Diets don’t work!
Scientific research (and my own experience as a nutritionist) have proven time and time again that although some diets may lead to weight-loss in the short term, this is almost invariably re-gained in the long term, when people revert to their previous eating habits. I’m sure you’ve heard it before, but a long-term, balanced diet and lifestyle really is the only way to stay slim and healthy.
This doesn’t stop new diets cropping up in the media on a constant basis. The problem with this is that it causes a lot of confusion – often to the point that people are so confused they give up all together. What is important to understand is that messages from the diet industry are separate from (and very often conflicting with) the advice from health professionals, who are giving impartial and science-based advice.
Having said that, there are some different principles from the various diets out there that can be useful – but also definitely many that are not! Lets have a look at some of these and discover the pros and cons.
The Vegan Diet
A vegan diet involves eating absolutely no animal derived products at all, so meat, dairy, eggs, fish, all animal-derived products such as gelatine and even honey are off the menu. The diet is based on fruits, vegetables, pulses, nuts and grains. Veganism is not just about diet, it is typically an entire lifestyle and set of values about avoiding cruelty and harm to animals and protecting the planet.
- A balanced, plant-based diet is nutritionally excellent
- Higher in fibre, antioxidants, vitamin C and lower in saturated fat
- Reduced risk of heart disease and diabetes
- Vegans are slimmer
- Reduces your impact on the planet and cruelty to animals
- Can incorpórate some vegan principles e.g. meat-free days, plant milks, avoid products tested on animals etc.
- Have to make a conscious effort to get adequate protein, vitamin D, zinc, calcium, B12 and iron and omega-3, although all of this is possible
- Can be awkward eating out or as a dinner guest
Based on the ‘hunter-gatherer’ diet that our Stone Aged ancestors would have probably eaten, 2 million years ago, the Paleo diet involves avoiding all grains, beans, potatoes, dairy, sugar, caffeine and alcohol. The diet is based on meat, eggs, fish, fruit, vegetables and nuts. The theory is that this is how we are genetically programmed to eat, as our genes have not evolved as quickly as farming and food production methods over the last few centuries. Proponents claim that our inability to metabolise ‘new foods’ is the reason for modern-day health problems such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease.
- Reducing sugar, alcohol, caffeine and processed foods is good advice, but can be done without the rest!
- High meat consumption (recent WHO reports have confirmed we should reduce meat intakes)
- High in saturated fat
- Low in fibre and healthy carbohydrates
- Very unsociable and time-consuming, unsustainable long-term
- Cutting out major food groups risks nutrient deficiencies
- The ‘theories’ this diet is based on are not supported by science
The GI Diet
This diet was in fashion several years ago, but I have included it because it has some solid science behind it and some great principles to incorporate into a healthy diet. GI stands for glycaemic index, which is a system for measuring the speed at which the body breaks down carbohydrate foods into glucose (sugar), the body’s source of energy. Foods are ranked from 1-100, glucose has the maximum score of 100 and all other carbohydrates are measured against this.
High GI carbs, like sugar, white bread or cornflakes, are digested rapidly, causing an immediate and sharp rise in blood sugar levels. Low GI carbs on the other hand, such as oats or rye bread, take longer to digest and therefore release their sugar slowly and gradually into the bloodstream, giving longer-lasting, sustained energy and balanced blood sugar levels. When blood sugar levels are balanced our mood, appetite and energy levels are more consistent. The highs and lows of blood sugar produced by eating high-GI carbohydrates lead to sugar cravings, irregular appetite and fluctuations in mood and energy levels.
Although GI only applies to carbohydrates, the diet also advocates healthy protein and fat sources, both of which slow down carbohydrate digestion, reducing the overall GI of a meal.
- The combination of wholegrain carbs, protein and healthy fats is the perfect balance
- Improved energy and mood
- Reduced risk of heart disease and diabetes
- Reduced cravings, more control over appetite
- No cutting out of whole food groups
- Can still eat out and enjoy food
- Scientifically proven
- Looking up GI scores is time-consuming but not necessary
- Having ‘rules’ can be too strict for some people
The idea of only dieting on some days is appealing, as knowing you can indulge in your ‘favourites’ tomorrow, makes the deprivation seem more bearable. The most popular fasting diet is the 5:2 regime, which involves five days of normal eating, and two (non-consecutive) fasting days, when you eat a quarter of your recommended daily calorie quota; 500 calories for women and 600 for men. Other plans involve ‘feasting’ and ‘fasting’ on alternate days. Proponents of fasting regimes claim other health benefits including making us live longer and reducing various disease risks.
Calorie restriction has actually been around for decades, with animal studies showing that it does help animals live longer and be healthier. For humans though, the evidence is limited – some small studies have found improved ‘markers of aging’, such as insulin levels and body temperature, but in terms of increasing life expectancy, we simply don’t know yet, because they have not followed people for long enough to find out!
- Does not cut out particular foods/food groups
- People report that they find it easy to follow
- Could encourage an unhealthy relationship with food or disordered eating
- Can cause weakness, dizziness or poor concentration on fasting days
- May disrupt metabolism and appetite
- Dangerous for diabetics and anyone who has suffered with an eating disorder
High Protein, Low Carb diets
Low-carbohydrate diets became popular about ten years ago, with the second release of the Atkins Diet book, the most well known low carb diet (the first time, it was not as popular). Many variations of low carb diets have arisen since and a ‘fear or carbs’ and the belief that “carbs make you fat” are now pretty widespread.
These diets involve drastically cutting down carbohydrate foods like bread, rice, oats, pasta, starchy vegetables and grains, and even limiting fruits, which are carbohydrates. This causes the body to go into a metabolic state called ‘ketosis’, which is when the body switches from burning glucose as it’s main energy source to fragments of fats called ketones. It is a normal bodily process, however it is usually only used as a ‘back-up plan’, to help the body survive during emergencies, when no food is available. This results in rapid weight loss, which is one reason these diets have been popular, especially amongst celebrities.
- People report feeling less deprived if they can eat foods like fried eggs, cheese, cream and steak
- Many vital nutrients missed out including fibre, vitamins and minerals
- High in saturated fat
- High in animal foods and meat
- Side effects of ketosis include bad breath, insomnia, nausea and weakness
- Difficult to maintain long-term, unsociable
- Causes unfounded ‘fear of carbs’
Clean eating involves eating unprocessed foods in their most natural and unadulterated state or as close to that as possible. The idea is that the same foods will also be higher in nutrients, as well as being seasonal and better for the environment. Clean eating is less of a diet and more of a long-term approach or philosophy towards food, encompassing being mindful of what you put in your body and also considering the origins of your food.
The diet is based around plenty of fruit and veg, wholegrains, pulses, nuts, seeds and healthy fats like olive oil and avocadoes. Organic, free-range eggs, dairy, wild fish and grass-fed meats are included in small amounts by some people. Processed foods, ‘white foods’ (white bread, flour, rice etc.), refined sugar, trans fats, food additives and artificial sweeteners are all avoided. Some people take it to the next level and avoid dairy, gluten, caffeine and even animal products completely, but this is not compulsory – it’s up to you how far you want to take it.
- No food groups are banned
- Flexible – can take it as far as you can/want to
- Balanced, high in plant-foods and nutrients
- Low in meat, sugar and processed foods
- Better for the environment
- Could be more expensive
- Could led to fussiness or be unsociable
Beauty & Go drinks are low in calories! They only have 35 kcal for every 100 ml and its sweetener comes from the stevia leaf. Besides, they are suitable for celiacs, diabetics and pregnant or lactating women and don’t have artificial colours or preservatives… so they are perfect to include in any healthy diet!