Sustainability, Weight Loss & More
In addition to increasing physical activity and taking up routine exercise, one of the best ways to lose weight is by changing your diet. But the sheer number of available diet plans may make it difficult to get started especially when you are unsure which one is most suitable, sustainable and effective. Some diets aim to curb your appetite to reduce your food intake, while others suggest restricting your intake of calories and either carbs or fat. What’s more, many offer health benefits that go beyond weight loss.
Here are some of the most popular diet plans that claim to not only help you shed weight but also improve your overall health.
Intermittent fasting is a dietary strategy that cycles between periods of fasting and eating. Various forms exist including the 16/8 method which involves limiting your calorie intake to eight hours per day, and the 5:2 method which restricts your daily calorie intake to 500–600 calories twice per week.
How it works: Intermittent fasting restricts the time you are allowed to eat which is a simple way to reduce your calorie intake. This can lead to weight loss, unless you compensate by eating too much food during the allowed eating periods.
Weight loss: In a review of studies, intermittent fasting was shown to cause 3% – 8% weight loss over 3 – 24 weeks, which is a significantly greater percentage than other methods. The same review showed that this way of eating may reduce waist circumference which is a marker for harmful belly fat by 4% – 7%.
Other studies found that intermittent fasting can increase fat burning while preserving muscle mass which can improve metabolism.
Other benefits: Intermittent fasting has been linked to anti-aging effects, increased insulin sensitivity, improved brain health, reduced inflammation, and many other benefits.
Downsides: In general, intermittent fasting is safe for most healthy adults.
That said, those sensitive to drops in their blood sugar levels such as people with diabetes, low weight or an eating disorder as well as pregnant or breastfeeding women should talk to a health professional before starting intermittent fasting.
Plant-based diets may help you lose weight. Vegetarianism and veganism are the most popular versions, which restrict animal products for health, ethical and environmental reasons.
However, more flexible plant-based diets also exist such as the flexitarian diet which is a plant-based diet that allows eating animal products in moderation.
How it works: There are many types of vegetarianism but most involve eliminating all meat, poultry and fish. Some vegetarians may likewise avoid eggs and dairy.
The vegan diet takes it a step further by restricting all animal products as well as animal-derived products like dairy, gelatin, honey, whey, casein and albumin.
There are no clear-cut rules for the flexitarian diet as it’s a lifestyle change rather than a diet. It encourages eating mostly fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains but allows for protein and animal products in moderation making it a popular alternative. Many of the restricted food groups are high in calories so limiting them may aid weight loss.
Weight loss: Research shows that plant-based diets are effective for weight loss because they tend to be rich in fiber which can help you stay fuller for longer and low in high-calorie fat.
Other benefits: Plant-based diets have been linked to many other benefits such as a reduced risk of chronic conditions like heart disease, certain cancers and diabetes. They can also be more environmentally sustainable than meat-based diets.
Downsides: Though plant-based diets are healthy, they can restrict important nutrients that are typically found in animal products such as iron, vitamin B12, vitamin D, calcium, zinc, and omega-3 fatty acids.
A flexitarian approach or proper supplementation can help account for these nutrients.
Low-carb diets are among the most popular diets for weight loss. Examples include the Atkins diet, ketogenic (keto) diet and low-carb, high-fat (LCHF) diet. Some varieties reduce carbs more drastically than others. For instance, very-low-carb diets like the keto diet restrict this macronutrient to under 10% of total calories compared with 30% or less for other types.
How it works: Low-carb diets restrict your carb intake in favour of protein and fat. They are typically higher in protein than low-fat diets which is important as protein can help curb your appetite, raise your metabolism, and conserve muscle mass.
In very-low-carb diets like keto, your body begins using fatty acids rather than carbs for energy by converting them into ketones. This process is called ketosis.
Weight loss: Many studies indicate that low-carb diets can aid weight loss and may be more effective than conventional low-fat diets. What’s more, low-carb diets appear to be quite effective at burning harmful belly fat.
Other benefits: Research suggests that low-carb diets may reduce risk factors for heart disease including high cholesterol and blood pressure levels. They may also improve blood sugar and insulin levels in people with type 2 diabetes.
Downsides: In some cases, a low-carb diet may raise LDL (bad) cholesterol levels. Very-low-carb diets can also be difficult to follow and cause digestive upset in some people.
In very rare situations, following a very-low-carb diet may cause a condition known as ketoacidosis, a dangerous metabolic condition that can be fatal if left untreated.
The Paleo diet
The Paleo diet advocates eating the same foods that your hunter-gatherer ancestors allegedly ate. It’s based on the theory that modern diseases are linked to the Western diet as proponents believe that the human body hasn’t evolved to process legumes, grains and dairy.
How it works: The Paleo diet advocates eating whole foods, fruits, vegetables, lean meats, nuts and seeds. It restricts the consumption of processed foods, grains, sugar, and dairy though some less restrictive versions allow for some dairy products like cheese.
Weight loss: Numerous studies have shown that the Paleo diet can aid weight loss and reduce harmful belly fat. Research also suggests that the Paleo diet may be more filling than diets like the Mediterranean diet and low-fat diets. This may be due to its high protein content.
Other benefits: Following the Paleo diet may reduce several heart disease risk factors such as high blood pressure, cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
Downsides: Though the Paleo diet is healthy, it restricts several nutritious food groups including legumes, whole grains and dairy.
Like low-carb diets, low-fat diets have been popular for decades. In general, a low-fat diet involves restricting your fat intake to 30% of your daily calories. Some very- and ultra-low-fat diets aim to limit fat consumption to under 10% of calories.
How it works: Low-fat diets restrict fat intake because fat provides about twice the number of calories per gram compared with the other two macronutrients – protein and carbs. Ultra-low-fat diets contain fewer than 10% of calories from fat with approximately 80% of calories coming from carbs and 10% from protein. Ultra-low-fat diets are mainly plant-based and limit meat and animal products.
Weight loss: As low-fat diets restrict calorie intake, they can aid weight loss.
However, while low-fat diets appear to be as effective as low-carb diets for weight loss in controlled situations, low-carb diets seem to be more effective day today.
Other benefits: Low-fat diets have been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease and stroke. They may also reduce inflammation and improve markers of diabetes.
Downsides: Restricting fat too much can lead to health problems in the long term as fat plays a key role in hormone production, nutrient absorption and cell health. Moreover, very-low-fat diets have been linked to a higher risk of metabolic syndrome.