Are you vegan? Vegetarian? Paleo? Gluten-free? If so, you’re probably passionate about the diet you follow. Most people are!
The very definition of the word “diet” itself has evolved over the years. When we were growing up, the term “diet” typically referred to a weight-loss plan. Everybody’s mom was on a diet! After years of dieting proved largely unsuccessful at maintaining weight loss for most people, it became clear to researchers that dieting for weight loss was far more successful if it was a long-term, sustainable lifestyle change. Now, the word “diet” more commonly refers to an eating plan targeting good health, with potential weight loss as a side effect.
I’ve never written specifically about this topic before, but I recently received an email from an Empty Nest Blessed reader who urged me to look into the vegan diet. A mutual friend of ours had embraced that lifestyle, and talking with her had caused this reader to become more aware of the food choices she made and the products she purchased based on company practices involving animals.
Her email made me stop and wonder why I’d never written on this topic before, and after much thought, I finally figured it out. It’s because eating is pretty personal. It’s sensitive. It’s tender. Many people put a lot of thought into it and have strong convictions about the diet they’re following and why. In some cases, they think the diet they embrace is the best choice for everyone. In others, they’re respectful, non-judgemental, and they understand that the diet they follow may not be the right choice for everyone.
Today, I’m running down the various diets (
Eating plans? Eating programs? Eating systems?) that are popular right now. You probably have a friend or a family member who follows each of these! My hope is that being able to more fully comprehend their convictions will result in greater acceptance and understanding within your relationships.
This post is a cursory (at best) explanation of the popular diets that people talk about, not a “review,” and I’m not advocating one over another. I don’t have the space to be comprehensive (nor am I qualified to do that!), but I will provide links for more information about each. At the end of the post, I’ll share my diet, which is probably going to surprise you!
Decoding the Diets: Anti-Inflammatory
What It Is: Developed by Dr. Andrew Weil, it’s similar to the Mediterranean diet in its focus on fresh foods. This largely plant-based diet focuses on whole, unprocessed foods thought to reduce inflammation.
What You Eat: If you follow this diet, you eat healthy fats, lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fish, tea (instead of coffee), dark chocolate, and even red wine. You avoid excessive amounts of animal protein, with the exception of oily fish.
What it Does: It’s believed that the phytochemicals prevalent in anti-inflammatory diets protect cells and organs from low-level, chronic inflammation, which is linked to heart disease, cancer, arthritis, and other health conditions like psoriatic arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Why People Love It: It’s nutritionally sound and not overly restrictive.
What the Experts Say: Proving that eating anti-inflammatory foods prevents specific diseases is a significant scientific challenge. The jury is still out, but research is ongoing.
Decoding the Diets: Gluten-Free
What It Is: This diet was originally developed to manage celiac disease, an auto-immune disease in which gluten triggers immune system activity that damages the lining of the small intestine. Other medical conditions associated with gluten intolerance warrant adherence to the diet, include non-celiac gluten sensitivity, gluten ataxia, and wheat allergy.
What You Eat: This diet excludes the protein gluten, which is found in grains such as wheat, barley, and rye.
What It Does: Adherence to a strict gluten-free diet is a lifelong necessity for people with celiac disease. For people with non-celiac gluten sensitivity, the condition may not be lifelong.
Why People Love It: Proponents without related auto-immune diseases or a wheat allergy claim improved health, weight loss, increased energy, and improved gastrointestinal health.
What the Experts Say: Since eliminated foods provide important vitamins and other nutrients, individuals on a gluten-free diet need to watch for potential deficiencies of iron, calcium, fiber, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin and folate. Very little clinical research has been conducted on the benefits of a gluten-free diet for people who do not have a gluten-related medical condition.
Decoding the Diets: Intermittent Fasting
What It Is: In one approach to intermittent fasting, participants eat very few calories on certain days, and eat normally the other days. In the other approach, participants only eat during certain hours of each day and fast the remaining hours.
What You Eat: To lose weight and get the nutrients you need, you should stick to healthy foods and limit treats like dessert and processed foods on eating days. On fasting days, you’ll eat very little food or none at all.
What it Does: It’s believed that depriving cells of calories slows the progression of certain age-related diseases. Studies show a decrease in some of the body’s inflammatory markers and improvement in the body’s use of insulin. Some research shows that this type of diet may curb symptoms of asthma.
Why People Love It: People lose weight because they take in fewer calories overall and regulate their blood sugar. Also, it works with food restrictive diets like vegetarian or vegan, or high- or low-carb.
What the Experts Say: Studies have found lower blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels, but there is concern that shortening the eating window makes it challenging to get the vitamins and minerals needed for good health.
Decoding the Diets: Ketogenic (Keto)
What It Is: The Keto diet was created at the Mayo Clinic in 1924 by Dr. Russell Wilder to combat epilepsy.
What You Eat: Ideally, 60% of calories are supposed to come from fat and 35% from protein, with just 5% from carbs. People on this diet eat lots of fat and protein, meat, cheese, oil, butter, cream, and low-carb veggies.
What It Does: By depriving the body of carbohydrates, it lowers blood sugar and insulin levels, prompting the body to utilize ketone bodies (produced by the liver) for fuel. (Called ketosis.)
Why People Love It: People lose weight quickly, feel fuller, and experience fewer cravings.
What the Experts Say: While it’s primarily a diet to lose weight, it may help with certain conditions, such as epilepsy. There are concerns, however. Recently, a study presented at the American College of Cardiology’s annual meeting found that people on low-carb diets were 18 percent more likely to develop atrial fibrillation than those on a moderate-carb diet.
Decoding the Diets: Mediterranean
What It Is: This diet is based on the traditional foods that people eat in countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea. It was developed after researchers noted that people living in that area were exceptionally healthy compared to Americans and had a low risk of many lifestyle diseases.
What You Eat: A primarily plant-based diet, including foods such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts. It encourages replacing butter with healthy fats such as olive oil and the use of herbs and spices to add flavor to foods instead of salt. Fish or poultry are favored over red meat.
What It Does: Numerous studies confirm that it causes weight loss, helps prevents heart attacks, strokes, type 2 diabetes, and premature death.
Why People Love It: With a focus on fresh, flavorful foods, it’s easy to maintain and can be highly successful for long-term weight loss. (And it includes wine!)
Decoding the Diets: Paleo
What It Is: This diet was created by gastroenterologist Walter Voegtlin in the 1970s with the idea that Paleolithic ancestors, who lived in a range of time from 2.5 million to 10,000 years ago, could teach modern men how to eat healthily. Although somewhat similar to Keto, in a Paleo diet, most of the calories consumed come from protein, whereas in Keto, they come from fat.
What You Eat It allows entire food groups (like meats, fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats) and avoids others (like dairy, processed foods, and grains).
What It Does: It promotes a “clean” diet without additives, preservatives, or chemicals, and the plant nutrients in fruits, vegetables, oils, nuts, and seeds may provide anti-inflammatory benefits.
Why People Love It: It causes weight loss (probably because the caloric intake is less overall), and it’s less restrictive than Keto.
What the Experts Say: Although it’s rich in vegetables, fruits, and nuts — all elements of a healthy diet, there are concerns about the absence of fiber and vitamins provided by whole grains and legumes, and calcium from dairy products.
Decoding the Diets: Vegan
What It Is: Although similar to vegetarianism, vegans eliminate all animal products from their diets, including dairy and meat. Some vegans extend the diet to include clothing and cleaning products.
What You Eat: Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes. No meat, poultry, eggs, dairy, or anything made from animal parts. (This can be challenging, as animal products, like butter, butter substitutes, lard, and gelatin are hidden in many processed and baked goods.)
What It Does: Since vegans typically eat fewer calories, they generally weigh less and have a lower body mass index and good heart health. It can be a good option for those with diabetes.
Why People Love It: Many people, like my friend above, adhere to it not only for health reasons but also for strongly-held convictions about the treatment of animals and/or the environment.
What the Experts Say: Recent studies have confirmed improved heart health and reduced rates of cancer, lower cholesterol, and blood pressure. Cautions include potential deficiencies in iron, calcium, and B12 (found naturally only in animal products).
Decoding the Diets: Vegetarian
What It Is: Typically, a vegetarian diet is free of meat, fowl, and fish, although there are variations, including lacto-ovo vegetarians, who avoid animal flesh but eat eggs and milk products and pescatarians, who eat fish and seafood.
What You Eat: Non-meat protein sources such as grains, beans, lentils, and soy-based products as well as fruit, vegetables, and nuts. No animal products except for dairy products and eggs.
What It Does: Reduces the risk of diseases like Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
Why People Love It: Many vegetarians believe a meat-free diet is more healthful, and a more ethical way to live, citing inhumane practices and the high environmental cost of raising animals for consumption.
What the Experts Say: Studies show that reducing or eliminating red meat results in lower triglycerides, glucose levels, blood pressure, and body mass index (BMI). Due to diversity within the vegetarian community, it’s challenging to prove a strong direct link to cancer-reduction, but most scientists agree that it’s there. (Most vegetarians exercise and have lower body weight, which also links to lower cancer risk.) Challenges include potentially getting enough protein and iron.
For information on diets that I didn’t discuss, click here.
As I shared in this recent post, I have celiac disease. I also have lupus, dairy sensitivity, and migraines. Yes, I’m pretty much a mess! (In fact, those last three links went to foundations specifically for those conditions! No one wants to have diseases with their own foundations! Hahaha!) I don’t talk about my issues much because they are not who I am. They’re something I have. By this age, if I’ve learned one thing, it’s that everyone has something (whether they talk about it or not). 🙂
When it comes to my diet, I mostly follow an anti-inflammatory diet, with gluten-free and dairy-free modifications. I also have to modify for migraine triggers, eliminating otherwise healthy foods like nuts, avocados, bananas, yogurt, and soy. What that means is that I have pretty limited choices. (Lemme tell you, I am a nightmare to take to restaurants!) I eat a lot of SunButter, Flax Milk ( I like the vanilla flavor), lean meats and fish, berries, and vegetables. But if you follow me on Instagram, you also know that I’m addicted to popcorn, I love Diet Dr. Pepper, and I’m always up for a lettuce-wrapped In-N-Out burger and fries! Hey, balance, right?!
I hope this post helped you understand the most popular diets a little bit better. Writing and researching it helped me! I definitely had some misconceptions. Did you? What
eating plan, er, eating system, er, eating program, er…diet do you follow and why? Leave me a comment and let me know your thoughts on this post, okay?
If you read my post on the 2019 Spring & Summer Style Trends, then you know that this look is perfect for spring! With scallops on the shoes and the cami too, it’s right on point. I’ve said it before, but I think a black duster is pretty much a wardrobe staple for women over fifty. The flattering and slimming lines are fantastic! This one is under $50 and the ribbed knit and button detailing at the sleeve are such pretty touches. My cami is a much less expensive dupe of one by designer Ted Baker! It comes in multiple color options; it’s the perfect layering piece; and it’s machine washable. #winner