Fab or fad? We weigh up the top diet trends of 2018

Thinking of trying the keto diet? Or going vegan?

There is a lot of noise out there when it comes to diets. So to help you choose the best approach for health and weight loss we asked our resident dietitian Angela Saunders, and nutritionist Stephanie Polson, to rate this year’s most popular diet trends.

Ketogenic

A ketogenic, or keto, diet is fast becoming the hot diet trend of 2018. The keto diet is very low in carbohydrates (under 50 grams per day — the equivalent of 2 slices of bread and a banana) and very high in fat. Eating this way aims to send the body into a state of ketosis, which means your body is using fat and its by-products (ketones) as its primary source of fuel. Short-term side effects of the diet include fatigue, headaches, constipation, bad breath and nausea.

Keto converts praise the diet for its weight loss benefits, although mostly short-term and unsustainable. They also claim the diet has been linked with improving energy levels, mental focus and disease prevention. However, there is currently very limited evidence to back up these claims.

The danger with the keto diet is that it almost completely eliminates many core food groups, drastically restricting the intake of fruit and vegetables, dairy foods and whole grains – all of which are essential for health and wellbeing. In fact, research shows the keto diet actually mimics starvation and is not a sustainable diet for the long-term. It’s important to note that it can be a legitimate medical intervention for some cases of severe epilepsy. 

Verdict - Fad: it is difficult to get enough vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and fibre from this highly restrictive diet and therefore is not recommended for the general population

Mediterranean 

The Mediterranean diet is based on the largely peasant-style diet eaten in traditional areas of Italy, Greece, Spain and Morocco. Compared with a traditional Australian diet, it includes eating more fresh fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, and nuts, using olive oil for cooking and dressing foods, eating fermented dairy like yoghurt, lowering the amount of meat you eat and upping your fish intake.

The Mediterranean diet is considered one of the healthiest diets in the world with research showing it may help you to live longer, look after your ticker, and ward off many lifestyle diseases like heart disease, cancer and diabetes. Recent Australian research has also linked the Mediterranean diet with helping to fight depression. Try these tips on giving your diet a Mediterranean make over.

Verdict - Fab: this is a well-balanced diet that includes many disease-fighting plant foods

Flexitarian

From meat-free Mondays to balancing your plate with more veggies, the flexitarian diet is all about choosing to eat more plant-based foods. Also known as “casual vegetarian”, its focus is on healthy plant-based swaps rather than a total diet overhaul to exclude animal products.

It may sound more relaxed than many of the restrictive diets, but these small changes do make a big difference. Aside from the health benefits associated with eating less meat, studies show flexitarianism may actually help to mitigate climate change and environmental destruction.

Verdict - Fab: adopting this diet is a helpful way to begin introducing more plant foods and eating healthier day-to-day

Paleo

The Paleo diet has been somewhat a media darling of recent times, gaining a lot of attention and even inspiring Paleo cafes to open up all over the world – something that certainly wasn’t around in Paleo times!

The Paleo diet claims to be based on eating principles from the Palaeolithic period (approximately 2.5 million to 10,000 years ago), where primary food sources were vegetables, fruit, nuts, insects and meat (think bison and ostrich). It is high protein, high fat and low in carbohydrates, recommending an increase in meat consumption and removal of dairy foods, legumes and whole grains.

While the Paleo diet encourages an emphasis on vegetables and fruit, it is restrictive and cuts out core food groups that may leave you at risk of nutritional deficiencies in the longer term. In fact, a recent Swedish study found there was an increased risk of iodine deficiency in older women who followed a Paleo diet.

Verdict - Fad: Foe — research has found cutting out important sources of fibre (whole grains and legumes) and encouraging unlimited amounts of meats is likely to increase risk of diseases, such as bowel cancer

Vegetarian/vegan

Once a fringe diet, being vegetarian is now mainstream and hugely popular, spurred on by both the benefits to your body and the environment.

A huge range of health benefits have been linked to the vegetarian diet, including more energy, a better complexion, a healthier weight and a reduced risk of chronic disease like heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity and some types of cancer.

Also on the rise is the vegan diet (vegetarian minus eggs and dairy) with many high profile sports people and celebrities adopting the lifestyle change, including Ellen DeGeneres, Miley Cyrus and Liam Hemsworth. 

One common concern with switching to a vegetarian or vegan diet is getting enough protein and iron, but there’s no need to worry. Research shows a healthy vegetarian diet including a wide range of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds will meet your nutritional requirements, no matter your age. 

Verdict - Fab: some of the longest living populations in the world follow a plant-based vegetarian diet, living well into their 9th and 10th decades

Low carb

Low carb diets have been the hot fad for the past decade – think Atkins and the Dukan diet – sending people into a whirlwind of panic about carbs. 

Low carb diets tend to focus on a high intake of animal proteins and completely omit or limit carbohydrates, including good carbs such as whole grains, breads, legumes and fruits.

They are popular because of their quick weight loss results. This is achieved because people cut out highly refined, high-sugar carbs like soft drinks, lollies, biscuits, and chips – a great idea for anyone looking to lose weight or adopt a healthier lifestyle. However, they also cut out good carbs like whole grains and those found in some fruit and veggies.

Removing these important carbs can mean you’ll miss out on important nutrients and dietary fibre. It also makes the diet tough to maintain over a longer period.

It’s also important to remember, there’s significant scientific research linking a diet rich in whole grains with weight loss and a healthier weight. In fact a recent European study found exercise and eating more whole grains and fibre were the top lifestyle factors with less belly fat, a lower BMI and a nearly 4cm slimmer waist. 

Verdict - Fad: healthy carbs such as whole grains are linked to lower rates of diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and bowel cancer, so a diet that excludes these is not recommended for the general population 

DASH

It’s been named as US News and World Reports Best Diet Overall for 8 years and with good reason. The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet is a lifelong approach to healthy eating that was designed to help treat or prevent high blood pressure (hypertension), but boasts a long list of health benefits including reduced risk of stroke, cancer, depression, diabetes and reducing ‘bad’ cholesterol.

It’s not specifically designed to be a weight loss diet but given the DASH diet cuts out a lot of high sugar and high fat junk foods and promotes healthier eating, people generally see the numbers on the scales drop too.

The DASH plan is rich in fruits (4-5 serves per day), vegetables (4-5 serves per day), fat-free or low-fat dairy products (2-4 serves per day), whole grains, lean meats, legumes, seeds and nuts. It is low in sodium; sweets, added sugars, and beverages containing sugar; saturated fats; and red meats.

Verdict - Fab: proven to lower blood pressure, it also has many other health benefits due to its emphasis on a variety of plant foods

Lectin free

Have you heard? Lectins may be the new gluten with a rise in people cutting them from their diet. Lectins are found in plants, mostly legumes and grains. But those who suggest we should go lectin free forget to mention that lectins are destroyed during cooking — and legumes and whole grains are always eaten cooked. 

Consuming uncooked lectins in large enough amounts can cause significant digestive distress.  Legumes that are well cooked (ie, canned, pressure cooker, slow cooker) contain only inactive lectins, so there is no need for concern. Cooked legumes are markers of longevity, typically eaten by all the Blue Zone communities who outlive most other populations.

Verdict - Fad: eliminating legumes and whole grains for the purpose of avoiding lectins is not necessary. Simply cooking legumes and whole grains destroys lectins.

WHOLE30

The Whole30 diet is a 30-day eating plan that cuts out key food groups including grains, all sugars (including natural sugars), dairy and legumes.

The diet aims to “reset” your health through a highly controlled diet, however, Whole30 is not supported by any scientific evidence. The program is very strict and does not allow for any ‘slip ups’ in the 30 days, making it an unsustainable eating plan to adopt, even for a month.

Verdict - Fad: this restrictive diet only offers a short-term solution to a long-term problem, possibly setting you up for failure.  For a healthy approach to eating, focus on introducing a wider variety of plant foods each day for a diet change that is sustainable and will provide long-term health benefits

Low FODMAP 

The Low FODMAP Diet was specially developed by Monash University researchers to provide relief from symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). FODMAPs are short-chain carbohydrates (sugars) that aren't absorbed properly in the gut, and may trigger symptoms of IBS, such as abdominal pain or cramping, bloating and altered bowel habits.

Under the supervision of a dietitian, the low FODMAP diet is a process of elimination over several weeks to help identify the foods most likely to trigger symptoms. Common high FODMAP foods to be avoided on the diet include onion, garlic, apples, milk, mushrooms, bread, chickpeas, and more. 

10-20% of New Zealanders suffer from symptoms of IBS, and research indicates that following a low FODMAP diet is the most effective way of managing symptoms. It is important to remember that a strict low FODMAP diet is a diagnostic tool and it is not recommended to be followed for the long term.

Verdict - Fab: a proven way to identify triggers of IBS, although only with the advice of a dietitian

So how do you choose? 

Forget plans that are highly restrictive or promise quick fixes – these set you up for failure and any short-term weight loss that will be almost impossible to sustain.

Instead, look for a diet that includes all the food groups and is about a healthy and delicious approach to balanced eating that you can enjoy day-in, day-out.

Before making any dramatic changes to your diet, always consult a dietitian or your doctor.

 
 

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