Those of you who have had your nutritional status checked out, and maybe even had a Metabolic Type Test done, will have a good idea what foods you need to eat. This knowledge is also very important for people who are considering going on a diet, as it enables them to tailor the chosen diet plan to suit their particular dietary requirements,
But which diet plan? – there are a number out there. To help you choose the one best suited to you, we are now going to look at the pros and cons of the most popular plans.
The Atkins is a low-carbohydrate, high-protein, eating plan created in 1972 by cardiologist Robert Atkins. The premise is that you begin with a low-carb diet for the first two weeks, during which time you are restricted to eating meat, seafood, eggs, cheese and specific vegetables.
This first phase produces rapid weight loss that can be as high as 15lb (6.8kgs). This is followed by three more phases during which you start eating increasing quantities of carbohydrates, fruit and vegetables. These subsequent phases will see a gradual reduction in the amount of weight lost. The diet also emphasises the importance of exercise.
Pros – the plan works – many people have lost weight with it. It’s also good if you need to lose weight quickly for whatever reason.
The diet eliminates the refined carbohydrates found in food such as white bread, cakes, pasta, biscuits, etc, and instead promotes unrefined carbs that are much healthier. It allows foods that other diets restrict – steak, bacon and eggs, for example. This makes it easier to follow.
Cons – the amount of carbohydrate, and hence fiber, allowed on the diet is too low. This can cause a number of health issues such as dizziness, nausea, headaches, weakness, insomnia and constipation.
A large proportion of people who lose weight with the Atkins Diet regain it once they’ve gone back to eating normally. Also, the diet does not provide sufficient minerals and vitamins so supplementation is required to prevent nutritional deficiency.
While weight is lost initially, in the long term it is difficult to sustain. This is due to the lack of carbohydrates – most people can only stick this for so long before going back to eating them. Furthermore, the rate at which weight is lost is often too rapid to be healthy.
Over the long-term, the Atkins Diet can cause serious complications, such as kidney disease, kidney stones, brittle bones and heart disease.
Similar to Atkins, the Dukan diet is a low-carb, high-protein diet. However, unlike Atkins, it restricts fat and omits vegetables completely in the first phase. These are gradually introduced in the subsequent phases of the diet.
The first ‘attack’ phase lasts for up to ten days and restricts you to a choice of 68 high-protein foods – no carbohydrates are allowed at all. The next ‘cruise’ phase allows you to start eating carbs as well as protein – you can choose from 28 approved vegetables. The third ‘consolidation’ phase adds fruit and dairy foods, while the fourth ‘stabilization’ phase is basically a set of rules for life that stop you putting the weight back on.
Pros – initially, you can expect to lose weight quickly. The diet will appeal to those who don’t want to spend their time counting calories and wondering if one food is better than another. Basically, it simplifies things by specifying just what you can and cannot eat.
Cons – the low carbohydrate and fiber intake causes the same problems as the Atkins diet. In the long-term (and it is touted as being for life!) the diet can cause problems ranging from cancer and heart attack to premature aging. These are due to its nutritional deficiencies and lack of antioxidants.
The diet is not sustainable in the long-term, so most people regain the weight they’ve lost. More importantly, though, it is nutritionally unbalanced as it minimizes the importance of fruit and vegetables, whole-grains and fiber. Not to mention missing out on the general health benefits of eating a variety of food types. This diet does your health no good at all – avoid it.
This is essentially a part-time diet that allows you to eat normally five days of the week, but for two, non-consecutive days, eat just a quarter of what you normally would. For women, this should be no more than 500 calories and, for men, 600 calories. On the ‘eat’ days, you can eat whatever you want. Most people lose approximately 1lb a week as a result.
The diet employs the principle of intermittent fasting which not only helps in weight loss but can have other health benefits, such as reducing insulin resistance, suppressing inflammation and fighting free radical damage.
Pros – weight is lost at a sensible, sustainable rate unlike with most diets. Also, you only have to count calories and feel hungry for two out of seven days. For many people, this makes it much easier to persevere with.
Cons – quite a few. One major drawback is that people feel so deprived during the two fasting days that they overeat during the non-fasting days. As a result, they either lose no weight at all or actually put weight on!
Another is that the very low nutrient intake on fasting days can cause irritability, tiredness, lack of concentration and sleep issues. Also, exercise will be difficult on fasting days due to the low energy intake.
The diet can also have an impact on social life – dinner and/or drinks with friends and family on fasting days will be a non-starter.
For many people, the diet works well enough. However, the strict fasting aspect means it is unsuitable for people sensitive to drops in blood sugar levels, people with a history of eating disorders and people with type 1 diabetes.
The Paleo diet basically takes you back to the days of cavemen by restricting you to eating the foods they did. This is in the belief they were healthier than we are. Accordingly, you can only eat foods that can be hunted and fished, i.e. meat and seafood – and foods that can be collected, i.e. nuts, seeds, vegetables, fruits, herbs, spices and eggs.
Essentially, it is a low-carbohydrate, high-protein diet that eliminates grains, dairy produce, root vegetables, refined sugar and salt. Healthy fats and oils like olive, flax and coconut are encouraged.
Pros – the Paleo diet lowers blood sugar levels and so is good for people suffering from type 2 diabetes. Also, the diet is ‘cleaner’ than most given that the foods it permits have very low levels of pesticides and preservatives. Another plus is that it gives people a feeling of satiety due to the high amount of fats and protein.
Cons – the Paleo diet disregards the benefits provided by whole-grains. Not being able to eat dairy produce can mean an inadequate intake of some minerals – calcium being an important example. Also, for some people, the amount of protein in the diet may be too high.
It’s a nice theory but does have some inherent flaws. Firstly, the idea that early humans didn’t eat grain-based foods doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. There is actually plenty of evidence that they were eating grasses, cereals, beans and legumes before the Palaeolithic era even began.
Secondly, the diet assumes they were the same as we are today, and lived their lives in similar fashion. This is complete rubbish – for one, they were far more active than ever we are, which simple fact alone goes a long way to explaining their better health (assuming it was better!).
Having said all this, it is a diet that, with a bit of tweaking, i.e. including some grain-based foods, can be a very healthy one.
The Alkaline diet is touted as being able to help you not just lose weight but to also avoid health issues such as osteoporosis, kidney and gall stones, cancer, arthritis and diabetes.
It works on the theory that dairy produce, eggs, meat, grains and processed foods, all produce an acidic waste product that adversely affects our body’s pH (acidity and alkalinity) level. As a result, the likelihood of us getting the above-mentioned diseases is increased.
The diet supposedly works by cutting out the foods that do this and, instead, eating foods that have an alkaline-promoting effect on our bodies. The latter includes fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds and legumes.
Pros – the only real advantage of this diet is that it makes you stop eating unhealthy processed foods which are high in refined sugars and additives.
Cons – the first point that must be made here is that acid-forming foods aren’t necessarily bad for us – in fact, most of them are actually highly nutritious. Even if they do have adverse effects, these are more than outweighed by the health benefits they offer.
Secondly, the idea that we can manipulate the body’s pH level though diet is fantasy – our bodies regulate this themselves regardless of what we do or don’t eat.
Thirdly, it can actually damage our health by cutting out foods that are good for us.
This diet is highly endorsed by Hollywood celebrities and the like which, in-itself, is probably reason enough to ignore it. It pretends to have a scientific basis (pH levels, etc) but there is no serious study that gives it credence. We suggest you give this one a wide berth.
One of the most well known diet plans of all is the Mediterranean diet. The basis of this plan is to eat the foods traditionally eaten in countries such as Italy and Greece. The inhabitants of these countries tend be healthier overall than those of other western nations. What’s more, they have a much lower risk of getting killer diseases such as cancer, heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
The diet allows you to eat as much vegetables, seafood, potatoes, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, unrefined grains, herbs, spices; and healthy oils such as olive and coconut, as you like. Poultry, eggs and dairy produce can be eaten in moderation, while red meat is eaten rarely – maybe once a week. Foods that cannot be eaten at all are basically anything that is highly processed.
With most diets, water, unsweetened tea and coffee are the only liquids that should be drunk. On the Mediterranean diet, however, you are also allowed one glass of red wine a day.
Pros – the ‘diet’ is not actually a diet – it’s more a healthy way of eating that has evolved over many years. Most overweight people who try it naturally lose weight, (albeit much more slowly than with regular diets) as it is low in processed foods.
With regard to its fat content, this is largely of the monounsaturated type, which considerably lowers the risk of heart disease, many cancers, Alzheimer’s disease and diabetes.
Cons – the amount of dairy produce that can be eaten is limited. This can result in a less than ideal intake of certain minerals, such as calcium. Another drawback is that it can be a confusing diet to follow as specified parameters are vague, i.e. ‘moderate’, ‘often’, etc. So if you’re the type of person who needs hard and fast rules to follow, this may not be the diet for you.
The Mediterranean diet is actually more of a lifestyle plan than a method of losing weight. It’s a way of eating and drinking that, if followed for life, will result in a much longer and healthier life than the average westerner achieves.
The Ketogenic diet is very low in carbs and very high in fats, and is similar to the Atkins and Dukan (both of which can sometimes end up being ketogenic if taken to extremes). The main difference is the amount of protein allowed – less with the Ketogenic diet.
Following the diet will put you into ketosis. This is a condition that compels the body to produce tiny fuel molecules called ketones that it uses as an alternative fuel when blood sugar is in short supply (as it will be due to the very low level of carbohydrates). As these ketones are produced from fat by the liver, the body turns into a fat-burning machine rather than the carbohydrate-burning machine it is normally. The reason protein is limited is that in the absence of carbohydrates, the body will turn it into sugar and so stay out of ketosis.
Pros – turning your body into a fat-burning machine is the ideal mechanism for weight loss. Furthermore, when in ketosis it produces much less of the fat-storing hormone, insulin. This can be extremely beneficial for people with type 2 diabetes.
Another benefit is that ketosis creates a steady flow of fuel to the brain – this is known to improve cognition and concentration. Many people use ketogenic diets specifically for this reason. Ketogenic diets are also a very effective treatment for people with epilepsy and have been used for this purpose for many years.
As if all that’s not enough, a ketogenic diet has another trick up its sleeve – it can increase your level of physical endurance. This is because your body is being fuelled by its fat reserves that last much longer than stored carbohydrates which, typically, only last for an hour or two. Having said that, there is evidence that suggests the level of performance achieved with ketosis is not as high as it is when you are fuelled by carbohydrates. You may be able to keep going longer but you won’t be going as fast.
Cons – given the above, what’s not to like as the saying goes? Well, it has to be said all is not rosy in the ketosis garden. For a start, it can take an adaptation period of up to two weeks to actually get into ketosis. During this period, you may feel rather grotty.
Also, those who need to expend high levels of energy – sportsmen and people doing manual labour, for example, may not be able to produce the amount of energy their particular activity requires while in ketosis.
By necessity (you have to eat something after all), your fat intake will be at a level that’s high enough to maybe be detrimental to your health. Also, due to the highly restrictive nutritional guidelines – four grams of fat for every gram of protein or carbohydrate, it can be difficult to adhere to the diet.
The Ketogenic diet undoubtedly has its uses. For those wanting or needing to lose weight fast, it’s probably the best diet out there. It’s also a proven treatment for people unfortunate enough to have epilepsy.
However, there are concerns about it. For one, it is a very high-fat diet. If people can restrict that fat intake to the healthier unsaturated fats, all well and good. Unfortunately, many people are going to take this plan as their cue to fill up with more saturated fat than is good for them.
Another concern is that it’s just too extreme. Most people simply don’t need to lose weight as rapidly as they are likely to with this diet.
Weight Watchers Diet
The Weight Watchers diet allows you to eat whatever you want – cheese, cream, biscuits, pasta – nothing is off-limits. However, in order to achieve its goal of making you shed those pounds, it encourages you to plump for more healthy foods.
The basic concept is that all foods are given a rating dependent on their protein, carbohydrate, fat and fiber content. Foods that are good for you have a lower rating than those that are less good. Essentially, the diet steers you toward vegetables, fruit and protein, and away from the fatty, sugary stuff.
Dieters are given a points target that is worked out according to their nutritional profile and what they want to achieve. They can then spend their points on whatever food they like as long as the total spent is within their daily allowance.
An unusual aspect of this diet is the level of support available. Besides the optional meetings and personal coaching, Weight Watchers has an online community, a magazine, and a web site with tools, recipes, tips, success stories and more. There is even a section just for men. You can also sign up online for a newsletter.
Pros – the support network is key for many people as it gives them the encouragement they need to persevere with the diet. The focus on nutritious foods makes it a good choice for people with, or at risk of, high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease.
Also, the Weight Watchers system encourages daily exercise and rewards it with Fitpoints. These can then be used to buy more, or higher calorie, food. Another advantage is that weight is lost at a slow, steady rate – much healthier than losing half a stone a week or whatever as with some of the more extreme diets.
Cons – Weight Watchers is not free – there is a monthly fee that depends on the level that you choose. If you have a lot of weight to lose, the cost may end up being significant. The need to be always counting points is tedious and time-consuming and soon puts many people off.
Dieters with limited self-control find that being able to eat anything they like is too tempting. Plans that set strict guidelines are better for these people.
Another drawback is that it makes you count points rather than calories. So when coming off the diet, many people quickly put weight back on because they simply don’t know the calorific value of food. They may be aware that a burger and fries is worth 14 points but they don’t know it contains around 800 calories!
For many people, this diet does work. However, there is a financial cost and, to a large degree, it depends on dieters attending the meetings. For these reasons, it will not be for everyone.
Lastly, we have our very own Yellowtooth Diet Plan. Learn all about it here.