What’s on Your Plate: Separating the Healthy Diets From the Fad Ones

By Brian Brecker 
Elm Staff Writer

Diets are fickle. Whenever the new year comes around and people newly fattened by the holiday season decide to drop the pounds they try dieting for several weeks, perhaps a month or two, but eventually relapse into older habitual eating patterns. It seems that no one is able to maintain one of these slimming eating customs for long. For many, being without their favorite foods can be like being separated from a loved one. It only makes sense that some people will be partial to diets that tell them they can eat what they want regardless of their actual efficacy. Fake headlines speak about the glory of the newest trend diet to the abhorrence of nutritionists everywhere.

One of these dubious diets is one you may have heard of, the paleo diet. What you might not know is that paleo stands for Paleolithic, i.e. the era of human history pre-civilization. It is an attempt to take the human palette back to the cavemen, as it is believed that is a more natural way to live. This means taking out any dairy or grains from one’s diet as those were invented after the Paleolithic era. Thus, the paleo diet is mostly centered on heavy consumption of meat, vegetables, fruit, and roots. There are many problems with this. First, we are not evolutionarily what we were 10,000 years ago. Within that time, we have adapted to process lactose as our ancestors were lactose intolerant, some of us stragglers still exist. Second, as pointed out in an article by Scientific American, there is very little evidence that these early humans even had optimal diets to begin with. Hunter-gatherer diets were by necessity due to the lack of existing agriculture, or organized markets for food.

Another strange one is the Atkins diet, which stresses eating high fat and heavy protein foods against carbohydrates. I’m not quite sure where the recent public crusade against carbs has come from, because they provide a very necessary source of fiber for most diets. Low carb diets do better than low fat diets for weight loss, but eliminating carbs all-together may be bad for one’s body and digestion. The Atkins diet doesn’t make proper distinctions between fats that induce good cholesterol and those that make bad cholesterol. In other words, though you may work off a couple pounds from restricting carbohydrates, ingesting too much fatty foods could negatively affect heart health.

The low-fat diets, which are all the rage, are also scientifically dubious. Though the government has continually pushed the idea that high fat diets caused heart disease in the 1970s and 1980s, there is little evidence from the studies given that those with low fat diets and those on other diets had no difference in mortality. There is more evidence that trans fats and saturated fats cause negative health effects than regular fats. The concept that saturated fats and trans fats lead to weight gain is bunk. There is much more evidence that high sugar consumption leads to weight gain than fat intake. According to Healthcare Triage, the war against salt is also faulty. High salt intake can be dangerous for those with preconditions that would lead them to hypertension and high blood pressure. Medium-to-higher than normal salt intake for those without high blood pressure issues or hypertension does not necessarily cause high blood pressure in those without those conditions. Low salt intake also causes medical issues as the body needs sodium to function properly.

So most diets seem to be based off of faulty scientific evidence, what diet is best for weight loss? I think the best answer here is calorie restriction and balance. A healthy balance of fruits, vegetables, proteins, carbohydrates, and some sodium should provide all that is needed for a good diet. Counting calories and watching out for high-sugar foods is another good strategy towards weight loss.

Nutritionists also recommend avoiding heavily processed foods, meaning fresh produce is better for you than frozen produce. You need sugar to live and to energize your body, so it is smart to avoid sources that add sugar after the fact, meaning the best sources of sugar should be from fruits and raw juice. Most assuredly, do not drink non-diet sodas regularly. Any diet pitching a quick fix scheme is going to either going to not work, or only work temporarily. Many only ever get rid of water weight by giving you dehydrated foods leading inevitably back to weight gain.

If you already follow more politically or religiously motivated diets such as pescetarianism (author’s diet), vegetarianism, or veganism, I recommend protein sources lost from animal meat to be substituted with fish, eggs, nuts, soy milk, and tofu. Avoid vegan-meat substitutes or vegan cheeses. Not only are these things often unreasonably expensive, but are also highly processed, reducing their nutrient content.

The diet industry is big, complicated, and hardly interested in scientific accuracy, usually preferring profits. If you put your health first, I think the guidelines provided here are not only mostly backed up by facts, but more manageable than hardcore diet plans. Remember, the only reason to get healthy is because you want to. No one should feel pressured to enter into a dieting plan for weight loss due to societal body standards unless they want to. Being mildly overweight is in no way analogous health-wise to being obese, and one can lead a relatively healthy life being larger than average. The only reason to try and slim down and get healthy is if you want to.

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