With so many “fad diets” constantly being blasted into our eyes and ears it’s hard to know what’s the right thing to do these days.
As with anything to do with your health, it really is important to get the right information for you from a professional, we asked one of our Dietitians Katie Harris to give us an insight into some of the most popular options.
The low carb high fat or ‘LCHF’ diet reduces the amount of carbohydrates in the diet to less than 30% of the daily energy intake and replaces them with higher amounts of dietary fats. So basically you cut back on all refined foods, think lollies, ice cream, biscuits, bread, pasta, rice, potato and cereals, fruits etc. And increase the foods high in fat in the diet like extra virgin olive oil, avocado, nuts and seeds. The dietary approach can be a useful diet method to manage certain medical conditions such as Type 2 Diabetes or to assist with weight loss in certain cases. People with certain medical conditions and on certain medications should be cautious using this dietary approach. To ensure the diet is safely followed and the right one for you it is best to consult with an Accredited Practicing Dietitian to ensure you are getting all the nutrients you need and to minimise risks.
The ‘Keto’ or ketogenic diet has been around for years, the diet is similar to the LCHF diet however ketogenic diets restrict the daily intake of carbohydrates to less than 10% of the daily energy intake and has even higher levels of fats generally 70-80% of daily intake. It can be a very restrictive diet to follow and maintain with possible symptoms that may last weeks including hunger, low mood, fatigue, irritability, constipation, headaches, and brain “fog.”.
Short term benefits such as weight loss, improvements in blood pressure, insulin resistance and cholesterol are seen however when compared to one year follow up with traditional weight loss diets these results weren’t significantly different. Possible negative effects of the diet could include increased risk of osteoporosis, kidney stones and gout as well as nutritional deficiencies. At this stage the research is limited in terms of the long term health effects of this diet and if following this diet it is essential that you are under a Dietitian.
Vegan diets have become more popular over the last few years and if followed correctly and planned out they can be safe and nutritionally balanced. All foods consumed are from plant foods only. It includes foods such as fruit, vegetables, breads, cereals, grains, legumes (eg lentils, chickpeas, dried beans), soy foods like tofu and tempeh, nuts and seeds and dairy alternatives such as almond or soy milks. Nutrients that I often see lacking when I see vegan patients are iron, B12, calcium and omega 3 fatty acids. It can be possible to get all of these from the right balance and pairing of foods or in some cases supplements if required.
Not ready to go full vegetarian or vegan? No worries! Following a plant based does not mean that all animal products need to be eliminated so may be an easier diet to follow. Plant-based diets focus on foods primarily from plants. This includes not only fruits and vegetables, but also nuts, seeds, oils, whole grains, legumes, and beans. So in simple terms you cut back on the amount of animal products such as meats, fish, eggs and dairy but still include them in the diet just in lesser amounts. Emerging evidence is showing that following a diet based mostly on plant foods can have some great outcomes for our long-term health. Plant-based diets have been linked to lower risk of obesity and inflammation and many chronic diseases, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer. And also better for our beautiful planet too, by reducing greenhouse emissions. So definitely give this one a go!
One benefit of the paleo diet or ‘caveman diet’ is that it does focus only on wholefoods in their natural state and it is well known that cutting back on processed foods and refined sugars can have great benefits for our health. The big concern with the paleo diet is that it suggests cutting out whole food groups and foods including dairy, legumes and grains. The health benefits of legumes and whole grains in the diet have been extensively researched and can provide reduction in weight, cholesterol, inflammation and chronic disease and cancer risk whilst also providing a wide range of vitamins, minerals and fibre. The risk of nutritional deficiencies is also high as because the diet eliminates all dairy, meeting calcium and vitamin D requirements can be difficult.
The idea behind intermittent fasting (IF) is that you reduce your energy intake through periods of not eating (fasting) followed by periods of eating for extended periods of time. Generally there are no rules around what you eat or how much you eat which can make this style of dieting a popular choice; however it is still essential to keep your body’s nutritional needs in mind. Two of the most popular types of IF diets are the:
The 5:2 diet, where intake is reduced to 500-600 calories for two days during the week. Fasting days can be consecutive or separated throughout the week.
16:8 diet: involves only eating within an 8-hour period each day (e.g. 11am – 7pm) and fasting for the other 16 hours.
Intermittent fasting can produce weight loss results similar to a simple calorie controlled diet however some studies suggest it may assist with better maintenance of lean muscle mass. Other reported benefits from studies include reduced inflammation, improved cholesterol, blood pressure and insulin sensitivity however despite these reported benefits current research remains largely inconclusive. And there is a need for further long-term studies.
As with any diet it is recommended that you consult with an Accredited Practicing Dietitian before starting to ensure that the dietary approach will be safe and nutritionally balanced for you as an individual. The last thing you want to end up with is a nutritional deficiency, feeling tired or not getting the results you are after. Some people may require medication changes, supplementation or monitoring whilst on certain diets also.