So Many Diets! Which Diet is Right? (Part 2)

There are so many different diets out there. How do you know which diet is right for you?

Everyone is different, and everyone has different nutritional needs. None of us is exactly the same. Some people do better on a plant-based diet. Some people need meat.

My goal is not to tell you that one type of diet is good for you and the other is bad. My goal is to give you some information and some choices and let you decide which diet works better for you.   

Ketogenic Diet

Ketosis is a normal metabolic process where the body burns fat when there isn’t enough glucose (carbs) to burn. This process creates ketones in the body. It’s important to keep in mind that ketones are acidic, so you have to be careful on the Keto diet.

Ketosis is also when the body does not have enough insulin, so sometimes, people with diabetes may go into ketosis. People with diabetes, Metabolic Syndrome, or cardiovascular disease need to take extra care when doing the Keto diet because of potential negative health consequences. For example, as ketone levels rise, the blood becomes more acidic which could lead to something called ketoacidosis. This could injure your kidneys and in extreme cases could lead to death.

Now that we have the negative things out of the way, let’s talk about the Keto Diet.

The typical Keto Diet is broken down into:
75% of calories from fat
20% of calories from protein
5% of calories from carbs

I know what you are thinking… 75% fat?! It seems crazy, right? It’s completely opposite of what our western medical model told us since the 1980’s. It turns out the fat is actually really healthy for us. It helps protect your nerves, both in your body and in your brain. And with regard to diets and weight loss, your body uses fat for energy when you don’t have enough carbs.

There was a study in 2008 that found that obese men who did a Keto Diet for 4 weeks actually lost 12 pounds! (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition)

One of the positive things is that fat is more filling than carbs, so it will make you feel fuller. Therefore, you should be able to reduce the amount of food you eat. Another health benefit is that a Keto Diet can help improve your cholesterol numbers!

Keep an eye on more health benefits of the Keto Diet. There are studies underway to see if Keto could be
helpful for:
Alzheimer’s Disease
Polycystic Ovary Disease
Lou Gehrig’s Disease

If you’re doing the Keto Diet, just be careful that you don’t go into ketoacidosis. Symptoms include:
Abdominal pain
Difficulty concentrating
Dry skin
Extreme thirst
Dry mouth
Fruity breath
Frequent urination
Shortness of breath
Rapid breathing

South Beach Diet

This diet was created in the 1990s by a cardiologist and a nutritionist for the purpose of fighting heart disease. Then it morphed into a weight loss diet. The focus is to control your insulin levels and eating unrefined, slow-burning carbs versus fast carbs. It’s not a low-carb diet, per se, but a right-carb diet.

I need to say a word about carbs, because carbs can be tricky. Did you know broccoli is a carb, but so is a chocolate chip cookie? How is that possible? I really wish someone would come up with two different words to separate good carbs from bad carbs. It would make things so much easier to understand when someone tells you to cut down on carbs.

The important thing to remember is that most vegetable carbs have fiber which makes it the unrefined, slow-burning carb. Cakes, cookies, and other junk food is refined and usually has very little fiber, so it is a fast-burning carb that can spike your blood sugar and insulin.

The cardiologist who created the South Beach Diet, Dr. Agatston, stood against the Low Fat, High Carb diet that the American Heart Association was pushing a couple of decades ago. You could say the good doctor was a pioneer in today’s higher fat, low carb diet.

In general, the South Beach Diet focuses on:
Whole grains
Some fruits and vegetables
Good fat
Olive oil (a good fat)
Lean protein
(the carbs are based on the Glycemic Index)

The South Beach Diet is broken down into Phases. Phase one lasts two weeks. The goal is to eliminate the craving you may have for sugary foods. The food in Phase One includes lean meat, chicken, turkey, fish, shellfish (if you’re not allergic), tofu, eggs, nuts, veggies, beans, and reduced-fat cheese.

Notice what is NOT on the list – refined, fast-burning carbs. No junk food. No soda. No rice, pasta, cake, candy, alcohol, ice cream, cookies, baked goods, potatoes, and BREAD. It looks like a lot of protein, good fat, and veggies. It’s a good old-fashioned meal.

Phase Two lasts until the person meets the weight they are trying to attain. It’s a “slow and steady” approach where you lose approximately 1-2 pounds per week. They begin to reintroduce more “good” carbs that were not in Phase One, such as whole-grain bread, whole-grain pasta, most fruit, etc. You can add one new carb source to one meal every day for a week, and see how it makes you feel.

If you eat something and it makes you feel bad, you may have an intolerance to it. By adding one food at a time, you can see which foods are problematic for you. If you start getting cravings again, or if you start binge eating, or if you start gaining, wait – you can always go back to Phase One. Remember, that means basically cutting out bread, pasta, rice, etc.

Phase Three is the Maintenance and Lifestyle phase. At this point, you’ll have your daily diet figured out, and you won’t be craving sugar and bad foods. This is why I typically tell people that the diet is less important than a healthy lifestyle.

As for health benefits, the South Beach Diet helps maintain a healthy body weight, may reduce your risk of diabetes,
helps lower cholesterol and blood fat levels, and may prevent hypertension.

The Atkins Diet

I remember the Atkins Diet from back in the ’80s. It was Huge! It was one of the first “High Fat, Low Carb” diets. Like the South Beach Diet, the original goal was to lose weight by limiting carbs and controlling insulin levels. Dr. Atkins was also a cardiologist. He thought that weight gain was caused primarily by eating too many refined carbohydrates, sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, and flour.

When you’re on the Atkins Diet, the body switches from burning glucose to burning fat. Where have we heard that before? That’s right…ketosis! I don’t remember people talking about ketosis, though, in the ’80s.

The Atkins Diet also chooses food based on the Glycemic Index. In case you’re unfamiliar with the Glycemic Index, it is a scale that ranks carbs from 0-100 based on how quickly the specific carb increases your blood sugar levels. Not surprisingly, refined carbs such as sugar, white bread, candy, cookies, pastries, etc. have high levels of glucose. These are considered High Glycemic Foods.

When you eat these unprocessed, fast-burning, high-glycemic foods, your blood sugar will spike, followed by a spike in insulin. Then you’ll quickly crash and feel tired and hungry. Low-glycemic foods will not spike your blood sugar or insulin.

Although the Atkins Diet relies on ketosis, it is not as extreme as the 5% carbs in the Keto Diet. Atkins has three different programs. This is an update from the original diet back in the ’80s. Atkin’s Diets also has phases.

In Phase One (Atkins 20), carbs are limited to 20 grams per day, mostly from salad and veggies. A quick note: when referencing “carbs”, we’re referring to “NET” carbs which are the total carbs minus fiber. During this phase, you can eat 3 servings of protein and 3 servings of healthy fats per day. Healthy fats include not just olive oil but also butter, cream, sour cream, and hard cheese.

Phase Two focuses on nutrient-dense, high-fiber foods. Also included are nuts and seeds, low-carb veggies, legumes (chickpeas, lentils), and some fruit (berries, cherries, melon, etc.) No fruit juices or dried fruits. Dried fruits are high in sugar.

You can add 25 grams of carbs in the first week of Phase Two. In the second week of Phase Two and onward, another 30 grams are added. At this point, you should be losing weight. When you stop losing weight, then you need to reduce your carbs by 5 grams until you start losing weight again.

Phase Three is a Fine-Tuning and Maintenance phase. You can slowly add carbs back into your diet using the “Atkins carb ladder.” You still eat 3 servings of protein and 3 servings of healthy fats. Make sure you only add one food at a time to see how your body reacts.

In the end, it’s another diet based on a lifestyle change focusing on cutting out refined carbs while eating a healthy amount of protein and fat. Similar to other healthy diets, the Atkins Diet focuses on lean meat, fatty fish, eggs, avocados, kale, broccoli, asparagus, FULL-FAT dairy products, nuts & seeds, healthy fats like olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil, etc.) and even coffee or green tea. And guess what you’re supposed to avoid? Fruit, bread, pasta, grain, starchy vegetables.

From a health standpoint, Stanford University found that people on the Atkins Diet had good numbers with regard to blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and weight loss. Like most low carb diets, during the first week, you could see side effects including headaches, dizziness, weakness, fatigue, and constipation as you are basically detoxing from sugar and other toxins.

You should be careful doing the Atkins Diet (or skip this diet altogether) if you use diuretics, insulin, or oral diabetes drugs; if you have kidney disease; or if you’re pregnant or breast-feeding.

The Zone Diet

Created by Dr. Barry Sears, this diet involves reducing the intake of carbs to ensure healthy insulin levels. (Does this
sound familiar?) It involves eating Omega-3 (healthy) fats and polyphenols. The goal is actually to reduce inflammation in the body. Inflammatory Disease is a huge problem in this country, so reducing chronic inflammation is always a good thing.

Dr. Sears says his diet is closely tied to the idea of human evolution and that the aim is to prevent “diet-controlled
inflammation.” A side benefit of this diet is weight-loss as well as reducing sickness and slowing down the aging process.

Dr. Sears believes our genes are still similar to they were when humans were hunter-gatherers. In a sense, it is similar to the Paleo Diet. The idea is that our genes are not used to eating farmed foods, bread, pasta, etc. So, again, we have a diet that removes bread and pasta. The Zone Diet focuses on lean meats and “natural” carbs. Of course one of the goals is to maintain insulin levels within a “therapeutic zone.”

Some basic rules with the Zone Diet:
Food should be eaten no later than one hour after waking up.
The interval between meals should be between 4-6 hours.
Snacks are included in between meals, but a meal should be eaten between 2-2.5 hours after your snack, whether you’re hungry or not.
Drink 64 oz. of water per day. (That’s kind of old-fashioned. Different people with different weights need different amounts of water. But we can use this as a general concept.)
Your meal or snack should be a low-fat protein plus a low-glycemic carb along with good fats.
A typical protein meal should be about 4 oz for men and 3 oz for women.

The Zone Diet became popular as the 40/30/30 diet. That breaks down to:
40% Good Carbs
30% Protein
30% Good Fat

According to Dr. Sears, eating processed (bad) carbs can lead to weight gain, a spike in insulin, diabetes, heart disease, and inflammatory disease.

Mediterranean Diet

This is a diet based on the food eaten in Mediterranean countries such as Crete, Greece, and Southern Italy. In general, the diet includes healthy fats, lean protein, unrefined carbs, and unlimited non-starchy veggies.

What are starchy vegetables?
Acorn Squash
Butternut Squash
Green peas

Non-starchy vegetables?
Alfalfa Sprouts
Bamboo Shoots
Bean Sprouts

There are some vegetables that people debate whether they fit into the starchy or non-starchy vegetable category. Some vegetables, like beets and carrots, have relatively high sugar content.

One of the main things about the Mediterranean Diet is that almost everything is fresh, not processed. They eat fresh fruit for dessert. They eat a lot of plant foods, whole grains, nuts, seeds, olive oil, cheese, and yogurt. They also eat fresh fish, chicken, eggs, small amounts of red meat, and a moderate amount of wine. Sounds like a good diet to me!

The Mediterranean Diet consists of up to one-third healthy fats. Typically, saturated fats are limited to about 8% of your calorie intake. As a side note, there are many Naturopaths who have been saying for years that saturated fat is necessary for your diet. Coconut oil is one example of saturated fat.

The Mediterranean Diet is high in healthy fats, low in saturated fats, high in monounsaturated fats, high in fiber (from fruits and veggies), low in sugar, and high in vitamins and minerals from fresh fruits, vegetables, and lean meats. There are typically four servings of fruits and vegetables, two servings of whole grains, one to two servings of nuts or seeds, and one serving of fish, poultry, egg, red meat, or legumes.

From a health perspective, the Mediterranean Diet helps lower your chance of stroke and heart disease, lowers your risk of diabetes, helps with weight loss, and increases your HDL.

In summary, you’ll notice that in order to be healthy, lose weight, and reduce your risk of disease, you need to eat fruits and vegetables, lean meat, and good fats. You’ll want to reduce or eliminate processed foods, sugar, junk food, sodas, high fructose corn syrup, bread, rice, and pasta. You can see that in most of these healthy diet plans.

So, as I mentioned earlier, the diet is not as important as the lifestyle. If you eat a good old-fashioned meal with fresh food, good fat, protein, and good carbs, you’ll be on your way to being healthy and losing weight.

Get out there and dump the junk food. Clear out the cupboards of the processed foods. Go shop at your local Farmer’s Market. Eat fresh and be healthy.

If you missed part 1 of the series, check it out here.

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