Fad Diets: Are they all that bad?
Around the start of each year, many people are ready to make big changes to their diet. We’ve all seen it: pictures of healthy packed “Paleo” lunches on Facebook and Instagram, or resolutions to “go Keto and stick with it.” But what are these diets, and are they actually good for our health in the long-run? Let’s debunk dubious diet claims and talk about whole-body wellness!
The Ketogenic Diet
I think by now we have all at least heard of the Keto Diet. But what exactly is the Keto Diet, or should I say "Ketogenic" Diet? The basics of this diet are low carb, high fat, and moderate protein consumption. When restricting carbohydrates and replacing them with sources of fat, our bodies can enter into a state of ketosis. In this state, rather than utilizing its usual source of energy (carbohydrates) the body begins to burn fat as its main energy source. As a result, many individuals report easy weight loss and positive outcomes from this type of diet. Some researchers even say it could potentially benefit those who have diabetes, a disease that often recommends cutting carbohydrates for fear of spiking blood sugar levels. (1)
For optimal health, it is currently recommended that about 40-60 percent of our diets should be coming from carbohydrates, particularly whole fruits, vegetables, and whole-grain sources. Do vegetables and fruits really count as carbohydrates on the Keto Diet? Yes! They do. And for that reason, it is not a diet that is well-recommended by registered dietitians. The exceptions to this are an implementation of a Keto Diet with approval of by a physician or through a well-developed plan developed by you and your dietitian. (1,2)
Although this diet has gained mass amounts of attention over the last few years within the diet culture realm, it does pose some serious health risks for individuals who solely cut out carbohydrates. A “true” Keto Diet recommends less than 50 grams of carbohydrates per day. That really isn’t much: one large banana contains about that amount! Many people have a hard time giving up carbohydrates or limiting them to 50-100 grams or less per day, which can lead to a higher frequency of diet “relapses”.
The Whole 30 Diet is sort-of a "cleansing" diet that helps to "reset" your system and current eating plan within a 30 day time period. The basis of the diet is simple: cut out all processed foods (which is most food), refined sugars, alcohol, dressings, bread, dairy, legumes, nut butter, soy, pasta, and rice. The goal is to eliminate foods that may cause bloating, afternoon slumps, and weight gain. Many people see relief in areas such as acne, migraines, chronic pain, stomach aches and bloating. The interesting part about this “diet” is it advises no daily weight measurements, no counting calories, and no taking body measurements! The results should speak for themselves at the end of the 30 days in the way the individual feels rather than looks.
Instead of focusing on how many foods you are cutting out, focus on adding in whole foods in their original state. Well, there are actually lots of foods you can still consume, such as lean proteins, fruits and vegetables (but only fresh, not canned or frozen), sugar snap peas, potatoes, fruit juices, coconut aminos (a great soy sauce substitute!), ghee, and even small amounts of salt are allowed on the Whole 30 diet. One can see why this diet is more of a 30-day cleanse rather than a quick fix type of diet! This diet is only supposed to be followed for 30 days, then the foods that were cut out are to be slowly reintroduced to determine if they cause you any negative physiological symptoms. Studies report that the whole-30 diet may show improvements in individuals with gastrointestinal disorders, allergies, which may help improve blood pressure and/or diabetes. (3)
The Carnivore Diet
Have you ever heard people talk about “eating like our ancestors"? That is the selling point of the Carnivore Diet, a diet that includes only animal-based foods! That means that you can have fatty meats, fish, eggs, and certain dairy products that are low in lactose like hard cheeses and butter. Advocates of the carnivore diet claim that carbohydrates are the cause of many diseases in the United States. These followers don’t aim for just a low-carbohydrate intake like keto, they aim for zero carbs in the diet! (4) That means no fruits or vegetables, and not even milk or yogurt! The carnivore diet is said to help treat depression, anxiety, obesity, diabetes, and more. (5)
Although bacon and eggs for breakfast, hamburger patties for lunch, and ribeye steak for dinner might sound tasty, this diet is not without its problems. Many health professionals do not recommend this kind of an “elimination diet” because following it could mean that you are missing out on a wide variety of nutrients. Nutrients like vitamin C, vitamin E, and fiber are only found in plant foods and are important for keeping our whole body functioning at its best. Furthermore, a diet high in red meat will also be high in saturated fat, which may increase your risk of heart disease. (5) While we are not sure of the long-term effects of a carnivore diet, we do know that eating a variety of colorful foods, including fruits, vegetables, and even animal-based foods keeps us healthy. As Diana Rogers, a registered dietitian says, “It’s okay to experiment with getting your nutrition, but make sure it doesn’t harm you.” (4)
Diet Culture & Wellness
These diets are just a sample of the massive number of trendy diets that are advertised on social media and in the healthcare system. Other diets that we haven’t touched on include the Paleo Diet, plant-based diets like vegetarianism and veganism, the Atkins diet, the Mediterranean diet, the gluten-free diet, the list goes on… It is easy to get overwhelmed by all of these diets promising quick weight loss, especially when the information about them is often so confusing and contradicts itself!
The problem with many fad diets today is that they promote a negative diet culture: they put more pressure on people to lose weight and be conventionally attractive instead of promoting health in all dimensions. Dietary changes based on wellness, on the other hand, promote the health of the whole body. They can provide you with the nutrients you need but are flexible to your lifestyle. They are enjoyable, sustainable, and gives you enough variety to not get bored with your food. And most importantly, a wellness diet makes you feel good, both physically and emotionally!
Not everyone’s healthy eating will look the same. Some people may feel great on the Keto Diet, while other people could feel totally burnt out on it. To make an informed decision about what healthy eating would look and feel like for you, we recommend talking to a medical professional who will help you navigate the plethora of healthy eating choices available.
There are several wellness dietitians located at the UNF Student Wellness Complex that you can talk to about your nutrition questions. UNF Dining services also has several resources for Ospreys with specialized dietary needs: foods at the Osprey Cafe, for example, are always labeled with what is vegetarian and vegan-friendly. Plus, sure to check out the food allergen guide and the plant-based brochure to find other delicious foods around campus that fit into your lifestyle. And, as always, you can contact Yemila Lowry, your campus dining dietitian, with any questions you have about food and lifestyle changes!
Stay healthy your way, Ospreys!
Written By: Katrina Agger and Emerald Castro, Senior Writers
Edited By: Lora Chizmar, Senior Editor