A nutritionist reviews 2020s best and worst diets
2020 has been the year of many weird and wonderful events; from having to greet people with your elbow, to being told not to do that, to being told to never leave your house and then subsequently being told that you now can leave the house but only to visit people within some kind of imaginary bubble that you can include a randomly chosen amount of people in.
Whilst the world itself has become a stranger place this year, the nutrition landscape never ceases to amaze with its latest instalments of fad diets or the promise of a wonder pill.
Whilst the absolute best diet is the one which meets all your needs and is specific to you, we're going to cover the most popular dieting strategies of 2020 and give an honest review of why you may, or may not, want to consider giving them a go!
The "worst" diets of 2020
Whilst saying something is the "worst" is being a bit facetious (as virtually all diets tend to lead to an overhaul of all health behaviours), what we actually mean is that these diets, even if they're not focused around weight loss, air on the side of being highly restrictive and possibly detrimental to long term body and food relationships.
Most will be unsustainable in the long term too and have very little thought behind the continually changing demands of weight change / promoting health.
The Carnivore Diet
The Carnivore Diet is a restrictive diet that only includes white and red meat, fish, and other animal foods like eggs and certain dairy products. It excludes all other foods, including fruit, vegetables, legumes, grains, nuts, and seeds.
The creator, Shawn Baker, claims that it will alleviate mood issues, improve blood sugar regulation as well as aiding you in weight loss and weight management.
Whilst a higher protein diet such as this will be beneficial for weight management and blood sugar regulation, the highly restrictive principles of this approach make it a major "no no".
It's terrible on many levels, but we needn't go any further than to say any diet that actively promotes the restriction of fruits and vegetables is a diet that deserves to be dumped.
The raw food Diet
The raw food diet involves eating mainly unprocessed whole, plant-based, and preferably organic foods. Some followers of the diet will even include non plant-based foods, such as eggs and dairy products and consume them raw as well.
Proponents of this diet believe that the cooking process destroys the nutrient content of the food as well as the enzymes which are crucial for digestion.
So, why is this in the "worse" diets' of 2020 category? Well, the theory behind the diet is factually incorrect and entirely dependant on the cooking process. Yes, some nutrients may be lost if you cook a certain food in a certain way, but cooking generally enhances the bioavailability of nutrients so we can actually benefit from them.
But what about the enzymes? Well, researchers argue that the enzymes present in food are more for the benefit of the given source, not necessarily to help us digest said food (common sense would question what living organism is going to produce something that helps other things eat it?)
Additionally, we produce adequate amounts of enzymes to break down foodstuffs and this is likely regulated by our body in response to what we're eating. There appears to be virtually no impact of the cooking process on our body's ability to breakdown and digest foodstuffs adequately.
I'm sure you've all seen the testing companies sprouting all across the social media landscape that are using DNA testing kits to provide you with the "perfect" diet in accordance to your genes.
Whilst more work certainly needs to be done in this area before we can definitively say these gene-based diets are relatively ineffective, in the same sense, more work needs to be done before we can validate using them.
The relative unimportance of genes in relation to how we respond to food is evident given the preliminary results of the PREDICT study, which is looking at 700 identical twins along with 400 non-twins. It evaluated how each individual responded to various kinds of food, in particular focusing on changes in blood sugars and fats.
Results from the study confirm what we've already observed: Different people respond very differently to the same diet.
There is no one dietary approach that's going to work best for everyone. If these differences are genetically driven, then we would expect the identical twins to respond similarly. But they didn't.
Other factors like sleep and exercise habits, as well as your gut microbiome, appear to be much more significant in your individual response to diet. Not a terrible dietary approach, but one that's maybe overestimating its usefulness.
The alkaline diet proposes that a diet lower in acid-forming foods and higher in alkaline foods can better balance our body's PH levels and create an environment more conducive to optimal health.
This diet really misses the mark with its theory and shows a clear misunderstanding of physiology.
Firstly, if our blood PH levels were skewed, we'd be very, very unwell (and by unwell, I mean dead).
Secondly, we need varying PH levels across our body to serve various functions (our stomach has a more acidic environment to aid in the breakdown of foods for example).
Thirdly, the body regulates it's PH very effectively, even in response to food.
A diet that sounds great in principle but simply is not backed by any scientific basis; you don't need to follow an "alkaline" diet to justify eating more fruit and veggies.
The Whole30 is not a diet, a weight loss plan or quick fix - it's designed to "change your life," the founders say, by eliminating cravings, rebalancing hormones, curing digestive issues, resolve chronic disease and boosting energy and immune function *aggressively rolls eyes*.
What is the actual diet? 30 days of absolutely no sugar, alcohol, grains, dairy and legumes.
By day 31, by some miracle, all your ailments are cured. I'm not sure why it only seems to happen exactly after 30 days but thankfully neither are the creators nor can you find anything to back this up scientifically.
Short term, highly restrictive and packed with mumbo jumbo nonsense. It's a no from me.
The Dukan Diet
Speaking of highly restrictive diets, we come to the last of our "worst" category; the Dukan diet. A four phased approach to weight loss (a la Avengers but nowhere near as interesting or well planned), it essentially revolves around; Really starving yourself, slightly less starving yourself, a little more food but still starving and then a final phase of "well it's up to you now".
The initial stage of the diet cut out virtually everything bar lean protein; no fruits, veggies, legumes, grains, dairy etc. Oh, and 1 ½ tablespoons of oat bran (as a treat)
The second stage of the diet reintroduces a small amount of non-starchy veggies every other day and spoils you rotten with a whopping 2 tablespoons of oat bran.
The third stage is unlimited protein and veggies (so apparently calories don't matter anymore), some carbs and fats and, you guessed it, 2 ½ tablespoons of oat bran
And the final "do whatever you want phase" is loosely based on the previous phase except you get 3 tablespoons of oat bran.
Yes, you'll lose weight quite rapidly, but you'll also likely lose your sanity and develop a very poor relationship with food and self thanks to Dr Dukan's highly restrictive dietary advice.
The "Best" Diets of 2020
May be beating the dead horse by saying this again, but there are is no one "best" diet for everyone; each person's best diet is one specifically tailored to their own, goals, situation, lifestyle and preferences.
However, there are some dietary principles/ strategies that the majority of people would incur a significant amount of health benefits from following.
The Mediterranean Diet
A.k.a the G.O.A.T; the research world's favourite diet by far and one that holds many merits due to it's promotion of healthy eating behaviours that are mainly non-restrictive and entirely sustainable (both from a health perspective and arguably when we consider sustainability from a food production and environmental perspective too).
In general, the Mediterranean diet is high in vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, beans, cereals, grains, fish, and unsaturated fats such as olive oil. It usually includes a low intake of meat and dairy foods.
The benefits of the mediterranean diet are extensive and include;
Reduced risk of all-cause mortality
Reduced risk of cardiovascular disease
Reduced incidence of cancers
Reduced risk of neurodegenerative diseases
Reduced risk of obesity and improved weight management comparative to Westernized diets
Long story short; if you're going to follow any diet that isn't custom made, this would be the one recommended.
The flexitarian diet i.e. common sense is an approach to dieting which encourages mostly plant-based foods while allowing meat and other animal products in moderation. Essentially, it is a more flexible version of vegetarianism or veganism.
In a nutshell, this diet is a promotion of a plant centric diet, focused around health and sustainability, which still includes meat if the individual wishes to have it. Another "thumbs up" from us!
Studies have found benefits for body weight, improved markers of metabolic health, blood pressure, and reduced risk of type 2 diabetes. This approach may also have a role to play in the treatment of inflammatory bowel diseases, such as Crohn's disease.
The DASH (dietary approaches to stop hypertension) diet has a more specific health focus than the previously mentioned diets.
The aim of this diet is to help lower blood pressure in those who may have higher levels than desired and or are unconducive to optimal health.
The DASH diet is low in salt and rich in fruits, vegetable, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and lean protein.
Does it work? Hell yeah it does. The DASH diet has been well studied in many clinical trials, and most of them have been associated with lowering blood pressure. Further, there is evidence to show that the DASH diet also lowers the risk of adverse cardiac events, stroke, type 2 diabetes, obesity and even some cancers.
As opposed to most other weight management focused diets, the volumetrics diet is all about eating as much as you can (whilst still losing weight / managing your weight); the foods you're eating however are "calorie efficient" i.e. providing a lot of volume for the number of calories.
Whilst the diet itself isn't necessarily perfect in isolation, it may be a helpful "add on" to another approach for those who do struggle with hunger / satiety. Studies have already linked foods which are lower in calorie density to improve weight loss outcomes, so certainly one to consider!
Another year, another round of "good" and "bad" approaches to add to the dietary landscape. Whilst some are certainly worth steering well clear of, there are others which deserve serious consideration for trialling.
The "best" diet will always be that which is tailored specifically to you, but any of those we mentioned in a positive light will be worth trialling, especially if you're just looking for somewhere simple to start.
When your drawing up your goals for the New Year and may be looking to inject a bit of life back into your dietary approach again, why not trial a Mediterranean or Flexitarian approach? In fact, why not just take elements from all the "good" diets and try and make a "perfect" diet just for you!
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