The Diet industry is a multi billion dollar industry, preying on America’s quest for being thin, and losing weight. There are so many “Fad Diets” like “gluten free”, “raw food”, “Paleo”, “whole 30” and “Atkins” to name a few. No wonder American’s are so confused with what to eat. So many of us want to be told what to eat, how to exercise, but we are forgetting to just listen to our bodies, eat mindfully vs mindlessly and go back to whole foods and cooking. The typical American diet is referred to as the “SAD” diet- Standard American Diet. It consists of processed foods, high sugar, high fat and lots of meat. It is what is killing us through obesity, heart disease and diabetes. For maintaining a healthy weight (not thin, but healthy), The CDC states “It is not a diet but a lifestyle”. Reconnect with food, savor it, eat mindfully instead of the mindless love hate relationship many of us have with food.
Diets do not work. Sure, you will lose weight, but 70% of dieters put back the weight lost +10-20 lbs. Why? Research shows that it takes an average of 3 months to train the brain to slow down and form new pathways to prevent high Dopamine (Pleasure/reward chemical in brain) release and pleasure seeking behavior. If we cut out foods or food groups, especially ones we like, cold turkey, we tend to feel deprived and neurotransmitter levels like serotonin drop, dopamine is released and Neuropeptide Y increases which cause us to crave carbohydrates and “hyperpalatables” like sugar, salt and fat. Scientists have studied diets and health for many years. The overwhelming research points to the Mediterranean diet as the healthiest. It is a diet which focuses on cooking, family meals and the social aspects of eating. Recent studies from the Harvard School of Public Health and the Journal of the American college of Cardiology show the mediterranean diet reduces heart disease, obesity, diabetes and cancer. Scientists are finally getting the link between what we eat and our health. There are even institutions set up, like the Goldring Center for Culinary Medicine at Tulane University, that teaches doctors in training about the connection of food and nutrition to health.
Here are pros and cons- based on research, to the various “Fad Diets”:
MEDITERRANEAN DIET– Consists mostly of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, healthy fats, fish, small amounts of good quality lean meats and cultured dairy. PRO= Research shows that it helps prevent heart disease, obesity, diabetes and cancer. CON= ? none found.
GLUTEN FREE DIET– Consists of wheat free grains and flours like oats, quinoa, millet, amaranth, brown rice, corn, potatoes and lentils/beans. PROS= Can help with reduced bloating, gas, GI upset, decreased energy and inflammation caused by a reaction to Gluten- a protein found in wheat products (more in GMO wheat). Celiacs disease has detrimental/ dramatic gut reaction to gluten while gluten sensitivity has non life threatening, but uncomfortable reactions to protein. CON= Many GF foods that are not whole grain are processed and full of sugar and fats. This is a trend that is not always necessary and the GF trend has created “fear” of some healthy whole foods like faro, barley, wheat berries and bulgar.
PALEO DIET- consists of eating like the “cavemen” and focuses on no grains, fruits and vegetable, high animal protein, no legumes. Primal Paleo is a version that allows some raw dairy. The origanal Paleo diet was suppose to consist of 65% fruits/veggies and 35% good quality lean meats. PROS= Eating closer to the earth, whole foods and avoiding processed foods has been shown to improve health. High fruit and veggie means high fiber which is good for the gut health. CON= Cavemen, and their diets, evolved to encorporate more variety of whole food like grains. They only ate meat when it was available, not daily and the meat quality was leaner and not processed. Mummified paleolithic remains showed atherosclerosis- hardening of the arteries, which contributes to heart disease. High protein diets, especially in the presence of high exercise, has been shown to over tax the kidney and liver.
VEGETARIAN DIET- The China Study, one of the most widely recognized studies on diet and health, found that a whole food, plant based diet is the biggest contributor to health and disease prevention. There are variations such as Vegan- no animal products, and Lacto-ovo which eats dairy and eggs. PROS= Decrease in chronic disease and improved heart and gut health (high fiber) and lower cholesterol (no saturated fats). CON= Lower is some B vitamins that are animal based and essential amino acids/ proteins needed to produce hormones and neurotransmitters. Need to be educated and eat enough variety of legumes, nuts, veggies, which many vegetarians do not.
WHOLE 30 and CLEANSES– Meant to be done as a body detox/reset vs a diet to help with cravings and elimination. This is not meant as a “lifestyle” or weight loss tool, although weight loss often occurs secondarily. Whole 30 and most cleanses consist of mostly fruits and vegetables with some lean meats/fish. Usually there is no dairy and no legumes/nuts. PRO= It can reset the body, create mindful awareness to what we choose to eat and how our body feels eating whole food. It does help decreases sweet craving and can retrain the brain and its dopamine pathways, depending how “clean” or “processed” your diet was previously. CON= If previous diet was very processed, the cleanse can create surges in Neuropeptide Y and stimulate rebound “deprivation” cravings for carbs and binging. NOTE- it takes about 4-7 days to rid the body of toxins in the liver, kidneys and visceral fat.
Bottom line- Crowd out poor choices by eating more fruits and vegetables so you can mindfully eat and avoid cravings/ binging. Be careful to manage stress and get sleep as this also leads to cortisol release and cravings/binging. Strive for balance, not deprivation. Eat whole foods, listen to your body and find balance between the foods your brain loves and the foods your body loves. Reconnect to your food and show it love. Balance in body will come!
Helpful resources:www.nutrientrichfoods.org -shopping list for healthy choices at the store.