Popular Weight Loss Diets and a Natural Alternative
There are literally thousands of weight loss diets to choose from today. It can be challenging to know which are worth trying and which are just passing fads. Which diet will be best suited to you? In this article, we review 3 of the most popular diets and offer a safe and natural alternative which can be used to support almost any diet.
The 5:2 diet, also known as the 'Fast Diet' or 'Intermittent Fasting' involves eating what you want for five days in a week before sending your body into starvation mode by fasting for the other two (non-consecutive) days. A ‘normal’ calorific content is consumed on the five non-fast days (600 calories for men; 500 calories for women) whereas only 25% of these calories are consumed on the other two fast days. Proponents of this diet claim that intermittent fasting helps us to lose weight, live longer, reduce the risk of health conditions such as ischaemic & haemorrhagic strokes, heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Preliminary studies have indicated, that weight-loss is similar to that of calorie-controlled diets and also may have a reducing effect on biomarkers for type 2 diabetes and obesity-linked cancers. However, much more research is needed to reach a verdict on this. Studies on preventing a decline in cognitive function are limited to animals, so it is difficult to say whether any improvements can be applied to humans.
Followers of this diet have reported side effects, which may or may not be linked to the diet, such as irritability, anxiety, bad breath, difficulty sleeping and drowsiness. Naturally, being hungry on fasting days is going to affect your ability to concentrate and carry out physical tasks. It is best to have a talk with your GP before commencing the 5:2 diet since intermittent fasting is not safe for everyone. For instance, if you have a history of eating disorder, are diabetic or are pregnant, this is not for you. The diet is also unlikely to be safe for children or teenagers due to a lack of vital nutrients needed for growth and development.
The Dukan Diet involves eating high amounts of lean protein (as opposed to sources of protein that are high in saturated fat). Seitan, tofu and tempeh are permitted as vegetarian-friendly options for this protein. The general idea is that eating large amounts of protein will help you to feel fuller for longer periods. Oat bran, water and a 20-minute daily walk are also part of the plan. As with many other diets, the Dukan diet focuses on limiting carbohydrates so that your body begins to burn fat reserves as energy.
The four stages of the Dukan diet:
- ‘Attack Phase:’ During the first 1-10 days, you can consume all the lean protein you wish but must also take 1.5 tablespoonfuls of oat bran and 6 cups of water a day.
- ‘Cruise Phase:’ The phase can last a number of months. Here, every other day, you can also add as many starchy vegetables as you like to the lean protein plus an extra half tablespoon of oat bran.
- ‘Consolidation Phase:’ Vegetables are now allowed every day. In addition to this, one piece of fruit, one serving of hard cheese and 2 slices of whole-grain bread can be added to the diet. In addition to this, 1-2 portions of starchy food and 1-2 celebration meals (appetiser, starter, dessert and glass of wine) are permitted per week.
- Finally, the ‘Stablisation Phase,” allows you to eat whatever you wish for 6 days a week. For one day a week, you follow the rules of the ‘attack phase’ but instead with 3 tablespoons of oat bran and a 20-minute walk every day.
The Dukan Diet, like many restriction diets, is very prescriptive, which is helpful to some because it does not involve counting calories and weight loss is often relatively fast. Low fat and low salt foods are encouraged, which is generally a healthier way of eating. However, the first stage prohibits wholegrains, vegetables and fruit which means that vital nutrients may be lacking and vitamin supplementation necessary. Many people have found a number of side effects, particularly in the initial stage of the diet, including dry mouth, dizziness, bad breath, insomnia, tiredness, nausea and constipation. The Dukan diet lacks so much variety in the initial stages that people are more likely to have the motivation to continue.
The Paleo diet supposedly emulates that of our caveperson ancestors in the Palaeolithic era. The diet comprises of foods that can be hunted or gathered and avoids foods that are produced via agriculture or processing (for example cereals, pulses, starchy vegetables, salt, refined sugar, dairy, processed oils). Foods that are considered safe to eat on the paleo diet are meats (grass-fed and organic), seafood, nuts, eggs, seeds, spices, healthy oils (olive, flaxseed, walnut, coconut), vegetables and herbs. The basic premise is that the advances in farming and agriculture have outpaced our body’s capacity to adapt which, the diet’s proponents suggest, is why we now have such high levels of obesity, heart disease and diabetes.
Generally, the Paleo Diet is considered by many to be moderate in protein, low to moderate in carbohydrates and high in fat. It is popular because it is not necessary to count calories or watch portion size.
Obviously, lowering sodium, refined sugar and processed foods is going to help your overall health. On the other hand, eating large amounts of meat (often misunderstood as necessary) goes against most health advice (it can cause kidney damage, and increase the risk of osteoporosis.
There are also major issues of cutting out food groups such as dairy (a source of calcium and vitamin D) or pulses and whole grains (which provide nutrients that can help to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis). The Paleo diet involves careful preplanning for every meal, is costly (for instance, in terms of buying organic produce and lean meats) and lacks variety, so is hard to persevere with.
There is very little evidence for the effectiveness of the paleo diet, and mainly guess-work is used to imagine what our ancestors would have eaten. It is likely that diet would have varied from location to location and season to season, based on what was available. Protein from meat is likely to have been scarce and have formed a much lower proportion of the diet. The paleo diet is obviously a no-go area for vegetarians, as not only is eating meat and fish essential, but vital proteins that could be gained from beans or pulses are also on the barred list. It is likely that you will need to take extra supplements to remain healthy on this diet due to the gaps in nutrients available.