Breaking down diets: Keto, gluten-free, vegetarian, oh my!

June 03, 2021 | by Toni Havala, MS, RD, LDN
Categories: Healthy Driven Life

Choosing the right diet for your lifestyle isn’t easy. Your friend might have had success on the low carbohydrate, high-fat ketogenic (keto) diet, but the latest headlining celebrity might swear by something different.

How do you know which diet is right for you?

It depends on your goal. Are you trying to eat more nutritious meals so you feel better? Are you looking to lose extra weight to reduce your health risks?

Here’s a breakdown of six common diets:

Gluten-free diet

A small percentage of people need to be gluten-free because they have a gluten sensitivity, wheat allergy or have been diagnosed with celiac disease.

Found in breads, pastas, cereal, sauces and beer, a gluten-free diet eliminates all foods containing or contaminated with gluten. Often people who start eating gluten-free processed food gain weight due to the wide selection of gluten-free snacks such as cookies and crackers. These snacks can be as high or higher in carbohydrates and calories than gluten-containing products.

  • The breakdown: A gluten-free diet is not nutritionally superior to a diet containing gluten, but may be beneficial to those with a gluten intolerance and it is absolutely essential for those with celiac disease. According to Harvard Health, there is no evidence showing that a gluten-free diet is effective for weight loss.

Intermittent fasting

Intermittent fasting is the opposite of many types of diets. Instead of focusing on what to eat, intermittent fasting is about when you should eat.

When you fast, all of your meals are scheduled between a certain timeframe. The 16/8 intermittent fasting method involves fasting for sixteen hours and eating all of your meals during an 8-hour window.

  • The breakdown: By eating fewer, more fulfilling meals, intermittent fasting can lead to an automatic reduction in calorie intake, resulting in weight loss and improving hormonal regulation. It is recommended that the fasting hours of the day be in the evening hours versus the morning. Intermittent fasting is not recommended for those with hypoglycemia or Type 1 diabetes due to the prolonged period without food.

Mediterranean diet

The Mediterranean diet had been around for decades when an American researcher discovered that foods eaten by people who lived around the Mediterranean Sea helped protect them against heart disease.

There isn’t one set meal plan on the Mediterranean diet. This cultural style of eating consists of fruits and vegetables, healthy grains, fish, beans, nuts, olive oil and small amounts of meats and dairy. Emphasis is placed on eating plant-based foods with limited amounts of animal foods, all while encouraging exercise and enjoying meals with others.

  • The breakdown: Instead of calorie counting, this style of eating places emphasis on foods found in the regions by the Mediterranean Sea, including Greece, Italy and Spain. The American Heart Association endorsed the Mediterranean diet as a way of preventing heart disease and stroke and reducing risk factors such as obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure.

Keto diet

A ketogenic or keto diet is a low carbohydrate, high-fat diet. All types of carbohydrates are restricted on the keto diet, including carbohydrates from beans, fruits and vegetables.

Unlike other diets, the keto diet involves eating 70-80% of your calories as fat. This results in your body using fat as an alternative type of fuel for energy. When your body enters this state of ketosis, it will break down protein and burn fat for fuel, which may result in weight loss from water, stored carbohydrates and fat. 

  • The breakdown: Studies have shown following a keto diet can lead to weight loss, but eating a high-fat diet is restrictive and can have negative health impacts, such as raising LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, increasing risk of kidney stones and osteoporosis, and causing serious metabolic issues for those on medications for diabetes. Consult with your doctor before starting the keto diet.

Paleo diet

The Paleo diet goes back in time and is modeled after what humans ate during the caveman era.

Many of the modern high-processed foods filled with sugar, and salt, are avoided and replaced with a diet of meat, fish, poultry, fruits and veggies. A Paleo diet also restricts whole foods such as whole grains, dairy and legumes.

  • The breakdown: The Paleo diet can help remove overly processed foods from your diet but also restricts a number of whole foods with nutritional value.

Vegetarian diet

Becoming a vegetarian is typically more of a lifestyle choice and less of a weight loss tool, but it can meet your nutritional needs if followed correctly.

Instead of eating foods filled with additives, fats, sugars and starches, you’ll eat more plant-based, nutrient-packed foods that will help your body feel fuller, so you feel more satisfied.

  • The breakdown: Even though something is labeled vegetarian, it can still be high in fat and in calories. Portion sizes are important.

There are benefits, limitations, and risks to all types of diets — it is important to find a style of eating that is healthy, balanced and sustainable for you.

Talk to your doctor or a registered dietitian before starting a new meal plan. They can give you the support and tools you need to make smart choices for a healthy lifestyle.

Check out some Healthy Driven recipes.

For more healthy meal tips, visit Healthy Driven Chicago.

Fasting, keto, counting macros – which dietary trends are the healthiest to follow? And is it possible to change your eating habits if others in your household don’t? In this Health 360 with Dr. G podcast episode, host Mark Gomez, MD, and his guests break down common diets and offer practical tips on how to establish sustainable, healthy eating habits. Listen to the podcast.

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