Is there such thing as a perfect diet ?

In the July 2015 issue of the Healthy Food Guide, they did an article on: Is there a perfect diet ?

 

Tempted by the paleo diet or know a few fans of the 5:2? This guide to what’s bad and downright ridiculous will help you find the best healthy eating plan for you.

 

Regular readers of HFG will be familiar with their expert dieticians’ belief; there’s no such thing as a quick fix weight-loss diet. To slim down and stay healthy long term, we have to find a plan we can follow for life. But that’s not to say there aren’t diets trending out there that contain useful elements or principles for long-term healthy eating and for avoiding weight gain. HFG investigated the benefits – and – pitfalls – of the most popular.

 

THE CLEAN EATING DIET

 

This could called the anti-junk food diet. It’s less about specific foods to eat or avoid, and more about the overall type and origin of the food.

 

The basic rule ? Eat nothing processed. “Clean eaters choose whole foods such as vegetables and fruit, whole grains, grass-fed and free-range meats, low-fat dairy products and unsalted nuts and seeds,” explains HFG nutritionist Amanda Ursell. “That means fast food, junk food, ready meals, refined foods and added sugars are off limits – although some packaged foods are allowed if you recognise all the ingredients as real, unrefined and free from artificial additives. Many plans also rule out caffeine and alcohol.”

 

Preparing your own meals is also encouraged so both the flavour and integrity of the fresh food is maintained and the addition of lots of fats, sugar or salt can be avoided.

 

what’s good about it?

 

“It’s hard to fault a way of eating that starts with real food and messes with it as little as possible,” says Ursell. “It’s also really positive that all the food groups are still included, making it easy to eat in a nutritionally balanced way.”

Find out more:

Clean & Lean Diet by James Duigan can be credited for kick-starting the trend back in 2013.

 

What to watch out for…

 

  • Free-range and organic foods are often (but not always) more expensive. You’ll need to shop around.
  • Not everyone has the time to prepare absolutely everything from scratch. This unrealistic goal may be hard to sustain.
  • Thinking ‘clean’ can be a jump-off point for obsessive thinking about food.

 

THE PALEO DIET

 

Also known as the caveman diet, the idea is that we should eat like our hunter-gatherer ancestors – because that’s what we were designed to do.

 

The paleo diet excludes all grains, legumes (including peanuts), dairy, sugar, potatoes, processed foods, salt and refined vegetable oils, since these hadn’t yet been developed by out ancestors. Instead, it recommends lean meat and poultry, seafood, eggs, vegetables, fruit, nuts and seeds. As a result, it’s seen as a high-protein, low-carb diet.

 

“There are some obvious flaws in the theory,” Ursall points out. “For a start, many of the plants out ancestors ate no longer exist. And there wasn’t a specific paleo diet – what our ancestors ate will have depended entirely on where they lived in the world. Added to this, we’re probably not doing anywhere near the amount of physical activity our ancestors did, as they had to hunt for food.”

 

what’s good about it?

 

Several small studies reveal people following the paleo diet see positive health improvements, ranging from weight loss to better blood glucose control and a reduction in risk factors for heart disease. Having said that, most versions of the diet tend to recommend large amounts of red meat, which goes against current health guidelines that say we should limit our intake to just 500g cooked red meat a week.

 

“An adapted, healthier version of paleo puts more emphasis on vegetables, ” adds Ursell.

 

Find out more:

“Search ‘paleo’ on the NHS Choices website for a detailed expert review,” suggests Ursell.

 

what to watch out for…

 

  • “Unless you have a specific allergy or intolerance, there’s no reason to exclude good quality grains, legumes and reduced-fat dairy from your diet – whereas there are more good reasons to include them,” says Ursell. Low intakes of dairy, for example could leave you with a calcium deficiency, while avoiding whole grains will make it difficult for you to get enough fibre in your diet.
  • This diet is not for the eco-conscious: meat consumption has a greater impact on the environment than other foods. Plus a diet rich in meat can be expensive.
  • Beware the paleo marketing machine; we all know our ancestors didn’t eat paleo chocolate chip cookies!

 

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THE RAW FOOD DIET

 

The main principle is that all foods should be unprocessed, unrefined and not heated above 44 degree celsius.

 

The theory goes that if you ensure lving enzymes in food remain intact, the food will more easily digested and deliver more benefits for your body. Whole, preferably organic, plant foods such as fruits, nuts, seeds, vegetables, roots, sprouted grains, pulses and legumes form the basis of the diet.

 

Cold-pressed olive and coconut oils are commonly used. Raw enthusiasts are often vegan, but some eat raw animal products such as unpasteurized milk, raw fish and even raw meat, with the aim that around 75% of their diet should meet the ‘raw’ criteria.

 

what’s good about it?

 

The diet is based on eating whole, unprocessed foods, which is a healthy place to start. You’ll eat large amounts of fruit and veg, too – but that’s where the positives end. Most nutritionists agree that cooked food supplies us with plenty of nutrients and enables us to eat a wider range of foods, increasing the variety in our diet and ensuring certain foods are safe to eat.

 

“There’s little evidence to support the health benefits of sticking to uncooked food,” says Ursell. “A few studies have shown, however, that raw food dieters tend to consume fewer calories than those on other diets.”

 

Find out more:

If you fancy introducing a little raw food into your diet, you’ll find 100 interesting recipes in Raw & Simple by Judita Wignall.

 

what to watch out for…

 

  • This way of eating can be very low in protein and, potentially, in other nutrients, too, such as calcium, zinc, iron, selenium and vitamin B12.
  • A raw food diets tends to rely heavily on fruit and juices, so sugar intake can be high. Even natural sugar can damage teeth if eaten in excess.
  • Coconut oil is around 90% saturated fat. Experts continue to advise us to reduce our intake of this type of fat.
  • Some raw ‘treats’ have more fat and calories than those seen as unhealthy, so read labels and weigh up the pros and cons.
  • Be sure not to share unpasteurized milk with a compromised immune system, especially babies and pregnant women, as this can be dangerous.
  • Some nutrients are better absorbed from cooked foods, such as lycopene in tomatoes and beta-carotene in carrots.
  • Not cooking foods means you can’t kill off potential food poisoning bugs.

 

THE MED DIET

 

A nutritionally balanced diet based on foods that are native to the mediterranean. The emphasis is on veg and healthy fats instead of red meat, dairy and processed foods.

 

The mediterranean diet is distinguished by a high intake of vegetables, fruit, whole grains and nuts; a moderate intake of fish and poultry; and a low intake of dairy products, red meat, processed meats and sweets. Olive oil is the main source of fat, and wine (often red) is consumed in moderation and with meals.

 

what’s good about it?

 

“The focus of this diet is on plant foods. No food groups are prohibited, but the consumption of red meat, dairy, refined produce and sweet treats are limited,” says nutrition scientist Bridget Benelam. “Wine consumption isn’t a necessary part of this diet, but it does highlight that when alcohol is consumed with food and in moderation, it can be part of a healthy lifestyle.”

 

“A lot of research has focused on this diet and found it can significantly lower the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and cancer. While it’s not yet possible to pin down exactly which components of the diet are responsible for these health benefits, it’s likely to be the result of eating healthy fats from olive oil, oily fish and nuts alongside a high consumption of plant foods, which provide a wide range of essential nutrients and fibre” says nutrition scientist Benelam.

 

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Try this:

“The mediterranean region doesn’t begin and end in western Europe – why not buy some cookbooks and experiment with North African, Lebanese and Turkish cuisine, too?” suggest Benelam.

 

What to watch out for…

 

  • “If you want to reap the rewards of this diet, pay careful attention to portion sizes, particularly for processed meats and puddings,” warns Benelam. “There are occasional foods – think occasionally this month, not occasionally this week or today!”
  • A traditional Mediterranean diet generally includes less wine than we might imagine. Stick to healthy drinking limits – that’s 2 to 3 units of alcohol a day for women, and 3 to 4 units daily for men. Just one 175ml glass of 15% ABV red wine has 2.4 units – the daily maximum for a woman.
  • Olive oil is a key part of this diet, but don’t go overboard. Even healthy oils provide about 100kcal per tablespoon, so drizzling lots over your meals can mean the calories tot up.

 

THE LOW-CARB DIET

 

Low-carbohydrate diets were first popularised in the 1970s by the book Dr. Atkins’ Diet Revolution. It came back into favour in the early 2000s, and is now enjoying a revival as New Atkins for a New You by Dr. Westman.

 

“There are various ways to approach a low-carb diet, but the common thread is the dramatic restriction on the amount of carbohydrates eaten,” says Benelam.

 

Grains, legumes, starchy vegetables and most fruits are cut back or excluded entirely. Instead, you fill up on non-starchy vegetables, meat (often including the fat), fish, eggs, full-fat dairy and nuts.

 

WHAT’S GOOD ABOUT IT ?

 

“People following this diet will be excluding sweet treats and fatty carbohydrate-based foods such as chips, pastries and fried snacks,” says Benelum. So far so good. “The high protein content of such diets is likely to keep people feeling fuller and, in the short term, high-protein diets seem to be effective for weight loss. But this difference isn’t maintained in the longer term,’ she warns. “Such diets also exclude a lot of foods that are important for a healthy, balanced diet.”

 

Try this

 

Choose lower-fat animal proteins, such as poultry and fish, rather than always opting for red meat. “Pick plant-based proteins, too,” suggests Benelam. “Low-carb diets can be meat heavy, but going for pulses, nuts and other protein-rich vegetarian options such as tofu, tempeh, seating or quinoa gives more variety. They’re often high in fibre and usually contain very little saturated fat.”

 

WHAT TO WATCH OUT FOR…

 

  • “Fans of low-carb or no-carb, high-fat eating refute the vast amount of scientific evidence around the heart-health dangers of consuming large amounts of saturated fat,” says Benelam.
  • There are good reasons to eat carbohydrate-rich foods, such as fibre-rich potatoes with skins and wholegrains, especially for bowel health.
  • This diet may be difficult to implement in a busy lifestyle and sustain long term as a lack of carbohydrates leaves our energy stores depleted, which causes us to feel tired and run down. Consuming so much meat can also prove expensive.

 

THE FAST DIET (5:2)

 

when the fast diet by dr. michael mosley came to the weight-loss scene in 2013, it was hailed as “the biggest diet revolution since aktins”.

 

Its premise is that by fasting for two days a week and eating normally for the other five, you can lose 1-2lb a week. The diet doesn’t involve a complete fast but restricts your intake on fasting days to 500 calories a day for women and 600 calories for men (you can consume your quota any way you like throughout the day). The science shows that drastically cutting calories in this way forces you to use energy stored in your liver before your body turns to fat burning. On the other five days you are allowed to eat what you like, but the scales will be the ultimate judge of whether you’re doing so to excess.

 

Michael Mosley lost 25% of his body fat in six weeks on the diet. Others have had similar successes.

 

WHAT’S GOOD ABOUT IT ?

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“You don’t have to exclude any food groups, although your choice is hugely limited on fasting days,” says Healthy Food Guide nutrition consultant Juliette Kellow. “It pays to choose the most nutritious foods – it makes no senses to squander your calorie allowance on a 450kcal muffin or portion of chips.”

 

On its success, nutritionist Amanda Ursell says: “I have witnessed the diet working for certain people, mostly men. It seems to work by virtue of being a simple set of rules that can be applied and followed in the long term. I like the fact that it helps people to understand and appreciate how much their previous eating habits were out of kilter.”

 

try this

 

“Make a fasting day the time when you supercharge your nutrition,” says Kellow. “Stock up on veg and get into the habit of making healthy soups.”

 

WHAT TO WATCH OUT FOR…

 

  • It can result in a low intake of key nutrients, so taking a vitamin and mineral supplement while following this plan is a good idea.
  • It’s easy to fall back into unhealthy habits on non-fasting days and eat big just because you can. You still need to think healthy eating 90%, treats 10%.
  • Avoid fasting for two consecutive days as it can make you feel tired. Also, you won’t have the energy to do rigorous exercise on fasting days.
  • Relying on calorie-counted ready meals on fast days may seem like a good idea, but they’re often less satisfying than lean protein and vegetables, so you feel hungry.

 

WHICH DIET IS HEALTHIEST ?

 

Almost any weight-loss plan will work if you stick to the ‘rules’ and ideals of that diet.

 

“We lose weight on restrictive diets supply because we’ve reduced the calories we’re consuming, no matter which foods the calories come from,” explains Professor David Haslam, GP and chair of the National Obesity Forum. “Losing weight when we need to is usually associated with better health measures.”

 

But losing weight isn’t the hard part.

 

“Keeping it off is the issue,” says Haslam. “We often feel deprived on diets and can’t sustain them. To maintain our weight we need a sustainable way of eating.”

 

A recent study at Yale University reviewed the research on dietary patterns, including low-carb, low-fat, low-GI, Mediterranean, mixed and balanced, paleo and vegan. Which came top in the health stakes ? Well, there was no clear winner. However the evidence was consistent in that a diet based mainly on natural, unprocessed foods is best for everyone.

 

FIND YOUR STICKING POINT

 

The perfect diet is one that works for you personally; you can stick with it, you can afford it, you have time to prepare the food and it keeps you healthy.

 

“This won’t be a one-size-fits-all solution,” says Haslam. “But we do know the more natural foods and the fewer processed foods we eat, the better off we’ll be. People with the healthiest diets do not ‘diet’. They enjoy food. So if a diet divides foods into what you can and can’t eat, it’s probably not a forever way of eating.”

 

PS: I’d love to know if you found these tips helpful, a good one to look at would be especially the tips about the paleo diet, hit me up in the comment section or alternatively drop me a message if you would like to know about a few more. I answer every email, just ask.

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