How to make heads or tails of all the diets out there
From E-Fitness Times, November 2018
What on earth do I do when all the experts are saying different things?
Atkins diet, Paleo diet, Ketogenic diet, Military diet, fasting, grapefruit diet, etc. etc. etc. The list is as endless as are their claims. Very persuasive, healthy, and fit individuals appear on YouTube, Facebook, TV and magazines preaching their latest and greatest diet and insist that in order to better yourself and improve your lifestyle, you need to adopt this diet. On a certain level they're right. If you eat poorly, some of these diets will create a wonderful spring in your step. Now you're probably thinking, Eleanor, you can't compare the grapefruit diet to things like Paleo and Keto and you're right. The grapefruit diet is completely devoid of all common sense, and if you're on it, I'm sorry to say, I'm calling you out. It's ridiculous and it's not sustainable or healthy. So, in this article I'm going to evaluate the biggies: Paleolithic, Ketogenic and Clean Eating. My verdict is at the end.
Health experts are telling us it's not a diet-to-lose-weight that we need, but a lifestyle change that incorporates a healthy-diet coupled with portion control. All sounding good so far, but the key here is the word "lifestyle". You need to be able to maintain this "style" of "life" until the end of your life. Therein lies the problem. I believe the way to grapple with this problem is to use common sense. Take a step back and ask yourself "what does this diet really mean for my life?"
The Paleo diet is a diet based on eating the way early humans did. Consuming primarily meat, fish, vegetables and fruit (things that could be caught or picked from the ground or tree) and excluding dairy, grain products and processed foods. This seems to make sense because, where our brains have developed vastly since Paleo man (excluding a select few) our bodies' requirements have not. However, some of the things our brains have developed have allowed us to further and further fine tune our bodies, which is a good thing and can be demonstrated through our incredible achievements in sports.
Time to bring in common sense to evaluate this diet. We were able to eat the cow, so why would her milk be bad for us? Paleo man simply hadn't figured out how to access the milk, but that doesn't mean it's bad for us. Dairy products, as we know, are a fabulous source of calcium. That being said, calcium is available through other sources, so, can you survive without dairy? Absolutely, and many people do, but do we have to? No! Alarm bells always go off for me when a diet excludes a food group. I don't like excluding a food group because it requires discipline, which makes it hard to sustain for life. If you like cheese, eat it. If you like milk, drink it. Can you muster up a lifetime of willpower to avoid dairy? If no, don't sweat it. Enjoy your dairy and have it in moderation like everything else.
The above thought process can be applied to the grains that are being excluded in the Paleo diet. Grains come from the earth, therefore it only makes sense that they're here to be consumed and our advancing brains have found that grains are a tremendous source of energy. Again, Paleo man hadn't quite refined their agricultural techniques to harvest these grains and do anything with them, but that doesn't mean they weren't supposed to. Barley, Wheat Berries, Quinoa, Brown Rice and Oats are all fabulous energy providing foods that are not only delicious but necessary for any type of endurance activities. I would NEVER tell an endurance athlete to avoid grains; in fact, I would encourage it. If trying to lose weight grain consumption needs to equal activity and if it doesn't then cutting back is necessary but it's not necessary to omit it. Tremendous discipline is required to say goodbye to starches with the potentially negative consequence of a bread feeding frenzy and corresponding wheat-coma!
The one point I do agree with in the Paleo diet is the exclusion of processed foods. My reasoning can be summed up in three points: 1) they're not natural, 2) because they're not natural our bodies struggle to digest them, often resulting in fat deposits, and 3) many prompt unnatural cravings, causing over eating. So, Paleo, this aspect is common sense. Keep this up.
The Keto diet is one that focuses primarily on fats and proteins and really limits carbohydrates. Are the alarm bells going off yet? They should because the food group carbohydrates includes fruits and vegetables!!! What? Keto people, where do you get your vitamins from? We've been told forever that we should be having a minimum of 6 servings of fruits and vegetables (some are now even saying 7-12) and the Keto diet is saying limit your intake of both fibrous carbohydrates (fruits and vegetables) and starchy carbohydrates (rice, pastas, grains) to 5% of your daily caloric intake?!? Again ... what? Common sense should be saying "walk away from the diet". What do the Keto promoters say? The Keto diet idea is, by forcing the body to consume a lot of healthy fat and less carbohydrates, the body is left with no choice but to use fats as the source of fuel. The body's first choice for fuel is carbohydrates, then protein, then fat. On the Keto diet the daily consumption is spread out as 5% carbohydrates, 20% protein and 75% fats, leaving your body no choice but to learn to work with what it's given, and therefore burn fat for fuel.
Common sense is just screaming at this point! First of all, your body will also learn to use fat for fuel if you take up any endurance activity like running, biking or swimming. These are all very healthy ways to teach the body to use fat as fuel with the added benefits of 1) losing weight, 2) strengthening your cardiovascular system and 3) reducing a myriad of health issues, to name a few. Secondly, how on earth to you fight off illnesses, promote normal growth, and allow cells and organs to do their job? Vitamins and Minerals do this and you need a lot of them, we've discovered, to get the amount we need. Thirdly, how on earth are you supposed to gain lean muscle mass when your protein consumption is only 20%? Muscle needs protein and the more muscle you want, the more protein you need. To me, this is a diet that needs a lot of discipline and a lot of careful monitoring to make sure you remain healthy.
People have seen positive results on this diet and I believe the primary reason why is because this diet, just like Paleo, through it's very nature, excludes processed foods … the unnatural, hormone destroying foods that lead to obesity and a variety of ailments. This leads me into my final diet evaluation and what you can probably guess is the one that I promote: Clean Eating.
To sum it up, Clean Eating is common sense served up on a very colourful and tasty plate. If it comes directly from an animal or a plant we are allowed to consume it and the only things we need to exclude are the things humans have made: the processed food. There are other rules but the key is, it must be consumed as close to it's natural source as possible.
For meats, fish and dairy, it should be organic (grass and grain fed for animals) and not manipulated with (full fat for milk, yogurt and cheese). The reason behind this is that the more humans "fiddle" with it, the more the food loses it's nutrients. Clean eating will tell you that you're better off to buy a whole chicken at the grocery store, than to buy boneless, skinless, chicken breasts. Are the chicken breasts bad? No, but if you buy the whole chicken you're getting as much of the nutrients as possible, save you raising the chicken yourself.
For fruits and vegetables you should aim for 75% of your daily consumption to be raw. The more you cook a vegetable the more nutrients are lost. I will admit this does seem a bit of a challenge, especially in winter when a nice vegetable soup is a lot more appealing than a spinach salad, but again, eating the soup is not bad, you're just getting more nutrients if you eat them raw. So, Clean Eating doesn't say "no" to the soup, it just reminds you that the nutrient value is slightly diminished.
For grains … yes, you're allowed to have grains … these have to be whole. Again, have grains as close to their natural form as possible. This does mean no white bread, white pasta, or white rice, but is that the end of the world? No! Again, I believe it's common sense. The white products are literally just starch. To make white anything the fibrous shell, containing all the nutrients and fibre, has been removed. You are left with literally just starch, which, if not used as energy, turns to fat. If you're a marathon runner, go ahead and have your white pasta, but again, why would you when you can have whole grain pasta, still get the energy food you need PLUS all the vitamins and minerals. To me, this is common sense.
For fats you can have all the healthy fats that nature provides: almonds, olives, avocados, coconut, milk fats, and a variety of other nuts and seeds. Oil that has been manufactured and "squeezed" out of corn and vegetables? No! To me, this makes common sense.
For sweeteners, use what nature provides: dates, figs, honey and maple syrup. I know people will say that sugar come from a plant, but, the white refined sugar humans have created is too concentrated, too addictive, and too hard for our bodies to digest. Maple syrup comes pretty much straight from a tree, we just have to boil it. Honey comes straight from the honey comb. Natural, pure, normal! The only thing that clean eating says you need to stay away from is processed foods. If humans have tampered with it, put in any chemicals, or fabricated it out of who-knows-what … stay away. To me, this makes sense.
Clean eating doesn't say ignore your cravings, it just reminds you that you should satisfy them in a healthy way and that this is possible. This is, undoubtedly a lifestyle change, but one that I believe can be adopted. The you can just sit back and reap the rewards of feeling absolutely incredible!
For more information on Clean Eating, here are some resources I suggest: