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5 popular diets explained – the nutritionist’s guide

Popular diets explained Rick Hay MAIN

Keto, sirtfood, paleo – just how many popular diets are there? And which ones are actually good for you? We spoke to nutritionist Rick Hay, who helps us set the record straight on five trendy diets

There are a plethora of diets out there, it seems as if a new one is made popular everyday. Diets for weight loss, diets for fat loss, diets for reducing appetite, diets for reducing bloating, diets for better skin – I could go on.

All of these popular diets claim to be THE diet that will be the answer to your prayers and claims to be superior above all others – confusing or what?

The truth is though no one diet is best for everyone, and what works for you may not work for someone else.

And of course there is no better diet out there than one where you can eat everything in moderation and enjoy food the way it’s supposed to be enjoyed.

That’s why most nutritionists and diet experts will advocate for everyone to eat a healthy, balanced diet including all macro- and micronutrients with a focus on vegetables, fibers and lean proteins and healthy fats.

One such nutritionist who advocates this is Healthista Collective Expert Rick Hay. So, we asked him to dissect the ins and out of the popular diets that are hitting the headlines and trending on social media.

Here are five popular diets explained – take it away Rick Hay (HA that rhymes!)

Popular diet #1 The Sirtfood Diet

The Sirtfood Diet: berries, capers, kale, nuts, chocolate
Some examples of fat-burning sirtfoods

How does the diet work?

The Sirtfood Diet focuses on raising your intake of certain healthy ‘sirtfoods’.

This diet centers around 20 foods that, according to research, activate the so-called ‘skinny genes’. Which in turn will elevate your energy levels and boost your weight loss.

Examples of sirtfoods include:

  • strawberries
  • blueberries
  • apples
  • citrus fruits
  • walnuts
  • parsley
  • kale
  • capers
  • green tea
  • soy
  • turmeric
  • dark chocolate
  • red wine
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • onions

According to researchers, these special foods work by activating specific proteins in the body called sirtuins.

This group of proteins regulates several important functions in the body and studies suggest that sirtfoods may cause the body to produce more of these proteins.

What are the benefits?

According to research carried out by the developers of the Sirtfood Diet, eating foods high in sirtuin activators turns on your body’s fat-burning powers and supercharges sustained weight loss.

The diet is also said to protect cells in your body from inflammation, boost energy levels, promote glowing skin and may even help reverse ageing and stave off disease.

‘There are lots of plant based foods within this diet which I am a fan of in order to boost fibre intake and to help strengthen immune function,’ explains Hay.

‘The diet can also help with collagen production too, so may have some benefits to the skin’.

Does it work for weight loss?

The Sirtfood diet is restrictive, so yes you are likely to lose weight (as with any type of restrictive diet). It focuses on calorie counting (calorie deficit) and requires you to cut out major food groups (not advised). You will also be required to downsize your portions, especially in week one.

adele transformation
Adele 31, weight-loss transformation

Most recently, the diet became popular when Adele was reported to have followed it, leading to noticeable weight loss.

Are there any downsides?

While restricting your calories and certain food groups generally leads to weight loss in the short-term, the question is: does this diet actually offer lasting results, or is it just another fad? For many, restriction will only lead to binge eating and weight gain in the future.

‘If you’re not used to restricting your food intake during the day, you may also experience nausea, dizziness, difficulty concentrating, fatigue and headaches,’ says Hay.

‘Plus, if you’ve ever suffered with an eating disorder or had a complicated relationship with food in the past, it’s best to avoid the Sirtfood Diet’.

Instead, incorporate more sirtfoods into your diet and cut out processed foods and sugar, while increasing your activity level and exercising several times a week.

Popular diet #2 The Paleo Diet

The Paleo Diet
Hunter gatherer foods common in a paleo diet: lean meats, fish, vegetables, nuts, seeds, fruits (in small amounts)

How does the diet work?

The paleo diet is designed to resemble what hunter-gatherer tribes ate thousands of years ago.

It allows lean meats, fish, vegetables, nuts, seeds and fruits (in small amounts), but restricts dairy products, legumes, grains and some carbohydrates.

‘I can see the paleo community evolving and I believe that in the coming year we will also see different versions of the diet that allow and include foods that are currently on the forbidden list, such as gluten-free grains,’ Hay explains.

‘I also think we will start to see the paleo food list as a template to base your individual diet on, rather than a strict set of rules that must be followed’.

What are the benefits?

Research suggests that Paleo can lead to significant weight loss and major health improvements due to cutting out excess carbohydrates, sugar and processed foods.

The Paleo diet restricts sugar and processed foods, which are both linked to increased inflammation. Eliminating those foods helps decreasing inflammation markers in the body.

People on the Paleo diet often report increased and more stable energy levels, clearer skin and healthier looking hair, stronger mental clarity and less bloating.

Does it work for weight loss?

‘Yes, as mentioned above, eating this way can lead to weight loss. My concern here though is how sustainable and lasting those results really are,’ considers Hay.

‘Eating too much meat and staying off healthy carbs for a prolonged period of time may lead to other health issues too’.

Are there any downsides?

Calcium and vitamin D deficiencies are common in people on this diet. Also, increased risk of kidney and heart disease due to eating too much saturated fat and protein (high meat consumption) can be found.

Popular diet #3 The Pegan Diet

The Pegan Diet
Vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, meat, fish, and eggs are allowed on the pegan diet

How does the diet work?

‘With more and more food bloggers and YouTubers giving up the vegan diet and incorporating small amounts of  lean meat and fish into their diets, I expect the popularity of the Pegan Diet to skyrocket in 2020,’ Hay predicts.

The pegan diet combines principles of the paleo diet and veganism and prescribes to a plant-based eating style.

Vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, meat, fish, and eggs are allowed. Dairy, grains, legumes, sugar, and processed foods are forbidden on this diet.

‘As with the Paleo Diet I expect people adding certain grains too, such as quinoa to their menu plans,’ adds Hay.

What are the benefits?

The Pegan Diet reduces inflammation, which allows your entire body to function better, which is why the pegan diet is particularly advisable for people with inflammatory issues.

Basically 75 per cent of this diet is comprised of vegetables, good fats and nuts and seeds, 25 per cent lean meat and fish.

‘It is more balanced than the Paleo Diet though, restricting legumes and grains might not be an advisable long-term solution for everyone,’ Hay suggests.

Does it work for weight loss?

You can lose weight on the pegan diet. The diet restricts the intake of sweets, processed junk foods, and dairy – all of which cause inflammation in the body.

This way of eating emphasizes anti-inflammatory and antioxidant-rich produce as well as healthy fats, and can lead to weight loss, especially in the beginning.

Are there any downsides?

While research has been conducted on the benefits of consuming more fruits and vegetables, fiber and healthy fats, quality clinical studies on the health benefits and effects of the pegan diet haven’t been carried out (yet).

Popular diet #4 The Keto Diet

The Keto Diet
The high-fat, low-carb eating plan that is keto actually includes a substantial amount of foods including cheese, lean meats and chocolate.

How does the diet work?

Keto is a very low-carb, high-fat diet that shares many similarities with the Atkins. It involves drastically reducing carbohydrate intake and replacing it with fat.

The reduced intake of carbs puts the body into a metabolic state called ketosis hence the name Keto.

What are the benefits?

There are plenty of studies suggesting that this very low-carb, high-fat diet is effective for weight loss, diabetes and epilepsy.

The main benefit of the Keto diet is accelerated weight loss. Though it may also protect brain functioning too.

Research suggests that Keto offers neuroprotective benefits (brain health). These may help treat or prevent conditions like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

One study found that children following a ketogenic diet had improved alertness and cognitive functioning.

Does it work for weight loss?

When you restrict your carb intake to less than 50 grams a day, your body eventually runs out of fuel.

After three or four days it starts to break down protein and fat for energy, which can make you lose weight fast.

Are there any downsides?

Even though there are many foods allowed on a Keto diet, the diet in general is actually extremely restrictive, thus very hard to maintain. Nobody likes to say goodbye to carbs right?

It’s important to note that the ketogenic diet is a short term diet rather than a long term solution, and highly unsustainable.

Popular diet #5 The Whole30 diet

The Whole30 diet
Any natural, whole foods that aren’t processed or have any added nasties is allowed on this popular diet

How does the diet work?

Whole30 is a 30-day diet that emphasises whole foods and eliminates sugar, alcohol, grains, legumes, soy, and dairy from you meal plan. Think: Paleo meets elimination diet – for 30 days.

What you can eat includes:

  • Plenty of vegetables, including potatoes
  • All fruit, in moderation
  • Unprocessed lean meats
  • Seafood including shellfish
  • Eggs
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Oil, coconut and olive
  • Coffee without milk

Dairy (including milk and cheese), grains, alcohol, legumes (including tofu), added sugar, junk food are all forbidden on the Whole30 Diet.

Are there any benefits?

Whole30 cuts out hormone-unbalancing, gut-disrupting, inflammatory food groups and increases key anti-inflammatory foods like vegetables, certain fruits and omega-3 fatty acids.

‘The idea behind Whole30 is to cut out gut-disrupting and inflammatory foods to eliminate and then reintroduce potential problem-causers so you can better understand how what you eat is affecting your body,’ explains Hay.

Does it work for weight loss?

If you make the Whole30 low-calorie and low-carb you can certainly lose weight, though weight loss isn’t the sole focus of this diet, being as healthy as possible is.

Are there any downsides?

There isn’t a large body of research behind this diet, but as with most very restrictive diets it isn’t sustainable long-term.

According to the inventors of the diet it isn’t meant to be long term. You are supposed to find out the foods your body has problems digesting and keep those out of your diet while reintroducing the foods that don’t trouble your digestive system.

‘The issues I see with Whole30 is that it’s another very restrictive diet that people may be too tempted to stay on for too long. This can be a problem and could lead to nutritional deficiencies in the future,’ warns Hay.

Rick Hay

Rick Hay is an Anti Ageing and Fitness Nutritionist with many years clinical experience in nutrition, naturopathy, botanical medicine and iridology.

He specializes in obesity treatment and weight management and writes a regular Natural Health and Fitness Blog for Healthista.

Find out more at Follow Rick @nutritionalphys

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