Tis the season to find buzzworthy headlines about the latest diet trends, to read about your friends' plans for cleanses or detoxes in the new year.
We see so much "information" about diet scrolling through our social media feeds and on checkout-line magazine covers. But do these trendy diets really work? Are they good for you?
We asked Kate Ferry, registered dietician and diabetes educator with The Christ Hospital, for help understanding the hottest eating plans you're reading about in January.
The keto diet emphasizes high fat, moderate protein intake and just 5 percent carbohydrates. "It calls for 70 percent of your daily calorie intake from fat — yes, that's right!" says Ferry.
It's related to the Atkins diet, but more focused on fat than protein. The keto diet's purpose is to transition your body into an alternate metabolism where it stops using glucose from carbs for energy and instead uses ketone bodies from fat breakdown.
The keto diet is really unbalanced, Ferry says, because the low-carb restrictions rule out whole grains and legumes, most fruits and many vegetables. "You can't really eat fruit because that's too many carbs," she says. "A small apple is about the total amount of carbs some individuals can have for the day on a keto diet."
The heavy emphasis on fat leads many people who follow the keto eating plan to choose saturated fats like butter, which contributes to LDL cholesterol and can be damaging to the heart. "A diet high in saturated fat is not a healthy eating plan in my book," Ferry says.
Keto followers may lose weight in the short term, but it's not sustainable. Another pitfall, Ferry says, is that there's so much confusing information on the internet. "I see patients who are trying to follow a moderate carb diet, and they read about keto and they think that adding butter will help them lose weight. But they're still eating carbs AND adding fat, which gives them way too many calories."
In other words, you can't do keto-ish: You can't stray into carb territory when you're on the keto diet. You have to follow the regimen very strictly, which is challenging over the long haul.
This is a 30-day elimination diet that focuses on whole, unprocessed foods. It's very rigorous: You have to follow it to the letter, 100 percent, for the full 30 days. Whole 30 forbids all added sugar (including natural products like maple syrup and honey), all grains, all legumes and all dairy products. Alcohol and packaged foods are also no-nos.
The idea is to eliminate all but fruits, vegetables and lean protein, and then slowly add those things back into your diet to see how they make you feel. Many people do Whole 30 as a way to jump start healthier eating habits.
Still, like many diets, it's not especially balanced. "I'm OK with getting rid of processed foods and added sugar," Ferry says, "but you also have to get rid of whole grains, legumes and dairy, which can be beneficial. And I'm not sure that it'll promote weight loss. If you're elimininating all these foods but replacing those calories with allowed foods, you may not lose weight.
"If you use this as a kickoff to a new healthy eating plan, great," she continues. "But if you just rebound to your old ways, it's not necessarily beneficial."
The Paleolithic Diet
Commonly called "Paleo," this eating plan is based on foods similar to what might have been eaten during the Paleolithic era, which dates from approximately 2.5 million to 10,000 years ago. Think of what our hunter-gatherer ancestors might have been able to eat: lean meats, fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds. The diet forbids dairy products, legumes and grains, and sugar and preservatives.
The Paleo diet's heavy emphasis on red meat is a concern for Ferry, not just for human health but for the environment. It, too, fosters an imbalanced eating plan because low-fat dairy, legumes and grains are off the table.
Cleanses and Juices
You probably have friends who've done the popular Master Cleanse that involves consuming no solid food and only a concoction of lemon, cayenne pepper, maple syrup and water for 10 days. Ten days! Blended juice "cleanses" are also popular.
"I don't believe in them," Ferry says, "but if you're generally healthy and you want to do something like that for a couple of days, fine. I'm not going to tell you it's going to fix anything. You may lose a few calories and flush some things out. But your body is equipped with organs that do that naturally. I certainly wouldn't spend money on a product to do it. And any of these super restrictive things can lead to rebound eating, which means you'll perhaps gain more weight than you lose."
The Ideal Dietary Plan
If you're looking at the new year as a chance a fresh start on eating more healthfully, feeling better and maybe losing some weight — and all these diet fads don't look promising — what should you do?
Ferry recommends the Mediterranean Diet as an ideal, enjoyable, life-long eating plan/lifestyle. Its focus is on eating lean meats, fish, nuts and legumes, whole grains, plenty of fruits and non-starchy vegetables. It incorporates unsaturated from sources like olive oil and avocados instead of bacon and butter. It allows for a bit of red wine.
"The Mediterranean Diet isn't a diet at all, it's a way of eating," Ferry says. "It's not about taking away foods and not about deprivation — but instead moving toward these whole, healthy, unprocessed foods."
Or as the writer Michael Pollan puts it, ""Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."
Need a partner to help you focus on healthy living? Forming a relationship with a primary care physician is one of the best things you can do to keep your health on track! Schedule an appointment online with one near you today.