Finding Balance in Fad Diets

Girl juggling healthy and unhealthy foods

Following a trend on what is popular may work well for choosing clothes, home decorations and hair styles. Yet when it comes to nutrition, following a fad diet for the long-term may not be best for your body or your lifestyle. 

Fad diets are the stylish weight-loss plans that often promise dramatic results. Many of them involve eliminating foods or entire food groups. Here are five of the most popular fad diets and what you should know about them as you consider nutrition and your food options: 

This way of eating is high in fat, moderate in protein and low in carbohydrates. Keto was originally used to treat epilepsy in children with diets were not working. It works by putting the body in a metabolic (fasting) state because of the limited carb intake but it still supplies enough energy to support most needs. The body goes into ketosis and begins to burn fat for fuel. 

Pros: Keto offers accelerated weight loss and helps with blood sugar management. Research shows that it has been helpful in some athletic training, cancer treatments and neurologic conditions. 

Cons: Keto has been known to possibly cause some kidney damage, digestive discomfort, nutrient deficient and social isolation from the lack of eating out options. 

Paleo/Whole 30
The diet is set up as a modern eating style to imitate the hunter and gatherer ancestors and whole food way of eating. It reduces processed foods (chemically altered foods), has lower sodium, little or no sugar, no beans and legumes, has little to no alcohol and no dairy.

Pros: Paleo/Whole 30 has been helpful in weight loss, blood sugar regulation, improvement in digestion, reduction in inflammation, improvement in chronic health conditions and better sleep. 

Cons: Paleo/Whole 30 way of eating can be costly. Vegetarians and athletes may find it hard to stick to this diet.

Intermittent Fasting
This is an eating pattern that cycles between periods of fasting (not eating) and eating. It doesn’t specify foods that are allowed or not allowed but rather when you should eat them. It can cause a reduction in calories and create a metabolic shift to use fat for energy. Most common ways are include fasting for 16 to 24 hours, two times per week. 

Pros: Intermittent fasting has no food specifics. Therefore, eat whatever you like in the allowed time fame. 

Cons: Intermittent fasting is hard to manage long-term. It does not support metabolic and hormone systems. Some people may not lose weight because they are overeating or eating processed foods in their allowed eating period.

Gluten Free
The diet is free of proteins found in wheat, barley, rye and many oat products. This was introduced for celiac disease patients and individuals with other autoimmune conditions. Omitting gluten completely can let the intestines heal or reduce its inflammation.  

Pros: Gluten free helps reduce processed foods in diet and can help with weight loss. It reduces inflammation and aids in digestion, both needed for celiac disease. Therefore, eat whatever you like in the allowed time fame. 

Cons: Gluten free can be hard to commit to long-term. Products can be challenging to find and costly when available. Reducing or removing all gluten can lead to possible nutrient deficiencies.

This way of eating is primarily plant based foods with whole grains, legumes and nuts. It replaces saturated fats like butter with unsaturated fats like olive oil. The diet recommends using herbs and spices to flavor foods rather than salt. It limits red meat to more than a few times per week and recommends fish and poultry at least twice per week. Optional red wine in moderation is allowed. This diet is often recommended to prevent and treat heart disease. 

Pros: Mediterranean offers a more diverse option of foods. It has heart health benefits and potential weight loss. It has also been known to reduce blood sugar. 

Cons: Mediterranean may be hard to meet the daily recommended servings of fruits and vegetables. This style of eating can be more costly.

What to know before you try any diet:

  • Talk to your doctor before you begin a drastic, new way of eating. Your physician may want to monitor your health progress.
  • If you’re taking medication, you should consider how that medication could affect or be affected due to dietary changes.
  • Track your energy, blood sugar levels and other vital signs to ensure you are staying well.
  • If you want a boost to your weight loss or for other health reasons, then try these fad diets on a short-term basis, no more than three months at a time.
  • Keep in mind what you can manage for the long-term lifestyle, both personally and financially. 

What’s the Right Way to Eat?
Now that we’ve covered these popular diets*, it’s important to note that there is no one right way to eat. Every individual is different and bodies may need customization when it comes to energy and the right balance. A general rule when it comes to good nutrition is to eat fresh, whole foods as often as possible. Try to eat foods with a shorter expiration date. If an item can sit on a shelf or in a cupboard for a long time, and it has a long list of ingredients, then it may not be the best for you. Before proceeding with a diet or lifestyle change, talk to your doctor or dietician. 

*This information was provided by Jessica Gilkey, RD, LD/N, registered dietitian, licensed dietitian/nutritionist and health coach. Baptist Health Care does not recommend or endorse any particular diet.