With the start of a new year, you may be thinking about cleaning up your diet and making healthier lifestyle choices. There are so many different diet lifestyles to try, all with raving fans and adamant naysayers. It can be overwhelming and confusing to figure out what dietary needs are right for you.
Remember, food is fuel. Nutrition is an essential part of a healthy life. Food impacts our weight and energy levels, but also our brain and vital organ functions. There is so much to consider when choosing a nutritious diet, but you shouldn’t do it alone.
Work with a registered dietician
Always consult a doctor or registered dietician when making changes to your diet. Whether your goal is weight loss, weight gain, better digestion or merely a better quality of life, a medical or dietary expert can help you make smart food choices without compromising your health.
We’ve listed several common diets below, including their benefits and risks, but you don’t need a special diet to be healthy. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommend that adults eat at least 1.5 to 2 cups of fruit and 2 to 3 cups of vegetables per day and opt for lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs and nuts. Consume saturated fats, added sugars and salt in moderation. If necessary, consult your physician regarding appropriate caloric intake for your body weight and activity level.
The pros and cons of common diets
The following diet lifestyles have a variety of purposes, benefits and health risks. If you are considering any of the following diet regimens, consult your doctor or a registered dietician for guidance.
Vegetarianism has grown in popularity recently due to its health and environmental benefits. A vegetarian diet excludes all meat, but some vegetarians choose to eat fish, which is called pescetarianism.
Benefits: A balanced vegetarian diet reduces your risk of heart disease and cancer, and can reduce joint pain caused by arthritis. It’s essential to maintain a balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, dairy and vegetarian protein sources.
Risks: Because meat is high in iron, vegetarians have a greater risk of iron-deficient anemia. Eating fish instead of meat can help restore iron and provide omega-3 fatty acids. Be sure to eat plenty of vegetarian sources of protein and iron, including soy, quinoa, nuts, tofu, lentils and spinach. In addition, you may need to take vitamins or supplements approved by your doctor.
Veganism excludes all animal products, including meat, fish, dairy, honey and eggs. People choose to eat a vegan diet for various ethical, religious, health and environmental reasons.
Benefits: A vegan diet may reduce your risk of certain heart diseases and cancers and may even reduce pain from arthritis. However, this is reliant on the types of vegan foods you choose. There are plenty of unhealthy vegan options, so it’s still important to follow the CDC’s nutrition guidelines under this diet.
Risks: When eating a vegan diet, there is an increased risk of inadequate protein, vitamins and mineral intake, including iron and omega-3 fatty acids found in meat and fish. However, soy, quinoa and nuts are good sources of protein, and tofu, lentils and spinach are excellent sources of iron. You may also consider taking vitamins or supplements to avoid deficiencies.
The paleo diet is based on what might have been eaten during the Paleolithic, or prehistoric, era prior to modern farming. It consists of lean meats, fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds. Foods such as dairy, legumes, refined sugar, salt, potatoes and grains are excluded from the paleo diet. It also excludes any highly processed foods.
Benefits: Because the paleo diet focuses on lean meat, fruits and vegetables, it may be linked to weight loss, improved glucose tolerance, better blood pressure control and lower triglycerides. However, there have not yet been any long-term studies to understand the benefits and risks of a paleo diet over time.
Risks: While there are no long-term studies to offer conclusive risks of the paleo diet, there are some concerns. For example, a paleo diet excludes grains and legumes, which are good sources of fiber, vitamins and nutrients. It also excludes all dairy products, which provide protein and calcium.
The ketogenic, or “keto” diet is a low carb, high fat diet originally used to help reduce seizures in children with epilepsy. Ketosis is a metabolic state in which your body uses fat, rather than carbohydrates, for energy. A ketogenic diet forces your body into ketosis by limiting your carbohydrate consumption to 20-50 grams per day. Those calories are replaced with healthy fats from meat, fish, eggs, nuts and oil.
Benefits: A ketogenic diet can aid in weight loss by reducing overall calories, focusing on healthy fats and putting the body in ketosis. It has also been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease and some cancers.
Risks: A ketogenic diet should always be followed under a doctor or registered dietician’s close observation. Low carbohydrate intake can lead to flu-like symptoms, lower energy, stress on your kidneys, digestive issues, nutrient deficiencies, dangerously low blood sugar and decreased bone density.
The Mediterranean diet is often called the “heart-healthy diet” because it blends basic healthy eating habits with traditional Mediterranean flavors. The main components of a Mediterranean diet are:
- Daily consumption of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and healthy fats
- Weekly intake of fish, poultry, beans and eggs
- Moderate portions of dairy
- Limited intake of red meat
- It also encourages family-style meals, enjoying a glass of red wine and being physically active
Benefits: The Mediterranean diet has been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and type 2 diabetes. It can also lead to better mobility and quality of life as you age.
Risks: The risks associated with a Mediterranean diet are low, but include possible iron and calcium deficiencies from eating less red meat and dairy.
A healthy diet can help you maintain a healthy body weight, reduce your risk of certain diseases and improve your quality of life. However, there is no one-size-fits-all solution, so it’s important to choose a diet plan that fits your goals and lifestyles and to always consult a doctor or registered dietician before starting a new diet. For more healthy living tips, read our On Your Health blog.
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