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Popular Fad Diets – Part 2

We previously talked about fad diets including the keto diet, intermittent fasting and the Atkins diet. Today we’re going to talk more about fad diets, in particular, the Mediterranean, the low-carb and the paleo diets. If you haven’t already read the previous article go and check it out to grasp the basics of fad diets!

These 3 diets, which you may have already heard of, have been popular for sometime with the Mediterranean diet first becoming popular in the 1960s. Since then, these diets have made comebacks with several health claims and accusations.

1. The Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean diet, and possibly the most well-known, is inspired by Italian, Greek and Spanish culture. It focuses on fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, oily fish, seafood, legumes and wholegrains. It contains limited amounts of meat, dairy, eggs and poultry, forming a mainly plant-based diet. Red meat in particular is eaten only on occasion making it an ideal transition diet for those wanting to eat plant-based or vegetarian. It also incorporates moderate amounts of red wine for those who drink alcohol but avoids other alcoholic beverages such as beers and spirits. The main beverage of the Mediterranean diet is, however, water.

The Mediterranean diet contains a rainbow of various foods but does also avoid several. Foods that are avoided or significantly reduced include processed meats, fruit juices, any added sugars, white refined grains, trans fats found in margarines and butters, low-fat alternatives and highly processed foods. It tends to avoid the unhealthy foods that are growing in popularity in the Western diets such as fast-foods, fizzy drinks, sweet treats and processed meat.

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There have been numerous claims about the Mediterranean diet and it’s benefits that have made headlines in various articles. Since it has been around for a long time, extensive and large studies have been done to determine the true effects of such a diet long-term. A large study from 2018, found a 25% decrease in cardiovascular disease risk in women who followed the Mediterranean diet over 12 years.

Similar effects on cardiovascular health have been drawn from the populations which follow the diet over lifespans; European countries surrounding the Mediterranean have reduced cases of obesity, high-blood pressure and type 2 diabetes. The health benefits from this diet are due to the benefits of healthy fats, antioxidants, abundance of vitamins and minerals and the reduced calorie element.

2. The Low-Carb Diet

The low-carb diet, similar to the Atkin’s diet, is a carb-restricted diet with the goal of rapid weight loss. Unlike the Atkin’s diet, a low-carb diet is more generalised with less of a defined definition. It is formed by the reduced intake of carbohydrates by avoiding high-carb foods such as bread, potatoes, grains, fruit juices, fizzy drinks and fast-foods and possibly some fruit and vegetables.

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The extremity of the diet is measured by intake of carbs by grams, with only 50g being the most extreme, geared towards rapid weight loss. This diet is first of all concerning as the brain uses entirely carbohydrates as a source of energy. As one of the essential macronutrients, carbohydrates should not be cut from the diet or even drastically reduced; they are a salient source of energy to us.

The low-carb diet has been praised in articles for its effects on weight loss, however, according to studies, this weight loss is not maintained long-term. Weight-loss achieved in a short-period of time is easily gained again, especially when the diet that achieved it is also not easily maintained. The initial weight loss from this type of diet is a result of water loss.

The low-carb diet may indeed achieve short-term results, but its nutrients are not adequate enough to sustain long-term health. Despite what the media and articles claim, studies have shown the effects of the low-carb diet on cardiovascular health to be controversial.

To learn more about carbohydrates, please click the link below:

3. The Paleo Diet

The Palaeolithic diet, also known as the paleo diet or caveman diet, is a stone-age type diet that has been popularised in recent years to mimic that of Palaeolithic eating habits. During this era, we ate lean meats, fish, fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds; a simplified palate compared to our food choices today. It mimics a whole-foods diet with intense physical activity, similar to our hunter-gatherer ancestors. Some variations include only plant-based foods, but all variants aim to reduce the risk of obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure and well as weight loss.

The benefits are presumed to be due to the reduced or entirely eliminated intake of processed foods, fizzy drinks, dairy products, grains, legumes, margarine and trans fats. The exceptions to these foods are red wine and dark chocolate, which can be eaten in small quantities.

Claims of the paleo diet are taken from the reduced health issues associated with our ancestors of the Palaeolithic time. However, studies that have attempted to support this, have found inconclusive evidence so far. Diets based on whole foods that cut out trans fats and fast food are expected to reap positive health benefits in general, however, some variants of the paleo diet can be restrictive. These variants, such as the low-carb type, can have adverse effects on our energy levels, weight and general nourishment. Furthermore, there are many factors today which play into our health outcomes, factors that were not present at all during the Palaeolithic period.

It is clear that evidence of these fad diets is limited, except the Mediterranean diet, which is why the media can so easily inflate them. However, it can be noted that restrictive diets in general, have adverse effects on our long-term health, despite showing some immediate benefits. When considering a similar diet, it is important to consult a qualified dietitian or nutritionist, such as Christine, to get the correct, evidence-based advice that is tailored to you as nutrition advice via the media can be dangerous and unregulated.

Photo by Kim Daniels on Unsplash

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