Best & Worst Diets for Your Health

There are so many fad diets out there that it’s hard to know where to start. That’s where we come in! We’ve delved deep into four of the most popular diets to give you the lowdown. Find out the best and worst diets for healthy nutrition so that we can confront the fad once and for all.


Master Cleanse Diet


The Master Cleanse diet was all the rage in the noughties following endorsement by celebrities like Beyoncé. The controversial approach to detoxing and weight loss involves juice fasting and is famous for its homemade lemon-chili drink.


How to follow the Master Cleanse diet


Abstain from solid food, instead having only lemon juice drinks. Follow the diet for 10 to 40 days, three or four times per year. Prior to the diet, spend four days preparing your body by gradually replacing solid food with soups, smoothies and juices.


Start every day on the diet by drinking 1 litre of warm saltwater.


Have at least six glasses of the lemon drink daily.


Drink senna tea before bed or as desired, in addition to the lemon drinks.


After the diet, ease your body back into solid food over four days.


The Master Cleanse drink recipe


One glass:


- Juice of half a lemon


- 2 tablespoons maple syrup


- A pinch of cayenne pepper


- Around 250ml water


Pros


It’s easy.


It’s cheap.


Cons


It doesn’t provide many of the nutrients your body needs, making it inherently unhealthy.


Abstaining from food is stressful and can have unpleasant side effects.


Weight loss is short-term of that’s what your goal is with this diet


Verdict


Avoid this fad diet at all costs, as it is simply not a healthy way to eat or live your life.


Paleo Diet


Also known as the Stone Age or caveman diet, the Paleolithic diet is low-carb, focusing on foods that can be hunted or gathered. It is supposed to replicate what our ancestors ate during the Paleolithic era, thousands of years ago.


How to follow the Paleo diet


Foods you can eat:


Lean grass-fed, organic meats and offal, and game meats like venison and quail


Free-range eggs, fish and seafood


Non-starchy vegetables like onions, tomatoes, broccoli and asparagus


Nuts and seeds


Oils including olive oil, coconut oil and walnut oil


Foods you should avoid:


Processed and dairy products


Starchy vegetables like potatoes


Cereals and grains including wheat and rice


Legumes like beans and peas


Salt, sugar, honey and sweeteners


Soft drinks and fruit juice


Pros

There really aren’t many pros to following this diet.


Cons

It’s expensive – all that organic produce comes at a high price.


It’s not balanced and therefore not healthy in the long-term.


Verdict


The Paleo diet was developed under the assumption that our digestive systems remained unchanged while our diets changed a lot. Human genome research has subsequently found that our digestive systems in fact quickly evolved to meet these dietary changes. This evidence thus undermines the premise of the diet. The Paleo diet should not be adopted long-term.


Flexitarian Diet


You’re probably familiar with vegetarianism and veganism, whereby you don’t eat meat or don’t eat any produce derived from animals. If you can’t face quitting meat, or find it difficult getting varied nutrients, the flexitarian diet could be the solution. It doesn’t eliminate meat but prioritises vegetables, and although things like processed food are not favoured, no foods are forbidden.


How to follow the Flexitarian diet


Add five food groups to your diet:


Plant-based and non-meat proteins including beans, lentils, nuts, seeds and eggs


Fruits and vegetables


Potatoes and whole grains like brown rice, quinoa and oats


Dairy produce


Flavour enhancing ingredients such as vinegar, herbs, spices and nut-derived cooking oils


You start by cutting out meat for two days a week, advancing to five days a week.


Pros

It’s cost-effective as swapping meat for non-meat is cheaper.


You feel fuller on this diet than some others, so you won’t feel like you are starving yourself.


One scientific study indicates that switching to a diet comprising 70% plant-derived food can result in a 20% lower risk of fatal heart disease and stroke.*


Cons

While the Flexitarian diet favours nutrient-rich foods, because of its relaxed guidelines, it’s easy to miss out on iron and certain vitamins.


Many non-meat proteins are high in carbs, so this diet is unsuitable for diabetics, unless under guidance from registered dieticians.


Verdict


It is difficult to accurately assess the health benefits of the Flexitarian diet due to each person being able to implement it how they choose. But the additional fruits and vegetables in this diet undoubtedly contribute to improved health. If followed with care to include a full range of nutrients and combined with exercise, the Flexitarian diet comes close to the Mediterranean diet in terms of a healthy, sustainable diet.


Mediterranean Diet


The Mediterranean diet is the natural eating pattern of people residing in countries like Spain, Greece and Italy that border the Mediterranean Sea. Although specific cuisine varies from country to country, the diet is high in fruit, vegetables, cereals and seafood, and low in things like red meat and processed foods. The Mediterranean diet is renowned for its health benefits such as reduced weight gain and healthier hearts and brains.


How to follow the Mediterranean diet


Things you can consume regularly:


Fresh fruit and vegetables


Whole grains, beans, pulses, nuts and seeds


Oily fish and seafood


Poultry, eggs and dairy produce, in moderation


Bread and pasta


Olive oil


Water


Things you can have occasionally:


Red meats and sweets


Wine


Pros


It’s easy.


It’s balanced.


It’s sustainable.


It’s enjoyable


Cons


As with any diet, if it’s not what you do already, it’s going to require commitment to change your habits. However, the food variety and numerous health benefits mean that once you’ve made those changes, you’re likely to stick with them.


Verdict

Give it a go! The Mediterranean diet is healthy, nutrient rich, and delicious. You won’t feel like you’re missing out on tasty foods and there are no potential horrible side effects as with some of the fad diets above.


Top Tips for Eating Healthily and Happily


We’ve explored four of the most popular diets but there are plenty more to choose from. Everyone’s different, so here’s how to know if a diet is going to work for you and be healthy:


Decide whether you prefer a diet with very structured meal plans or a more flexible approach.


Select a diet that provides all your nutritional needs through a wide variety of foods, instead of needing supplements.


Discount a diet if it completely forbids any of your favourite foods, as it won’t work for you long-term.


Choose a diet that improves your eating habits rather than completely change them, as this makes it sustainable.


The best diets encourage physical activity in combination with healthy eating. If you feel you might need some help and encouragement with exercise, work with a personal trainer.


References


* Semi-veggie diet effectively lowers heart disease, stroke risk, American Heart Association, 2015


** Mediterranean diet and weight loss: meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials, K Esposito et al, 2011


Ruth Hayward

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