The 5 Most Popular Diets: Pros & Cons
We don’t know of a universally perfect diet to recommend, though some are healthier than others in general. Today we briefly explore the pros and cons of some popular diets to help you discover one that might come close to perfect for you.
1. Paleo Diet
If you haven’t heard of the Paleo Diet until now we’re assuming you just got internet access today for the first time. Paleo is still popular, and is based on a premise that’s easy for us contemporaries to swallow:
Our hunter-gatherer ancestors ate meat, fish, nuts, vegetables and fruits. Then farming came along and changed what people ate. This lead to adding dairy, grains and legumes as additional staples in the human diet. This late and rapid change in diet outpaced the body’s ability to adapt. Eating in a way we have yet to adapt to partly explains the prevalence of obesity, diabetes and heart disease today.
Adherents to the paleo diet eat as they believe our ancestors ate.
What you can eat: Lean meats, seafood, poultry, vegetables, nuts, seeds, fermented foods, and fruit.
Foods to avoid: Processed foods, grains, sugar, trans fat, soft drinks, artificial sweeteners, and most dairy products.
Pros of the Paleo Diet
- More weight loss
- Improved glucose tolerance
- Better blood pressure control
- Lower triglycerides
- Better appetite management
Cons of the Paleo Diet
- No legumes, beans, grains or pasta (if you enjoy these things).
- The premise of the diet may be flawed, or in need of an update. Experts argue that the rapid adaptation of gut bacteria enables us to adapt to dietary changes more quickly than paleo proponents allow.
- There are no long term studies in modern humans (or their ancestors) to assess impact on health.
No doubt, the paleo diet is a reasonably healthy diet, and there’s a wide enough variety of restricted foods for its followers to get enough nutrients for day to day life.
2. Ketogenic Diet (e.g. Atkins Diet)
At one time Dr. Atkins himself seemed to be the only health professional touting the virtues of a low carb diet. Dr. Robert C. Atkins was a cardiologist who developed this high fat, high protein diet back in the 1960’s and promoted it through the books he published. Dr. Atkins believed:
Obesity and related health problems are the fault of the typical low-fat, high-carbohydrate American diet. Getting most of your calories from fat forces your body to use different energy pathways. Instead of carbs for energy, the body burns fat, entering a metabolic state that is known as ketosis.
A few progressive physicians recommended it for their prediabetic patients, but the diet remained largely unknown until this millennium. Dr. Atkins death in 2003 appears to be the catalyst for making the low carb lifestyle go viral for a few years. The hype was so intense, it had a huge economic impact on pasta makers, bakeries and doughnut shops.
Ketogenic diets are simultaneously liberal and restrictive. You can feast yourself on virtually anything you can find on a Brazilian Barbecue menu at lunchtime, but a half bowl of cereal for breakfast could kick you out of ketosis.
This is an all or nothing diet, and one of the few diets where you can’t cheat every once in a while and still expect it to be effective.
The ketogenic diet consists mostly of meats, fish, cheese, salads, a limited assortment of non-salad vegetables and select low carbohydrate fruits, and berries.
What you can eat: Meat, eggs, cheese, avocado, low-carb vegetables, and fatty fish.
Foods to avoid: Sugary foods, unhealthy fats, fruit, grains or starches, anything with excess sugar.
Pros of Keto
- Rapid weight loss potential.
- No calorie counting, and no hard limits to fats or proteins.
- Diet gets less restrictive over time.
- May reverse high blood sugar and lower triglycerides.
- May have cognitive benefits.
Cons of Keto
- May be constipating.
- Must maintain low carb lifestyle in order to retain results.
- Few long term studies in humans to to assess impact on health.
The long term benefits or adverse effects of an extreme low carbohydrate diet are yet to be determined. To be sure short term use can assist with rapid weight loss and be a great segue into a lower carbohydrate lifestyle.
3. Vegan Diet
A vegan diet is the strictest of all vegetarian diets in that it includes no food with animal origins such as eggs, dairy, etc. Its staples fruits and vegetables, soy, oats, nuts, pasta, vegan breads and vegan desserts.
What you can eat: Fruits, vegetables, nuts, grains, tofu, legumes, and seeds
Foods to avoid Meat, pultry, fish, and dairy products.
Pros of Vegan
- May help with weight loss.
- May reduce risk of heart disease.
- May reduce risk of cancer.
- May reduce risk of type II diabetes.
- Demonstrates compassion for all living things.
Cons of Vegan
- Could result in B-12 and D deficiencyfor its adherents, and for the children of nursing mothers unless supplemented.
- No vegetable sources of DHA, an important fatty acid in the brain.
- Requires some careful meal planning to ensure adequate intake of protein.
Vegan diets are generally low in cholesterol and saturated fat. Eating a vegan diet naturally conforms to the dietary guidelines believed to reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease and cancer.
Overall veganism can be part of a healthy lifestyle when the emphasis is placed on healthful eating in general. The absence of animal products doesn’t make foods healthful by default, and there’s no shortage of vegan friendly junk food, which can lead to the same health issues associated with other diets.
4. Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent fasting has been enjoying a lot of good medical press this year,
and has been successfully commercialized by the Bulletproof Diet. The popularization of diets make them much easier to stick with when away from home, as prepackaged meals and options while dining out make the diet more accessible at all times.
The Bulletproof version of the diet consists of organic meats, organic fruits, organic vegetables, and healthful fats, including butter from grassfed cows.
Tips for this diet Eat high-fiber foods, drink lots of water and black coffee or tea.
Things to avoid Food quality should be high, avoid sugars and junk food.
Pros of Intermittent Fasting
- Rapid weight loss potential.
- Reduces the need for 24/7 willpower to maintain diet.
- May lower blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol.
- May provide same benefits of ketogenic diet, with a more liberal carbohydrate intake.
- Is believed to give the pancreas time to heal, rest and reset.
Cons of Intermittent Fasting
- The physically active may have difficulty timing workouts with meal intake.
- Not recommended for anyone who’s pregnant, under 18 or has certain medical conditions, such as diabetes.
Even with free eating periods, fasters tend to take in fewer calories overall, resulting in weight loss. In addition, its advocates believe that intentionally depriving your cells of calories may slow the progression of certain age-related diseases.
Fasting has been practiced for millenia for both spiritual and health promoting reasons. Persistent intermittent fasting as a lifestyle is not as deeply rooted in humanity. It looks promising, and it appears to be safe at least for the short term. As always, proceed with caution.
While much of the literature on intermittent fasting is based on narrowing the window of times to eat, the Bulletproof version focuses on eating healthful foods while not fasting, which may provide additional benefits.
5. The Mediterranean Diet
The Mediterranean diet originated from the countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea, including France, Italy, Spain, Morocco, and most notably, Greece, and has gradually evolved over 5,000 years. This diet was once considered a poor man’s diet since it was developed over the centuries where people had to labor to create sustenance in less hospitable terrain.
According to Today’s Dietician Magazine:
People used local resources and prepared food from nothing in order to develop it. It was shaped by the regional environment, culture, and religious practices. People always believed the Mediterranean diet was good for you, but it hadn’t been documented before. It’s a way of living—it respects the environment and religions. The focus is on seasonal foods, traditional options, and local products.
The Mediterranean Diet is comprised mostly of vegetables, whole grain pastas and breads, fish, poultry and fruits. Fats are largely obtained from its generous use of olive oil.
The diet also includes eggs, cheese and yogurt in moderation, and rarely, red meat. Dry, red wine in moderation is also a staple, and believed to contribute to its health benefits.
What you can eat: Vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, eggs, cheese, yogurt, fish, seafood and extra virgin olive oil.
Things to avoid Soda, candies, ice cream, processed meat, and refined grains.
Pros of Mediterranean Diet**
- May reduce risk of heart disease and stroke.
- May reduce risk of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and other age related cognitive impairment.
- May reduce risk of age-related muscle weakness.
- Longer life expectancy and lower rates of chronic diseases over all.
- Scientifically validated, with thousands of years of cultural use.
Cons of Mediterranean Diet**
- Difficult to follow for people who need, or prefer strict meal planning.
There are plenty of Mediterranean Diet recipes available online and a few apps to help with food shopping, but very little information is available on how to stick with the diet. Outside of the Mediterranean, only the most motivated of dieters and health advocates end up pursuing it.
The Mediterranean diet is a naturally healthy way to eat, with few, if any, absolute dietary restrictions.
There are other health enhancing features of the Mediterranean lifestyle which may be unrelated to diet, such as their strong sense of community, and plenty of allowances for leisure time.