There are many ways to eat a healthy diet: it can depend on where you live, what’s available, the time of year, how physically active you are, and how it makes you feel (among other things). The information age means there are heaps of resources on healthy eating out there, and it also means it’s easy to get overwhelmed or confused about what a healthy diet looks like.
According to the self-proclaimed founder of the paleo diet, paleo is primarily based on the foods that were available to humans in the Paleolithic era. In a nut shell, this diet promotes the consumption of vegetables, fruits, nuts, roots, meat and organ meats, fruit oils (such as olive, coconut, and palm oil), fish, and eggs. Paleo also advocates for eliminating processed foods, preservatives, cereal grains, legumes, dairy, refined sugar, potatoes, refined oils and salt.
- Paleo encourages the elimination of processed foods, dairy, refined sugar and generally promotes a whole food diet
The research just isn’t there to back this diet.
- There are a limited number of controlled clinical trials comparing the Paleolithic diet to accepted diets.
- A 2016 review of the existing research states .
- There is concern for bone health over the long term due to inadequate calcium sources.
- There are limitations in paleo studies and results should be cautiously considered.
- this diet may be “meat heavy”, which may lead to concern for its environmental impact – including food sourcing, water quality and use, as well as CO2 emissions. You can learn more about the environmental impact of your diet here.
You can still be plant-based and paleo! If most of this sounds good to you (and let’s be honest, a whole food diet is always great), but you aren’t on board with consuming animals, there is a wave of individuals living the plant-paleo life.
Evidence suggests that Paleolithic humans actually did eat grains. A 2015 study reveals that archeologists have found grain and flour residue on grinding tools and dental calculus from Grotta Paglicci, a significant Paleolithic site.
If you are concerned about lectins, know this: while they do tend to be higher in grains and legumes, lectins are found in just about all plants. However, there is no strong or recent research (most research is from the 70’s, and there are a handful from 2004) about them being harmful. Although not well researched yet, it is believed that soaking, sprouting, cooking, fermenting, and chewing your food breaks these down.
The ketogenic diet is less about what you eat, per se, and more about reaching a specific biological state known as ketosis, or ketoacidosis. This diet focuses on fat intake making up to 90% of one’s caloric intake. This forces your body to rely on ketone bodies – which the liver produces from stored fat – for fuel. In rare conditions a monitored variation of the
- May aid in weight loss.
- little research on the long-term effects for the general population. Most scientific research on keto is geared towards those with kidney disease or children with epilepsy.
Limits or even eliminates fruit. This is a big red flag for me as a nutritionist; fruits are some of the most nutrient dense foods on the planet!
- Only the short-term effects of this diet have been study, long term health implications are still unknown.
- Side effect may include: nausea, vomiting, headache, fatigue, dizziness, insomnia, difficulty in exercise tolerance, and constipation.
- Long term adverse effects may include: hepatic steatosis, hypoproteinemia, kidney stones, and vitamin and mineral deficiencies.
- Be aware of your other ailments. This protocol is contraindicated in those with pancreatitis, liver failure, disorders of fat metabolism, primary carnitine deficiency, carnitine palmitoyltransferase deficiency, carnitine translocase deficiency, porphyrias, or pyruvate kinase deficiency.
If It Fits My Macros/If It Fits Your Macros (IIFMM/IIFYM)
This is one of the newer trends out there. IIFYM uses personalized calculations of your macronutrients (fats, carbs and protein) to help you meet your weight loss and/or fitness goals using: basal metabolic rate, activity level, and weight goals. It is a way of controlling calories without counting calories and counting macros instead.
- Less restrictive than the diets above as there are no “forbidden” foods.
- May help with weight loss.
- You can do this as a meat eater, vegetarian, or vegan.
- There is no clinical research on this diet’s effectiveness.
- It ignores the importance of micronutrients and other compounds like vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Although some more savvy advocates for the diet do make a note that micronutrients are important.
- There is a lot of “counting” with each bite, and for some, this kind of tracking can cause stress, or even lead to disordered eating.
- This diet’s sole goal is weight control.
- Since IIFYM focusses on hitting specific macronutrient goals, not on specific foods, it’s easy to slip into the habit of eating heavily processed or highly sugary foods.
If you’re choosing this option: this and all diets should still include whole foods dense in micronutrients, which are imperative for all out pathways (including neurological function, digestion, cell and tissue repair, and much more).
Bonus: Whole Food Plant-based
I couldn’t sign off without giving a shout out to my favorite easy and scientifically backed diet. This one is simple: eat all plants, from a variety of sources. I personally have been consuming a plant-based diet for nearly 25 years. Here is why.
- Can be done in many forms: IIFMM, keto, paleo, raw, macrobiotic and so on.
- There are tens of thousands of plants to choose from.
- It can be better for the environment.
- It can fit with most cultures and traditions.
- Plants have phytonutrients that you can’t get in meat or dairy.
- Research shows that plant-based diets are cost-effective, low-risk interventions that may lower body mass index, blood pressure, HbA1C, and cholesterol
Myths that are considered cons.
- Myth: “You can’t get enough protein”. This one has been around for so long I’m shocked it is still in the discussion and it couldn’t be falser. There are so many ways to get your protein in including: nuts, seeds, beans, legumes, vegetables, jackfruit, edamame, quinoa, pastas and of course protein powders. If you still aren’t convinced give a quick social media search for #teamplantbuilt. Thank me later.
- Myth: “It’s expensive”. It absolutely doesn’t have to be! Grains, beans, and some produce are some of the most affordable foods out there. There are many books and social media accounts dedicated to teaching you how to have a healthy, whole food, plant-based diet without breaking the bank. I was a broke college student and worked for a non-profit for nearly a decade and was easily able to maintain my plant-based diet while stretching my dollar.
Do you follow a specific diet? Tell us below in the comments!