The Pros And Cons Of 7 Of The Most Popular Diets

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Looking to lose weight and still searching for the best diet for you? Jenna Bell, PhD, RD, Senior VP, Director of Food & Wellness at Pollock Communications in New York City, cautions against diets that seem too good to be true. “If a diet promises fast, nearly overnight results and cuts out most every food group, think twice before starting such a plan,” she says. “Crash diets may or may not help you lose weight but are almost guaranteed to leave you feeling run down thanks to missing nutrients. And at the end of the day, once you stop your crash diet, the weight is likely to return.” 

So which diets actually work, and which ones should be avoided? Read on to see our list of 7 of the top diets, based on recent rankings from U.S. News and World Report, and the pros and cons of each.

1. Intermittent Fasting There have been a lot of popular books published on intermittent fasting recently, including David Zinczenko’s “The 8 Hour Diet,” Dr. Michael Mosley’s “The Fast Diet” and Dr. Caroline Apovian’s “The Overnight Diet.” Intermittent fasting (IF) is basically a pattern of eating that varies greatly from the typical breakfast-lunch-dinner pattern and requires periods of completely avoiding food. Which means that there’s a set time for eating, followed by an extended period of fasting. In the 5:2 method of intermittent fasting, you eat normally 5 days per week and then fast (only consuming 500-600 calories) for 2 days of the week. In the 16:8 Lean Gains style, there’s an eight-hour feeding period — during which you can eat anything you want — followed by a 16-hour fast.

Related: 13 Ways to Trick Yourself Full

PRO: Advocates suggest it works because when you fast, you reduce your exposure to fluctuations in hormones such as insulin, which rises after you eat and in a sense, helps the body to store fat. And if your normal behavior is to eat and snack constantly throughout the day, any type of fasting would require you to obviously reduce your total calorie intake and, therefore, weight loss naturally follows.

CON: While fasting, you are likely to be hungry and this hunger can increase mood swings and cause crankiness. Have you heard of the term “hangry”? It’s when hungriness makes someone moody and angry. These issues can make long-term compliance to this type of regimen difficult for some people.

2. Vegan If you’re ready to make a complete diet overhaul, the vegan diet, which is devoid of all animal products — from milk chocolate to honey to hamburgers — can be a great choice. The vegan diet is comprised of grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and vegetable oils. When well-designed and balanced, the vegan diet is one of the cleanest, greenest diets out there.

PRO: Thanks to a heavy dose of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes, the vegan diet is high in antioxidants, potassium and satiating fiber. It’s also lower in nutrients we should all be cutting back on anyway: sodium, saturated fat and often empty calories. Rich in nutrients, vegan diets offers a myriad of health benefits and — since you’ll be replacing summer sausage, cheese, and crackers with quinoa and broccoli — you’re likely to see your waistline shrink. This plant-based diet can supply all of the essential and nonessential nutrients required by active individuals if a variety of foods, such as vegetables, whole grains and legumes are consumed over the course of the day. 

CON: If not well-balanced and varied, vegan diets may be lacking in essential nutrients (such as calcium, iron, and vitamins B12 and D) and protein. Vegan athletes are at risk for deficiencies in these micronutrients since animal products are the most potent sources of these vital nutrients. The protein needs of athletes are higher than those of most other people thanks to exercise-induced muscle breakdown and the resulting need for rebuilding. Vegans may want to supplement with protein powders made from a variety of protein sources (including pea protein, hemp protein, brown rice protein and more), and check the labels to ensure they have a complete amino acid profile.

3. The Paleo Diet This diet is based on the theory that our bodies are designed to eat like our caveman ancestors and that they’re not designed to digest the processed foods that are the basis of most modern diets.

Related: Turns Out Everyone Was Wrong About Saturated Fats

PRO: This diet eliminates processed and junk foods, which are often linked to inflammation and chronic diseases, such as from heart disease, diabetes and joint pain. The allowed foods such as grass-fed meats, wild fish, poultry, eggs, nuts, fruits and vegetables tend to be nutrient-dense and high in protein and fiber. Also, heart-healthy fats (olive oil, fish oil, avocado) are recommended while dairy, grain, legumes, starches, alcohol, processed foods, sugars and sugar substitutes are no-nos. You may feel better overall and lose some inches around the waist as you cut out empty calories from processed foods.

CON: With the elimination of grains, this diet can be lower in carbohydrates. You may feel a bit deprived as you cut out junk, calories and some of the favorites from your daily diet. Because this diet is restrictive and eliminates many food groups, you may need to supplement certain vitamins or minerals (check with your physician). Also, this diet is far from the mainstream lifestyle many people currently follow, so it may be challenging to eat like a caveman long-term for some people.

4. The TLC Diet Created by the National Institute of Health’s National Cholesterol Education Program and endorsed by the American Heart Association, the TLC diet (Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes) requires dieters to drastically cut back on fat, especially heart-clogging saturated fat. 

PRO: This diet (claims to) lower your cholesterol by 8-10 percent in 6 weeks. It’s a diet the entire family can follow, because while it offers calorie limits for adults (2,500 calories for men and 1,800 calories for women; 1,600 calories for men looking to lose weight and 1,200 calories for women looking to lose weight), there is a greater focus on eating less saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol. This is a well-balanced diet with optimal amounts of carb, protein and fat. It’s also high in satiating fiber, which means you’re likely to be eating as much as 25 grams of fiber a day.

CON: You’ll need to consume less than 7 percent of your total calories from saturated fat and less than 200mg cholesterol a day. These values can be difficult to determine, let alone follow. And if your cholesterol still won’t budge, you’ll need to add in 2g of plant stanols/sterols as well as 10-25g of soluble fiber. Without the guidance of a health professional or some research, this diet may be too complex for some. As you boost your fiber intake, be sure to drink more fluids in order to prevent constipation.

5. The Mayo Clinic Diet This diet promises results, but is not a quick fix. The Mayo Clinic Diet requires lifelong lifestyle changes, including no more eating in front of the TV and curbing mindless eating. It does claim to offer weight loss (as much as 6-10 pounds shed in 2 weeks).

PRO: This diet teaches lifestyle changes and encourages exercise, which is refreshing to hear since losing weight is not 100 percent about monitoring which foods are eaten. Split into two phases, once a dieter enters the second phase of the diet, no food group is off-limits which can make this diet easier to follow for long-term dieters.

CON: This two-part diet starts with the restrictive “Lose It!” phase which requires some deprivation and restricts sugar, snacks (unless fruits/vegetables), full fat dairy, and even dining out. The second part — “Live It!” — calls for calorie counting, but the focus is mainly on counting the number of servings per day. Proper portioning of food (i.e. breaking out the measuring cups) is needed to be successful.

6. The Flexitarian Diet Developed by Registered Dietitian Dawn Jackson Blatner, this is essentially a marriage of the terms “flexible” and “vegetarian.” In other words, followers of this diet aim to be vegetarians “most of the time.” This diet focuses not so much on restricting foods but on replacing your usual intake of butchers’ favorites with non-meat protein sources such as tofu, legumes, beans, lentils, nuts and seeds.

PRO: Research has found that vegetarians tend to weigh less than their carnivorous colleagues. What’s more, vegetarian diets are generally heart healthy thanks to lower intakes of saturated fat and cholesterol and more fiber and plant proteins. And by stocking your grocery cart with legumes, nuts and eggs rather than filet and steaks, you could be saving money while improving your health.

CON: This diet is easy to follow; some of its followers simply skip beef, poultry and pork most of the time. That being said, this diet may be too flexible for some dieters accustomed to set calorie levels and food journaling. For more direction, dieters could purchase Blatner’s book, which includes recipes and meal plans, too.

7. Detox Diets and Cleanses Not necessarily new — but certainly popular — detox diets change eating patterns with the goal of ridding the body of the buildup of toxins. There are a wide variety of these diets and they range in length from 3-day juice fasts to 21-day detoxes, during which time dieters are instructed to eliminate certain food groups or to drink “cleansing” beverages on a daily basis.

PRO: Detox diets often promise quick weight loss, healing, cleansing and a renewed sense of better health. The idea behind these diets is that by removing certain food groups, some of the toxins linked with those foods – like caffeine or alcohol— are eliminated, and the detox purportedly gives the body a break from foods that are considered hard to digest and absorb, like meat, cheese and processed foods. In theory, as a result of avoiding these food items, the body uses less energy to digest food and fight off toxins, and frees up energy to heal. While not all detox diets are solely focused on weight loss, the eating can be restrictive, which often results in weight loss.

CON: Dr. Jenna Bell, PhD, RD, Senior VP, Director of Food & Wellness at Pollock Communications in New York City suggests that, generally speaking, it’s best to avoid these kinds of diets. While you may lose weight in the short-term, these diets don’t nurture the kind of lifestyle change and nutrition improvement that are essential to losing weight, and keeping it off in the long term. Plus, you won’t have the energy you need to exercise, which is critical to sustainable weight loss. Most importantly, there are some serious negative, consequences that can come from detox diets. Short term, you might suffer from drug–nutrient interactions or potentially toxic components in cleansing products.

By Pamela Nisevich Bede, M.S., R.D.

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