Popular diets are nearly as en vogue as the latest fashion trends. Like couture, it seems as though every season there’s a fashionable new way of eating people are pining over. If your head is spinning quicker than a model’s catwalk turn, don’t fret; we’ve spoken with an expert and are here to guide you down the diet runway.
Imagine Carolyn O’Neil, MS, RD, as the Anna Wintour of nutrition. She’s an award-winning author and journalist with nearly 20 years of travel and food reporting for CNN on her resume. Add that to her years of nutrition experience, and it’s safe to say Carolyn knows her stuff. We spoke with this Atlanta-based expert about the most popular diets right now to find out what’s legit and what’s hype in order to help you decide which option may be right for you.
Which Diet is Right For You?
We’re kicking off our list with one of Carolyn’s favorite diets, the DASH diet. “I think one of the healthiest ways to eat, now and forever, is what they call the DASH diet,” she says. A lifelong approach to eating, DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, also known as high blood pressure. DASH proponents encourage participants to eat a lot of vegetables and fruits while consuming a moderate amount of whole grains, fish, poultry and nuts. This diet also emphasizes lower sodium intake with only 2,300 milligrams of sodium being consumed per day. Easy food swaps help make DASH a lifestyle change and not simply a fad. Order brown rice instead of white rice for your burrito bowl; choose whole-wheat pasta for at-home Italian recipes, and load up on vegetables instead of protein when ordering from your favorite Chinese take-out spot. Whatever your swaps are, Carolyn encourages DASH-ers to keep things fresh. “You don’t have to eat brown rice all the time, but maybe it’s a brown rice/white rice blend. Maybe it’s not 100% quinoa, which can be expensive and also a little tiring. [Instead] it’s a quinoa rice blend, so you’re getting those whole grains.”
Perhaps the most trendy diet on our list is keto, also known as the ketogenic diet. Keto is best described as a way of eating that emphasizes high healthy fats, moderate lean proteins and low carbohydrates. With this diet, “you’re essentially putting yourself into ketosis,” says Carolyn. “Ketosis means your body is burning fat to stay alive because you’re tricking your body by reducing the carbs.” Ketosis is a natural, fat-burning, ketone-producing metabolic state. The body is typically fueled by glucose, but when carbs are limited, it turns to made-from-fat ketones instead. While local bookshelves, Instagram feeds and Pinterest boards might be filled with keto-inspired messaging, this type of diet is not necessarily newfangled. Instead, you might recognize it as one of the most popular fad diets ever: “I think one of the original famous ketogenic diets was the Atkins diet,” says Carolyn.
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A little more than a decade old, the Nordic diet was created in 2004 as a way to not necessarily lose weight but develop healthy eating habits. The diet is based on the traditional way of eating by Nordic people, or those who live in Denmark, Finland, Greenland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden. The principles are easy enough to remember and include focusing on fatty fish like salmon and herring, complex carbs like nuts and seeds, and organic fruits and vegetables like berries and beets. Beyond the health benefits, if you’re someone who cares about the environment as well as waste, you might also be intrigued by the Nordic diet because it tends to be environmentally friendly, too. The diet is largely plant-based and also encourages dieters to eat at home rather than in restaurants.
Paleolithic (“paleo”) dieting is the concept of cutting modern, processed foods that are riddled with sugar and fat, which, according to Carolyn, is something we should be doing anyway. “Added sugar is in so many things. It’s like sunshine. Too much sunshine will give you skin cancer, but we need sunshine for good health. Sugar, like the sun, can be overdone,” she says. Paleo is often characterized by high protein and has been nicknamed “the caveman diet” because proponents focus on foods presumed to have been eaten by our hunter-gatherer ancestors. Foods like lean proteins, leafy greens, seeds and nuts are all prevalent in paleo, as is the absence of highly processed foods, grains, legumes and refined sugar. However, regardless of if you’re a practicing Paleo-er, sugars, in general, should be avoided.
Elimination diets, like Whole 30, are another one of the most trendy diets making waves at wine nights and book clubs. Co-founded by a certified sports nutritionist, author and blogger, Melissa Hartwig, Whole 30 is arguably the king of all elimination diets. The premise is to take 30 days to reset your gut health by eliminating sugar, grains, legumes and treats as these foods are known to be inflammatory in nature. Through your Whole 30 experience, you should be able to pinpoint any foods that trigger inflammation, discomfort or reactions. So what do you eat? Moderate portions of protein, a lot of vegetables, some fruit, and healthy fats. However, Carolyn cautions downsides to Whole 30 too. “It’s so limited in so many categories and very expensive. It calls for oils like avocado oil, which costs so much money.” However, she does say the diet is doing some good for our way of thinking. “The most important thing we’re moving towards is avoiding processed foods and defining what those foods are.”
Before diving into one of the above trends, be sure you’ve considered your personal weight loss goals as well as your current health. Carolyn emphasizes this very point: “I think that we are in a very fascinating time where people are inspired to make changes, but ‘healthy’ means so many different things, [so] that’s where we have to begin. What are the goals when you’re changing your diet? These are the big questions.”
Thanks to Carolyn O’Neil for sharing her expertise with us! To learn more about Carolyn, visit her website at www.carolynoneil.com.