Anyone looking for a weight loss plan probably feels like they are being bombarded with new diets, fads, and gimmicks on a regular basis. With all of the information out there, it’s hard to know what works, what doesn’t, what is healthy, and what is not. Let’s take a look at some of the most popular plans out there and examine the components of each one.
Paleo Diet (Similar to Atkins, Dukan Diet, Vegan Diet)
The Goal: Promotes weight loss and maintenance; prevention of Type 2 Diabetes and heart disease.
The Theory: Paleo advocates say that the highly processed, high carbohydrate diet of the typical American is the cause for many of the biggest health issues. The premise of this diet is to eat the way cavemen did in the Paleolithic period more than 10,000 years ago. The motto of the Paleo diet is “if a cavemen didn’t eat it, I shouldn’t either”.
The Food: The Paleo diet is high in meats, fish, nuts, berries, fruits, vegetables. Grains, sugars, dairy, and legumes are not consumed.
Pros/Cons: While most Americans would benefit from eating fewer processed and sugary foods, and more fruits and vegetables, any diet that encourages the omission of complete food groups is not recommended. Whole grains are the preferred source of energy for the brain, and also offer vitamins and fiber. Furthermore, because dairy and fortified cereals are not allowed on the Paleo diet plan, calcium and vitamin D will be lacking. Both of these dietary requirements are crucial in muscle function and bone health. Weight loss may result from following this plan because of simple calorie reduction, but the rigid rules and guidelines make it difficult and unhealthy to follow long term.
DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) Diet (Similar to TLC Diet, Mayo Clinic Diet, Vegetarien Diet, Ornish Diet)
The Goal: To prevent and lower high blood pressure; promotes weight loss.
The Theory: A healthy eating pattern that is low in sodium and high in potassium, calcium, protein, and fiber will help fight off hypertension. The DASH diet was designed by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
The Food: The DASH eating plan emphasizes vegetables, fruits, and low fat or fat free dairy products. It includes whole grains, fish, poultry, beans, seeds, nuts, and vegetable oils. Sweets, red meats, sodium (salt), and sugary beverages are limited.
Pros/Cons: This eating plan is rich in potassium, calcium, fiber, and protein and is low in sodium, saturated and trans fats. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that healthy adults consume no more than 2300mg of sodium per day, while those with high blood pressure or who are at risk for developing high blood pressure further reduce sodium intake to 1500mg/day. The DASH diet is backed by scientific research studies showing that this pattern of eating does help to lower blood pressure and even promotes weight loss. Although reducing/omitting salt may take some time to get used to, seasonings such as herbs and spices can help avoid blandness. This is a healthy, balanced eating plan that includes all foods groups and echoes the recommendations of the American Dietetic Association.
Dukan Diet (Similar to Paleo Diet and Atkins Diet)
The Goal: Weight Loss.
The Theory: The idea behind this diet is that protein, not calories, is the key to weight loss. When protein supplies the majority of the diet and fat and carbohydrates are restricted, the brain turns to alternate fuel sources (stored fat) for energy. This diet has 4 stages with clearly identified rules for eating at each stage.
The Food: What you are allowed to eat depends on the stage of the diet. In stage 1 (the “Attack” phase), it’s all you can eat proteins: lean beef, veal, pork, venison, organ meats, eggs, fish, shellfish, ham, turkey, chicken, tofu, and nonfat dairy. Water and diet sodas are also allowed, along with 1 ½ Tbsp of oat bran per day. In the phases that follow, foods like vegetables and eventually fruits and specific carbohydrates are slowly added back into the diet. The last phase (called “Permanent Stabilization”) is meant to last a lifetime and help keep the weight off. It also includes strict rules about when and what foods can be eaten.
Pros/Cons: This diet encourages the body to be in a state of ketosis, where fat is used as the brain’s fuel source. Common side effects of this type of very low-carb diet include bad breath, dry mouth, lethargy, and constipation. At each stage, you must follow specific rules and cheating is considered destructive. This diet is low in potassium, fiber, and vitamin D. For those who do not eat fish, omega fatty acids could also be lacking. Consuming a diet this high in protein causes the kidneys to work overtime to eliminate uric acid, a byproduct of protein breakdown. Kidney stones and other kidney problems may result from a long term, very high protein diet such as this. Besides unhealthily omitting whole food groups, the “black and white” way of thinking foods is not recommended. A more balanced approach and mindset would be a better way to reach weight loss goals.
Mediterranean Diet (Similar to DASH Diet, Mayo Clinic Diet, and Vegetarian Diet)
The Goal: Weight Loss and improvement; overall health.
The Theory: In general, people who live in the countries near the Mediterranean Sea live longer, healthier lives than Americans. The population experiences less heart disease and diabetes as well. This eating pattern mirrors that of the region.
The Food: The Mediterranean eating pattern emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, legumes, and olive oil, with fish and seafood at least a couple times per week. Poultry and dairy are encouraged in moderation, and red meat and sweets are saved for special occasions only.
Pros/Cons: This is a sensible eating plan that focuses on heart healthy foods while limiting foods high in saturated fat and sugar. Researchers at Harvard University developed a Mediterranean Diet Pyramid to help consumers with food choices. There are clear and well established cardiovascular benefits to this style of eating (note: this is not considered a “diet” but rather a way of eating for life). The Mediterranean diet has been shown to reduce blood pressure, improve blood cholesterol profiles, and meets the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans for fat, protein, fiber, and other key nutrients.
The Engine 2 Diet (Similar to Vegan Diet, Vegetarian Diet, Raw Food Diet, Ornish Diet, Macrobiotic Diet)
The Goal: Improve overall health with the added benefit of weight loss.
The Theory: A plant based diet can prevent and often reverse heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and cancer, which are thought to be caused by the typical American diet that is high in animal foods and saturated fat. The creator of this diet claims that plants and plant based foods offer the nutrients, fats, and proteins that keep the body functioning as it was intended.
The Food: The Engine 2 Diet consists of plants and plant based foods, minus vegetable oil (which is said to be stripped of nutrients and high in calories and saturated fat). All animal based products (meat, dairy, fish, eggs) and processed foods are omitted from the diet and replaced with whole grains, vegetables, beans, and fruits. Cooking with water instead of vegetable oil is recommended. This is a 4-phase program that slowly eliminates unwanted foods until a full vegan diet is achieved.
Pros/Cons: Most Americans eat too many processed foods and high-fat animal products, so the premise of this plant based diet for improving overall health is likely to have benefits. This diet plan aligns with the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans for most nutrients, but may fall short on Vitamin B12, Calcium, and Vitamin D, all which are found mainly in dairy products and meat. Some people find it difficult to follow a strict vegan diet, though it can be maintained in a healthy way with proper education and support. The Engine 2 program does offer online support for a fee.