The obesity epidemic is distressing, and our current efforts at change are failing miserably. Fad diets that present themselves as healthy diets are everywhere. We are letting ourselves and our children down by allowing the perpetuation of a debilitating, yet preventable, disease. The 2016 statistics estimate that 80% of American adults do not meet the recommended daily amount of aerobic and muscle-strengthening physical activity1. Obesity is a major contributing factor of preventable chronic diseases, costing the healthcare system anywhere from $147-$210 billion per year1.
The rate at which we are draining the healthcare system is not sustainable, and we must get back to the basic principles of a healthy lifestyle. This includes nutritious whole-foods and daily exercise.
5 of The Most Popular Healthy Diets in America
Here is the truth about some popular diets in America.
The ketogenic diet involves consuming low or no carbohydrates in order to force the body into ketosis. When carbohydrate intake is low, the body starts to break down fat for fuel resulting in the release of ketones in the blood stream (ketosis)2.
This diet is thought to promote weight loss because increased protein results in a reduction of appetite due to higher satiety3,4,5. Ketone bodies also have a direct appetite-suppressant effect6. In addition, there is an “energy cost” when the body is forced to create glucose. The energy cost of gluconeogenesis has been confirmed in several studies and calculated to be about 400-600 kcal/day7,8.
One thing you might not know is a strict low-carb diet can cause some to experience bad smelling breath, which is described as characteristic of nail polish remover. Interestingly, this smell is from acetone, a ketone body. This smell can also be noted in body odor especially if you are working out and sweating a lot.
2. Vegetarian/Vegan Diet
Human clinical intervention trials have demonstrated benefits from intervention with “vegetarian diets” but data from 76,172 men and women revealed that when vegetarians are compared to “healthy” omnivores, the benefits of being vegetarian is extremely minimal, if any8.
The key thing to consider before ditching meat for good is when vegetarians are compared to the average Western diet; suddenly vegetarian diets are demonstrated to decrease the risk of many diseases, 9 significantly. You probably already know that protein, iron, and vitamin B12 are lacking in this diet.
While these items are not impossible to achieve, it is very difficult. What you may not have known is that vegetarian pregnant woman is at significantly increased the risk for having screening false positives for downs syndrome. The “further testing” required to confirm Down’s syndrome following a positive screen is invasive and carries with it a significant risk profile11.
In addition, vegetarianism during pregnancy increases the risk of delivering a baby boy with hypospadias (urethra opening placed on the underside of the penis) relative to omnivore mothers12.
3. Blood Type
Dr. Peter D’Adamo’s writes in his Eat Right for Your Blood Type that, “Some foods are capable of causing the cells of a certain blood type to agglutinate while having no impact on cells of another blood type. This reaction is dependent upon the interaction of human cells with the lectins found in food”13.
While this claim is interesting, you may not have known that this research is based solely off of in vitro- type evidence. We cannot claim as a statement of the fact that the observed result in a test tube will occur in the body. Much of the success of this diet is not “blood type” based but nutritional common sense.
To start off, all followers of the blood type diet avoid sweets, caffeine, alcohol, junk food, fried food, etc. because “no blood type agrees with these foods”13. In my opinion, blood type specific or not, if anyone was to make the above list of dietary exclusions simply, positive effects on your health would be expected.
4. Low-Fat Diet
For years low-fat diets were all the rage, but now evidence exists to show this diet did not achieve the effects on lipid profiles that were once initially expected. What we saw over the years is that extremely low-fat diets reduce your metabolism thereby increase your risk of obesity14. Also, consuming a low-fat diet causes your overall lipid profile to increase.
A study in pre-menopausal women compared the effects of low-fat vegetarian diet vs. control diet on plasma lipid profiles. The results of the low fat group showed LDL decreased 16.9%, Total cholesterol decreased 13.2%, HDL cholesterol decreased 9%, and triglyceride increased 18.7%15.
Although the “bad (LDL)” cholesterol decreased, as a whole, this is not a positive change to plasma lipid profiles15. The point is to identify that a very low-fat diet, even though it may seem paradoxical, detriments lipid profiles. Fat should never go below 15% of your total calories.
Our hormones are synthesized from cholesterol so getting any less can suppress and alter normal hormone levels as well as metabolism, reproduction, mood, and growth and development. Restricting your fat intake can also impair absorption of the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K.
Not all fat sources are created equally and not just any fat source will do. Ensure you are consuming healthy fats such as; egg yolk, avocado, olive oil, nut butter, coconut oil, and omega-3 fatty acid sources.
5. Intermittent Fasting
When we consume a meal, insulin levels rise and promote storage of food energy. Our bodies store excess energy in two ways. Sugar molecules can be strung together into chains called glycogen and stored in the liver, which is readily available in times of need.
Or once the liver’s storage capacity is met, the excess glucose is converted into fat and deposited throughout the body. The amount of energy we can store as body fat is essentially unlimited but this form of stored fuel is harder to access in times of need.
When we fast, insulin falls, and the body receives the signal that it needs to pull glucose out of storage to burn for energy. Glycogen is the easiest form to access so this is the primary source of fuel for the first 24-36 hours of fasting. After this time the body can begin to start breaking down fat for fuel.
Either we are in the fed (high insulin) or fasted state (low insulin). We are either storing energy or burning it. Intermittent fasting allows for our bodies to have time to burn food energy. If we are consuming food from the minute we wake up until we go to bed we do not allow our bodies any time to burn fat.
To restore balance and lose weight, intermittent fasting can be utilized. Just increase the amount of time you are in the fasted state.
One final tip to maximize fat loss is to pair intermittent fasting with a strategic exercise plan that helps you deplete glycogen stores faster so fat loss can start sooner and last longer.
While intermittent fasting can provide the solution to stubborn fat loss, it is an upper-level nutrition plan that requires precautionary measures be taken. When done incorrectly or by the wrong people, intermittent fasting could result in hunger, chronically elevated cortisol, muscle loss or exacerbate eating disorders.
My recommendation is always to consult your primary care provider before starting a new eating plan as well as find a mentor, nutritionist or fitness personnel who focuses in this area.
In my opinion, there will never be a “one size fits all” plan. What works for one person may not work for you. You are an amazing and unique individual, and your nutrition plan should be as awesome as you. Everyone has different genetics, goals, lifestyles, and schedules.
Always remember, though, at the end of the day, the best diet is the one you can stick to. In the end, the most important things are consistency and adherence.
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- References: Paoli, A., et al. “Beyond weight loss: a review of the therapeutic uses of very-low-carbohydrate (ketogenic) diets.” European journal of clinical nutrition 67.8 (2013): 789-796.
- Westerterp-Plantenga MS, Nieuwenhuizen A, Tome D, Soenen S, Westerterp KR. Dietary protein, weight loss, and weight maintenance. Annu Rev Nutr2009; 29: 21–41.
- Sumithran P, Prendergast LA, Delbridge E, Purcell K, Shulkes A, Kriketos A et al. Ketosis and appetite-mediating nutrients and hormones after weight loss.Eur J Clin Nutr 2013;, e-pub ahead of print 1 May 2013; doi:10.1038/ejcn.2013.90.
- Veldhorst M, Smeets A, Soenen S, Hochstenbach-Waelen A, Hursel R, Diepvens K et al. Protein-induced satiety: effects and mechanisms of different proteins. Physiol Behav 2008; 94: 300–307.
- Johnstone AM, Horgan GW, Murison SD, Bremner DM, Lobley GE. Effects of a high-protein ketogenic diet on hunger, appetite, and weight loss in obese men feeding ad libitum. Am J Clin Nutr 2008; 87: 44–55.
- Fine EJ, Feinman RD. Thermodynamics of weight loss diets. Nutr Metab (Lond) 2004; 1: 15.
- Veldhorst MA, Westerterp-Plantenga MS, Westerterp KR. Gluconeogenesis and energy expenditure after a high-protein, carbohydrate-free diet. Am J Clin Nutr 2009; 90: 519–526
- 8. Key TJ et al. AJCN. 1999;70(suppl): 516S-524S.
- 9. Siener et al. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2003;42(6): 332-37
- 10. Cheng et al. Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2004;190(2): 442-7.
- 11 Piccoli, G. B., et al. “Vegan–vegetarian diets in pregnancy: danger or panacea? A systematic narrative review.” BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology 122.5 (2015): 623-633.
- D’Adamo, Peter and Catherine Whitney. Eat Right 4 (For) Your Type. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1996. Print.
- 13. H. Sherman, Y. Genzer, R. Cohen, N. Chapnik, Z. Madar, O. Froy. Timed high-fat diet resets circadian metabolism and prevents obesity. The FASEB Journal, 2012; 26 (8): 3493
- 14. Barnard et al. Am J Cardiol. 2000;85(8): 969-72.
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