Health Trend Report: The Skinny On Fad Diets

Health Insurance Online | July 12, 2013

From Forest Fires To Fad Diets:

Only you can prevent Forest Fires, said the famed Smokey the Bear starting in 1944.  It was a campaign with great intentions:  prevent forest fires from ever starting and destroying beautiful forest.  Although the campaign had nothing but good intentions, the message of preventing forest fires was criticized years later by wildfire experts for actually causing damage to forest ecosystems.  In many cases, fire can be healthy and necessary for forests to regenerate.

The view of the National Forest Service has changed dramatically in their approach to containing and preventing forest fires as the research in fire science continues to expand.  In its brief history, the National Forest Service has gone from a stance of complete prevention and repression of forest fires to one of appreciation and contained burning of natural fires; a total 180.  There is still a lot we don’t know about fire ecology, but the methods and strategies for fighting these fires are constantly changing.

What does a forest fire have to do with health trends?  More than you’d think.  We know a lot about the human body, yet there is still a lot we have to learn.  Trends and ideas have come and gone but we continue to evolve in the way we think about the food we consume.  The same way the National Forest Service is evolving in their fight against forest fires, humans are evolving in their fight against obesity and diet related illness.

 Keeping Up:

Celebrities, authors, and experts have always claimed to have the newest solution to the age old problem of losing unwanted weight.  Usually these diets are sprinkled with inviting adjectives like easy, simple, fun, painless, and statements about how little you will actually have to work: 15 minutes a day, 5 minutes a day, no work at all!  With so many diets and so many new and newer strategies, it can be almost impossible to keep track.

#1.  Gluten Free Diet

 Textbook:  Diet excluding foods that contain the protein complex known as gluten.

 Rise to Fame:  Popularity of a gluten free lifestyle came to be mainly due to the increase in the previously undiagnosed celiac disease.  In one study, the prevalence of celiac disease is estimated to be about four times as common as it was in the 1950’s.

Pro:  The benefits of going gluten free for non-diagnosed celiacs are negligible while the deficiencies linked to the diet can be harmful.  Clearly, if diagnosed with celiac disease, gluten free options are the only consideration when shopping or dining.  Gluten can make someone with celiac disease experience headache, fatigue and nausea as well as some unwanted digestive problems.  Avoiding gluten to avoid this pain is a good thing.

Con:  If not diagnosed with celiac disease, there are not a ton of health benefits to hang on a gluten free diet.  Obviously in moderation, bread, pasta, and even beer can be okay.  As a diet, going gluten free is found to be unnecessary and difficult as gluten is in practically everything that tastes good. While the number of gluten free options is increasing, many gluten free advocates might forego a meal if unable to obtain their go-to gluten free dish.  Others might miss the nutrients such as iron and fiber found in traditional breads which also contain gluten.

Alternative: If you’re feeling like jumping on the gluten bandwagon to lose weight, there will not be much variation by merely making the change except maybe an increase in the grocery bill.  Instead of going gluten free, try only eating slow burning carbohydrates.  These are the carbohydrates found in oatmeal (whole grains) beans, and vegetables.

#2: Paleo Diet:

 Rise to Fame:  Tracked on a line graph, this diet’s growth is closely related to the fast-paced extreme exercise movement known as CrossFit.  Although the germination of the Paleolithic diet can be traced back to 1975, this diet takes a retro approach to eating.  Designed to copy the dinner plate of a hunter gatherer, this diet consists of foods that can be hunted and fished.

Do:  Quality meat free of preservatives.  Eggs, fruit, nuts, seeds, vegetables, herbs and spices are also included in the mix.  Contradictory to the common cliché, paleo enthusiasts begin with the beginning in mind.  Where does the food come from?  How did it get from origin to plate?

Don’t:  Processed, high carbohydrates, dairy products, salt, processed oils.  Pretty much anything that wouldn’t have been hunted or gathered.

Evolution:  Commonly referred to as the cave-man diet, critics of this diet claim that it’s almost impossible to tell what the portion sizes or quantities pre-agricultural hunter-gatherers ate and at what frequencies.  Although the notion of eating like a cave-man sounds awesome, the energy levels required of a caveman are far from the white collar, 25 steps a day society we’ve come to know and love.

#3: Juicing:

 Rise to Fame:  Cue the infomercial!  Juicing extracts the juice from vegetables and fruit.  Take a garden, put it in liquid form and drink it down!  It’s that simple.  The rise in popularity is often credited to fad diets and a belief in juicing as a form of alternative medicine.  Food is medicine!

Pro:  If you hate fruits and vegetables, this is as good a way as any to force yourself to eat them.

Con:  Don’t use juicing as your only source of fruits and vegetables.  The skin and pulp are left behind when using a juicer and in many cases, those are the most nutrient filled parts!  Certainly a diet based solely on vegetable and fruit juice would leave your body deprived of many essentials like fats and fibers, but it is a healthy alternative to other juices and drinks high in sugar and preservatives.

#4.  Eat Clean Diet:

Rise to Fame:  What’s not to like?  Eating clean sounds plenty healthy and a lot of it is.  Eating clean revolves around eating whole foods that are produced in a sustainable way.  Organic products are popular and most of your diet can be found at stores like the Good Food Store and Whole Foods.

Do:  Produce, beans, whole grains, grass-fed meat, wild or sustainable farmed fish and any sustainable meat.  Like a database system or fueling a high performance vehicle, if you put good in, you’ll get good (energy and state of mind) out.  Unlike the Paleo diet, clean eaters can enjoy grains and small amounts of dairy.

Don’t:  If you put bad in, you’ll get bad (fatigue and laziness) out.  This diet excludes alcohol, fast food, preservatives, and severely limits dairy. This is a way to keep toxins permanently out of your body.

Alternatives:  While there is a formula to eating clean and the diet’s rules and regulations can really vary depending on whom you ask, the concept is simple and, well…clean.  You don’t have to carry around a checklist counting points, you don’t have to give up everything under the sun, and it doesn’t cost a whole lot of money to sustain.  If you’re looking to jump into the clean diet but want to dip your toes in first, try your local farmer’s market.  Visit your farmers market or join a CSA! 


#5.  Four Hour Body

 Rise to Fame:  Tim Ferriss went from a four hour work week to a four hour body.  Using life-hacks and bold claims such as losing 20 pounds of fat in 30 days (without exercise).  Author Ferriss uses himself as a guinea pig testing countless hypothesis and in some cases debunking the truths that have always been held.

Do: Cheat on your diet once a week in the best way possible: whatever the heck you want!  Eat the same meals over and over again with little to no variation.  Legumes, Vegetables, chicken, beef, fish, and egg whites.  Differences from Four Hour Body compared to clean and Paleo diet is that four hour body has strict rules about frequency of meals and highly limits variation from one meal to the next.  Four Hour Body, in a very Four Hour Work Week kind of way, is more focused on lifestyle as well.  For example, a mind has only so many decision points in a day.  If you eat the same thing everyday, that gives you a decision point to use somewhere else!  If you save time on food preparation (eating the same thing all the time) it gives you time to do other things you love and not spending it in the kitchen.

Don’t:  white bread, white rice, potatoes, and other white carbs.  Avoid fruit and dairy. And don’t forget to cheat once a week!

Results:  While the diet is still up for debate, the simplicity can be deceiving.  There are specific grocery lists, lean cooking methods, and expensive ingredients.  Like any diet with the removal of carbohydrates, energy levels become a concern.  Overall a fun read, and the four hour movement is catching wind.

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