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Popular Diets — Fads or Food for Thought?

Today, there are more styles of eating and more prescriptive diets than ever before. Whether you’re looking to lose weight or just want to improve your health and live longer, choosing an eating plan that’s right for you can be difficult. Understanding more about the pros and cons of popular diets is a great place to start. Just remember — you should always talk to your doctor or a dietitian and discuss your goals before starting a new diet. Together you can decide which — if any — of these popular diets is right for you.

Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean diet is rooted in the coastal cuisines of Greece, Spain, Italy, France, and North Africa. The diet calls for a high consumption of fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, olive oil, and fish. Meat and dairy products are incorporated on a very limited basis.

Foods: Key components of this diet include olive oil, dark leafy greens, beans, lentils, feta cheese, yogurt, garlic, onions, lemon, and lots of herbs and spices. Avoid refined and processed grains, foods with added sugars, and processed meats.

Pros: As a healthy lifestyle change, this diet is easy to follow and offers a lot of variety and flavor. Eating this way provides you with an abundance of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients. Controlled trials show that this type of diet significantly lowers risk of heart attack, stroke, cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, and breast cancer.

Cons: This diet requires strategic shopping and basic cooking skills.

Intermittent Fasting

While most people turn to intermittent fasting to lose weight, some adopt this time-restricted eating pattern as a way of life. After hours without food, insulin levels go down and the body exhausts its sugar stores, turning to fat for energy. This can promote weight loss. There are two popular patterns of intermittent fasting. The 5:2 method involves eating normally 5 days a week and then fasting (severely limited calories) 2 days a week. The 16:8 method involves normal food intake within an 8-hour window (such as 10 am to 6 pm) and then fasting (consuming nothing but water) for the remaining 16 hours of the day.

Foods: While intermittent fasting does not rule out specific foods, it’s a good idea to stick to the recommendations of the Mediterranean diet. Limit your consumption of animal protein, sugar, and fatty, fried, or processed foods.

Pros: Intermittent fasting can lead to weight loss and more consistent glucose levels.

Cons: Depending on your routine, intermittent fasting may be hard to implement and sustain. Eating breakfast by 8 am and dinner no later than 4 pm can be challenging for some. Shifting the 8-hour eating window later into the day may be an option for those who struggle with the 8 am – 4 pm timeframe.

No Meat for Me Pescatarian, Vegetarian, and Vegan Diets

People who don’t eat meat or animal products may have a variety of ethical, environmental, or religious reasons, but there are a number of health benefits as well. According to the American Heart Association, eliminating meat lowers your risk of heart disease, stroke, obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and Type 2 diabetes. Research has also found a link between a diet high in animal protein and fat with kidney, liver, and lung disease, as well as certain cancers. So, what are your options if you decide to eliminate meat from your diet?


A pescatarian diet includes fish and seafood, but no meat or poultry.

Pros: Seafood is an excellent source of protein. In addition, fish, especially fatty fish like salmon, trout, or arctic char, contains concentrated amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, which help reduce inflammation. A recent study that examined the diets of more than 77,000 Americans found that a pescatarian diet helps protect against colorectal cancers.

Cons: Ocean pollution is a global problem. Some types of fish, including tuna, shark, swordfish, and king mackerel contain higher levels of mercury and should be consumed infrequently. Pregnant women and young children should not eat these types of fish at all. Better choices include wild caught salmon, shrimp, catfish, red snapper, or sole.

Vegetarian and Vegan Diets

Vegetarians and vegans avoid eating animals and instead focus on fruits and vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes such as beans, peas, and lentils. However, many vegetarians have no issue eating animal products such as milk, eggs, or honey. Vegans follow one of the strictest diets and consume no animal products. Many also don’t wear silk, leather, or suede.  Lacto-ovo vegetarians include dairy and egg products in their diets.  Lacto vegetarians eat dairy products but no eggs.  Ovo vegetarians avoid all animal products except for eggs.

Pros: Vegetarian and vegan diets are generally low in fat and cholesterol and provide plenty of fiber to aid digestion and promote gut health. These diets usually contain high amounts of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants.

Cons: Vegetarians and vegans may need to supplement their diets with certain nutrients, such as iron, calcium, zinc, iodine, vitamin D, vitamin B12, and omega 3. A healthy vegan diet takes some planning to avoid nutrient deficiencies.

Contrary to popular belief, most vegetarians and vegans get enough protein from foods like tofu, quinoa, lentils, chickpeas, beans, and legumes. Artichokes, asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, collards, corn, potatoes, peppers, spinach, sweet potatoes, and turnip greens all provide some protein as well.

Keto and Paleo Diets

Originally prescribed to help control seizures in children with epilepsy, Keto is a popular weight loss diet, distinctive for its exceptionally low carbohydrate, high-fat content. Keto requires that your daily diet be 70–80% fat, 20–25% protein, and only 5–10% carbohydrates. The extremely low consumption of carbohydrates deprives your body of glucose, a main source of energy. This leads to the metabolic state of ketosis, during which your body runs on ketones, an alternative fuel produced from stored body fat. People on a keto diet should avoid all flour-based products, food and beverages with natural or added sugars (yogurt, fresh fruit, fruit juice, cookies, etc.), and starchy vegetables like corn, squash, potatoes, and legumes. Foods that fit into this diet plan include high fat foods like avocado, nuts, seeds, cheese, eggs, bacon, salmon, beef, and poultry, and non-starchy vegetables such as salad greens, cauliflower, and broccoli. Fruits are limited to small portions of berries or other lower sugar options.

Keto is often compared to the Atkins diet, a popular weight loss diet that has been around for 60 years. While both diets can lead to weight loss through ketosis, here are a few important differences:

  1. Keto stresses maintaining the state of ketosis whereas Atkins gradually increases your carb intake as you lose weight, eventually taking your body out of ketosis
  2. Keto allows for 20% of calories coming from protein compared to 30% for Atkins
  3. Atkins has a more flexible carb intake, allowing for a wider variety of foods — a less restrictive approach that does not require monitoring ketones

Pros: Keto tends to decrease the appetite. Studies have shown beneficial metabolic changes (weight loss, blood sugar regulation) in the short term.

Cons: This diet can be difficult to maintain. Extremely low carbohydrate intake can lead to fatigue, irritability, headaches, and constipation. Concerns about the long-term effects of a ketogenic diet include increased risk of kidney stones, osteoporosis, and heart disease. Ketogenic eating for weight loss has not been proven to be any more effective than diets that focus on reducing calories.

The Paleo Diet is a close cousin of Keto. Sometimes called the Cave Man Diet, Paleo focuses on foods that humans ate during the Paleolithic era and strives to eliminate processed foods, dairy products, legumes, grains, and any foods raised via agriculture. The Paleo diet emphasizes animal protein and healthy fats from wild or grass-fed animals, nut oils, butter, olive oil, and avocados. There is some evidence that following the Paleo way of eating may help reduce the risk of metabolic syndrome and improve cholesterol levels, but further research is needed.

The Dash Diet

More of a lifestyle change than a weight loss diet, DASH is an acronym for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. This way of eating also helps lower levels of LDL cholesterol. The DASH diet emphasizes protein, fiber, potassium, magnesium, and calcium from fruits and vegetables, beans, nuts, whole grains, fish, eggs, poultry, and low-fat dairy. Foods to avoid include sweets, sugar sweetened beverages, and all foods high in sodium — especially canned, packaged, and processed foods.

Pros: Scientifically proven to lower blood pressure, the DASH diet is nutrient rich, anti-inflammatory, and low in sodium and saturated fats.

Cons: Sticking to a low saturated fat and low sodium diet is a challenge if you don’t cook meals at home, rely on pre-made meals, or eat out a lot.

Your weight and your dietary habits affect your overall health. If you want to lose weight, talk to your doctor about starting a diet and exercise program that suits your general health and fitness levels. Community Memorial offers Nutrition Coaching with Registered Dieticians, as well as comprehensive Health and Wellness Coaching. For those seeking guidance with exercise or looking for a customized fitness plan, Personal Training is also available at our Wellness & Fitness Center.