterranean, following a traditional diet, enjoy lots of veges, fruit, whole grains, nuts and olive oil, plus an active and social lifestyle. They eat fish and white meats in moderation and, occasionally, red meats, processed meats, dairy and sweet treats.
The diet centres on plant foods and healthy fats and no food groups are banned. You can even enjoy red wine, in moderation, when eating and socialising with loved ones.
There aren’t any!
The diet: 16:8 (intermittent fasting)
Intermittent fasting promises everything from weight loss through to better diabetes management, and even improved mood.
This 16:8 fasting method — where you are encouraged to eat during an eight-hour self-chosen window each day and fast for the other 16 hours — promises a flexible and sustainable way of eating.
Intermittent fasting can help with weight loss, although it is no more effective than following a traditional calorie-controlled diet.
A growing body of evidence shows that intermittent fasting may be beneficial for those with diabetes and could also protect the brain from neuro-degenerative diseases.
Going for long periods without eating is not for everyone, and the long-term effects of the diet remain unknown.
The diet: Mono
Famous comedians, actors and even YouTube stars have praised the mono diet for dramatic weight loss results. The mono diet involves eating just one type of food, like fruit or vegetables. In extreme cases, people may eat only a single food, like bananas or potatoes.
There are none, apart from being able to laugh at people’s gullibility, while feeling superior.
There is no scientific evidence to support this diet. It is a highly restrictive crash diet and will result in nutrient deficiencies in the long run. It is not at all recommended.
The diet: Fast 800
Fast 800 is an intensive 12–week diet conceived by Dr Michael Mosley, the creator of the popular 5:2 diet that purports to help people lose weight very fast. The Fast 800 combines a Mediterranean-style meal plan with fasting days of just 800 calories for rapid weight loss. Mosley claims the diet can reverse type 2 diabetes, as it did his. The program also includes an exercise component and offers ways to promote behavioural change.
The Fast 800 claims are backed by two recent studies, which have shown the diet can result in substantial weight loss along with remission of type-2 diabetes over a one-year period.
Few studies have examined the long-term effects of the diet, and very low-calorie diets can be difficult to stick to. The bottom line is, it’s not for everyone and if you’re considering it, talk to your GP.
The diet: Nordic
The Nordic diet shines the spotlight on foods traditionally consumed by the five Nordic countries: Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Iceland.
It has been praised not only as a weight-loss method, but as a way to improve overall health.
Rich in plant foods, whole grains, legumes, seafood, lean meat and healthy oils, the Nordic diet has many of the same principal foods as recommended in nutrition guidelines, which offer an array of health benefits. It’s easy to see why emerging research links this diet to improved heart health and weight loss.
There are none. This is a non-restrictive health eating pattern that would be enjoyable and sustainable.
The diet: Flexitarian
If your diet is mostly plant-based, but you include meat or fish every now and then, you’re on a flexitarian diet — which is also known as ‘flexible vegetarianism’. A quick search on Google will produce a long list of benefits, ranging from weight loss to reduced risk of disease, and even a smaller carbon footprint.
Research suggests the flexitarian diet is a great one to follow. A recent review of 25 studies found the diet had a positive effect on body weight and metabolic health and reduced the risk of type-2 diabetes.
Again, there are none. Having a flexible approach to eating is considered the healthiest approach.
The diet: CICO
An anacronym for ‘Calories In, Calories Out’, the CICO diet is another fad promising weight loss. The premise is that eating fewer kilojoules (calories) than you expend through movement and exercise will help you lose weight.
It is true that managing your total kilojoule intake and output is vital in maintaining or losing weight, so there is some merit in this diet, but there are many other factors to consider regarding your long-term health.
The quality of your diet is of utmost importance — so let’s be clear that 100 calories of fruit is very different to 100 calories of chocolate! For most people, counting calories is not sustainable in the long term, and doing so can also foster an unhealthy relationship with food.
The diet: Alkaline
The alkaline diet is based on the assumption that different foods can increase or reduce the pH, or acidity, of your blood. Devotees claim that highly acidic blood causes inflammation and weight gain, so the goal is to consume mostly alkalising, or less acidic, foods. Foods that are considered ‘acidic’ — and should be limited — include red meat, chicken, fish, chocolate, cheese, wheat and alcohol.
The food you consume does impact the acidity of your urine (whether that actually has any health benefits or not is debatable).
The food you consume cannot affect the acidity of your bloodstream. Your body already tightly regulates your blood pH — because minor changes can be extremely dangerous, or even deadly.
The diet: Vegan
The vegan diet eliminates animal foods and by-products. For many, the choice to go vegan is an ethical decision based on animal welfare and/or environmental sustainability. Others claim it can help with weight loss and protect against chronic disease.
If implemented well, a vegan diet is rich in fruit, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds — and can positively influence your health.
Being vegan takes work. It’s just as easy to have an unhealthy vegan diet as any other eating pattern if you rely on processed foods that can be full of sodium, fat and sugar. To do it well you have to be very careful to regularly eat iron-rich foods or take a supplement. And take a B12 supplement as B12 is only available in amounts needed from animal products.
Veganism can also be a socially limiting diet because it is so restrictive and sometimes going vegan can mask an eating disorder. In the end, veganism is as healthy as you make it.
Healthy Food Guide recommendations
There’s no such thing as one-size-fits-all when it comes to diet. That’s why, if you going to choose a new eating pattern you need to find one that suits your tastes, beliefs, health needs and, most importantly, lifestyle, so you can keep it going without it being a chore or a bore. Based on the body of scientific evidence Healthy Food Guide recommends you pick either a Flexitarian, Mediterranean or Nordic eating pattern, and if you decide to go vegan make sure you choose take a whole food plant-based approach and invest in some good B12 supplements.