With a new year comes resolution time. For some people it’s all about a good clean out of the closet or a renewed zest for adventure. But for most Americans, a new year is synonymous with losing those extra pounds. According to the Boston Medical Center, more than 45 million Americans diet each year. And they spend $33 billion on weight loss products. Choices, opinions, statistics and marketing abound. Low carb or no carb? How much “good” fat is too much fat? Grains or no grains? Which diets work for the short term, and which ones are truly sustainable? Here, we are debunking diets—the latest and greatest—for you.
What’s the Point?
“We live in a time of info-besity,” says nutrition consultant Dana Kofsky, whose company, Wellness Styled, offers individualized plans for a healthier way of life. “There’s always new information and new ways of eating but what people tend to miss is, how does my body relate to this? Am I feeling good and getting all of my vitamins and minerals? We get so caught up with goals we forget about the process.”
To cut out some of the noise and help you fasten the button on your skinny jeans, here’s an easy guide to five popular diet plans.
The college roommate who lost 70 pounds. The work colleague who got rid of his diabetes. It seems like the dramatic Keto stories are everywhere these days. The Ketogenic Diet is a very low/no carb diet plan that forces the body to burn fat for energy instead of carbohydrates by eating 75 percent fat, 20 percent protein and 5 percent “good carbs” (like broccoli or spinach). rThis means meat, fish, seafood, cheese, eggs and avocados are all on the menu while grains, fruits, legumes and sugar are a no-no.
Dramatic weight loss (for those battling obesity it’s advisable to be under the watchful eye of a doctor), reversal of Type 2 Diabetes and in some studies improvement for people fighting diseases such as epilepsy and cancer.
Despite a lack of data, the long-term sustainability of the Keto diet is questionable. With the high proportion of fats and animal proteins being consumed, cardiovascular and kidney health are a concern. Also, adding back eliminated elements such as healthy grains, important for fiber and heart health, can lead to weight gain.
The Paleo Diet, also known as the “caveman diet,” harks back to our hunter-gatherer ancestors by focusing on whole foods such as seeds, nuts, veggies, meats and fruits. Processed food such as sugars, dairy, grains, breads and starches that are mass produced, corn and potatoes are strictly forbidden.
Eating a lot of veggies and fruits high in potassium is good for maintaining healthy blood pressure and kidneys. Healthy fats and proteins such as nuts, avocado and lean meats are great for skin, muscles and lowered insulin. “The health message used to be stay away from fat, but we need fat in the diet,” says Dr. Drew Francis of L.A.-based Golden Cabinet Integrative Medical Center. “Good fats create a sense of satiety, which is key.”
Without dairy, Paleo devotees need to be sure to get adequate calcium. The diet also eliminates legumes, which are major sources of fiber and magnesium, good for gut health.
The Mediterranean diet is considered less a “diet” and more the basics of healthy eating based on the traditional cuisine of countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, such as Greece and Italy, where studies have shown people live longer and healthier lives. The main staples of this plan are balanced veggies, fruits, whole grains, fish, poultry, beans and eggs. Red meat and dairy are limited.
Olive oil is the primary source of healthy fat, which is scientifically proven to be beneficial for heart health and chronic disease prevention. This plan is also considered one of the more sustainable diets as it has more flexibility—the occasional glass of wine gets a pass!
Be prepared to spend some time cooking! And if you’re looking for rapid weight loss this is not the plan for you; it’s more of a long-term way of healthy eating and lifestyle that can help shed pounds over time.
SOUTH BEACH DIET
This diet plan breaks down eating into three phases. Phase one lasts two to four weeks and is designed to eliminate bad food cravings by strictly cutting out almost all carbs and sugar including rice, pasta, bread and fruit. The second phase is for long-term weight loss during which you can slowly add back “good carbs” such as whole grains and brown rice. Phase three is the maintenance phase during which you can eat all types of foods in moderation, based on what you have learned in the prior two phases.
Advocates of the South Beach Diet say it’s an easy plan to follow, allowing a balance of good carbs, lean proteins and healthy fats. It is also a plan that focuses on the gradual steps toward reaching long term goals, giving some structure to keeping the weight off after phases one and two.
Calculating how to evaluate foods based on their glycemic index, (how blood glucose is affected by foods in the blood), which is a main facet of this plan, can be labor intensive and confusing, especially when trying to evaluate how to fold carbs back into the plan long term.
For 30 restrictive days, this plan is a health jump start by strictly cutting out all sugar, grains, dairy and alcohol. With a focus on whole foods such as lean proteins, veggies and healthy fats, zero cheating is allowed, and the end result promises a boost in energy, better digestion, reduced inflammation and less cravings.
“I recommend a 30-day reboot like this twice a year,” says Dr. Francis. “Thirty days is doable, and it can also be a social and empowering to do with a friend or a partner. It takes discipline, but it works”
It’s short term, takes planning, and doesn’t allow participants to eat out much, unless you know that the menu where you are going has options that work with the plan.
Experts weigh in on dieting
Both advocate for a balanced approach with long-term health in mind, which includes exercise, mindfulness, drinking plenty of water, eating whole foods and cutting out processed foods and refined sugar. “I think Paleo and Keto Diets are solid plans if you need to lose significant weight, because good fat in the diet is no longer the enemy, sugar is. Long term I would say Mediterranean is great for good health,” says Dr. Francis. Dana Kofsky concurs, “Let weight loss be the side effect of doing good for your body.”