AMERICANS SPEND OVER $60B ON THE DIET INDUSTRY EVERY YEAR.
PRODUCTS, PROGRAMS, MEMBERSHIPS, FOOD, APPOINTMENTS, PROCEDURES… IT ALL ADDS UP.
BUT DO ANY OF THEM ACTUALLY DO ANYTHING OR HAVE ANY MERIT TO STAND ON?
Here is the third installment of Diets Review, where I will present a quick summary as well as my personal and professional evaluation of popular (and obscure) diets that are out there today. You can also check out Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.
Note: These are not all weight loss diets, although you will find that this is often a common theme of many defined diets floating around out there.
1. Raw Till 4
Created by Australian YouTube star “Freelee the Banana Girl”, Raw Till 4 (RT4) involves eating only raw fruits and vegetables until 4:00 PM. After that time, you would eat a high-carbohydrate, low-fat cooked vegan dinner (no fruit). Added oils or salt is discouraged. No legumes are allowed, but you can have (gluten-free) pasta for dinner!
Why? Supposedly this way of eating will give you the digestive system, metabolism, and energy of a god. They claim you need to separate raw and cooked foods because “fruit ferments in your body if mixed with other foods and, if eaten at night, ferments while you sleep and releases toxins into the body”.
According to the unofficial website, this is not a “diet” – it’s a lifestyle – because you are not counting or restricting calories. However, it does state that women should strive for a minimum of 2500 calories and men for at least 3000 calories.
This is a highly unbalanced, and highly unscientific, diet. By following this diet, you might get 5-10% of your total calories from fat, 5-10% of your total calories from plant-based protein sources, and the remaining 80-90% of calories from carbohydrates.
The sample day is nauseating:
Breakfast – smoothie: 7 bananas, 2 navel oranges, 2 medjool dates, 750mL water (1000+ calories)
Lunch – one-ingredient “mono meal”: 5 large mangoes or 10 cups of frozen mango chunks (1000+ calories)
Snacks – until 4:00 PM: unlimited fresh fruit
Dinner – cooked: 2 pounds organic potatoes, several large lettuce leaves, low-salt sweet chili sauce
I believe that this overly complicates an already relatively complicated diet – a vegan diet – especially if you are trying to ensure adequate nutrition from whole foods rather than relying on supplements or processed, enriched foods. Supplementation would 100% be required on a diet like this.
Other potential pitfalls? MAJOR GI distress. If you have ever seen a 10,000 calorie fruit challenge on YouTube, or know of anyone with IBS, then you know that eating too much fruit can make you feel full, bloated, and can leave you running to the bathroom several times a day.
Freelee claims to have lost 40 pounds eating this way. Despite what Freelee may have you believe, you can gain weight eating fruit just as well as you can eating broccoli or donuts. Too many calories for your individual metabolic needs is still too many calories.
2. Low FODMAPs
FODMAPs stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides, and Polyols. Following a low-FODMAP diet has been prescribed to some who struggle with IBS (and sometimes IBD) in an attempt to relieve symptoms.
By limiting certain types of carbohydrates that may be poorly digested and absorbed, studies have shown to improve symptoms of IBS such as bloating, gas, and abdominal pain in some people.
Ideally, this is done with the assistance of a trained dietitian who can help you remove potential triggers and reintroduce foods to pinpoint individual food intolerances, sometimes more commonly known as an elimination diet. Depending on the severity of your case and the number of foods you are sensitive to, this can take months of supervised nutrition counseling.
Each individual can tolerate different levels of FODMAPs, so the foods you react to will probably be different than the foods than someone else reacts to, which is why guidance is so important.
There is also a lot of conflicting evidence about what foods exactly are considered to be high or low FODMAP foods and serving size can also play a role. What may be considered “high” today may be reclassified at a later date after more research is done. Monash University appears to be the best source that we have for ongoing FODMAP research and their mobile app comes highly rated among my circle of dietitians.
This diet is NOT meant for weight loss or to be followed for long periods of time. It is simply a tool to identify problem foods, which can later be avoided for longer periods of time or tested again at a later date.
This diet in no way cures IBS or IBD, but can help manage the associated symptoms.
3. Juicing/Juice Fasting
Sometimes referred to as a juice “cleanse”, juice fasting involves consuming only fresh juices from fruits and vegetables for a short period of time – a period of days to several weeks – while otherwise abstaining from food. Caloric restriction is usually not a component, although you may end up consuming fewer calories than you are used to because vegetables tend to be low in calories.
Proponents of juice fasting claim that is helps with weight loss, glowing skin, improved digestion, increased energy, cure disease, and detoxification.
Your body does not need help “detoxifying” – that’s what your organs are for.
Any weight loss is typically temporary.
You need to change your habits to lead to improved health that will last, not a 3 day overhaul after which you default back to poor habits.
Ideally, the majority of the juices consumed would be from vegetables, which are generally lower in sugar and calories than fruits. However, by juicing rather than, say, blending the whole fruit or vegetable like in a smoothie, you lose beneficial fiber and speed up the digestion process. This is a double whammy that could lead to higher blood sugars and increased hunger.
While incorporating juices from time to time in the diet may not be detrimental, following a juice fast can be downright dangerous. Juice fasts are notoriously low in essential nutrients, like protein, fiber, fat, and calories, so you should definitely consider supplementation. Electrolyte abnormalities can occur as well, which should not be taken lightly. High intensity exercise or activities should not be planned during the fasting period.
There are countless companies online that sell juice cleanses of varying length, or you can make your own juices at home if you own a juicer. Either way, a juice fast can be quite costly compared to what you are used to spending at the grocery store – especially if you purchase organic produce.
My general rule for clients is: Eat it, don’t drink it.
4. Ketogenic Diet
The ketogenic (keto) diet is a high-fat, very-low-carbohydrate diet used primarily (in medicine) to control seizures in children with difficult to control epilepsy. However, at some point the diet industry got its hands on it and now the largest followers of the keto diet do so for weight loss and disease management, especially in diabetics.
A classic ketogenic diet may be as high as 80-90% of total calories from fat and limit net carbohydrates to 20 grams per day. Unless medically necessary to control seizures, fat may be lowered somewhat to a standard 75% fat, 20% protein, 5% carbohydrates. There are a few other different ketogenic styles of eating, such as cyclical (5-6 keto days + 1-2 carb refeed days), targeted (carbs around workouts), and modified Atkins (slightly less fat, higher protein).
Total carbohydrates (g) – Dietary fiber (g) = Net carbs (g)
When carbohydrates, the preferred fuel of body cells, are lacking, the body can create ketone bodies from fat and utilize those for energy instead in a body state that is known as ketosis (not to be confused with ketoacidosis, a dangerous condition which may result in type 1 diabetics and rarely in type 2 diabetics). Hence, the keto diet.
Ketogenic diets have been found to have a protein-sparing effect, assuming you are otherwise consuming enough calories and protein. Insulin hormone levels also tend to be low, which makes sense since this is normally released when blood glucose levels are raised and your body will not have much glucose coming in via the diet. Some also report suppressed hunger and improved endurance – potentially beneficial for athletes like ultra-marathoners.
Breakfast: Fried eggs with sautéed spinach and mushrooms, bacon
Lunch: BLT lettuce wrap
Dinner: Baked salmon with mashed cauliflower
Snacks (as needed): Jerky, nuts, cubed cheese, sugar-free Jello, pork rinds
Constipation is a commonly reported side effect, due to lack of fiber or sufficient fluid. The transition can be quite hard on the body if those who go straight from a Standard American Diet to a ketogenic diet, as the body adjusts. “Keto flu” is notorious among the community. Supplementation is also recommended due to the low amounts of even lower-carbohydrate fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes allowed in the diet. If followed strictly, adaptation can occur within 3-4 weeks, after which time slightly higher intakes of protein and carbohydrates may be allowed.
Fun Fact: I was actually vegetarian for 6 years and vegan for 1 of those years
Vegetarian diets, or sometimes collectively referred to as plant-based diets, are meat-free diets. Lacto-ovo vegetarians choose to still consume dairy and eggs, whereas vegans refrain from all animal products and derived substances. This section will primarily focus on vegan diets rather than the wider categorization of vegetarian diets. An estimated 0.5-2% of the American population follows a vegan diet, although many who adopt a vegan diet end up transitioning back to a diet than includes meat, even occasionally.
What do I mean by animal-derived substances? Typically, vegans also avoid honey (from bees), red food coloring (may be made from insects), wearing leather or fur, and home and beauty products that have been tested on animals (not cruelty-free) in addition to avoiding meat, eggs, dairy, fish, seafood, and poultry. This is what truly makes veganism a philosophy and a lifestyle rather than simply a diet.
A properly planned vegan diet can be perfectly healthy. However, vegan diets can be low in essential nutrients that are much more plentiful in animal products, such as vitamin D, zinc, vitamin B12, omega-3 fatty acids, and calcium. Supplementation would not be an awful idea for anyone following a vegan diet, as long as the brand is reputable.
While some people do eat a vegan diet for weight loss, most vegans would tell you that they eat the way they do for ethical, environmental, and health reasons rather than for purely aesthetic purposes. There are vegan junk foods just as well as there are non-vegan junk foods. In fact, a lot of the junk foods you know and love may already be “accidentally” vegan – hello, Oreo!
That being said, it’s never been easier to adopt a more plant-based diet and I think that we could all do with more plants in our lives. There are oodles of companies who make it their mission to make vegan food choices widely available in even your local Walmart superstore.