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Trendy diets seem appealing, promising quick weight-loss results and appealing benefits. But best-selling books and celebrity endorsements don’t focus on the potential negative side effects. Before jumping into any fad diets, be sure to research their actual benefits and possible dangers as some claims about diets tend to exaggerate their results.
Three fad diets, Keto, Paleo, and Intermittent Fasting all promise results for weight loss, and while their short-term benefits have been proven, their long-term dangers can often outweigh the positives. Speak with your general practitioner before starting any diet. What works for one person may not work for another.
The Ketogenic or “Keto” diet is based on an intake of foods that are high in fat and low in carbohydrates (sugars). This increased consumption of saturated fats, proteins, and leafy green vegetables causes the body to act as it would when fasting. To compensate, your metabolism breaks down fat into ketones, which serve as the main energy source for many cells in the body. Ketone is produced when the body is deprived of carbohydrates, requiring you to consume less than 20 to 50 grams of carbs per day for desired results.
Keto is recommended mostly for children with epilepsy, as limiting carbohydrates has been shown to help manage seizures. Research into its efficacy in treating some cancers and reducing blood sugar is currently being conducted but is non-conclusive. Modified keto plans are more commonly prescribed as the limitations of keto diets can be difficult to maintain. Sustainability is a big reason why keto diets are often not recommended. While those starting keto diets may notice relatively quick results, most see that weight return, gaining more than they lost in some cases.
Other possible risks associated with keto diets are nutrient deficiency, liver and kidney problems, constipation, fuzzy thinking, and mood swings. Since the liver and kidneys metabolize fat, keto diets can overwork these organs, leading to possible complications if remaining on keto for too long. Sugar from healthy carbohydrates is necessary for the brain the function normally, causing those on keto diets to possibly experience mood swings or difficulty concentrating.
The Paleolithic or “Paleo” diet, also known as the “cave-man diet”, focuses on foods available to humans 2.5 million years ago during the Paleolithic era. Many anthropologists believe that diet contributed to the neural expansion and digestive improvements humans experienced during this time. Because of this, some believe that returning to a stone-age diet can promote brain health and function. However, this diet was adopted out of necessity by paleolithic humans, and there is no guarantee that foods today carry the same nutritional benefits as their ancient counterparts.
Paleo diets are high in protein, potassium, antioxidants, and fiber, moderate in fat, low-moderate in carbohydrates, and low in sodium. Food intake is focused on fresh, non-processed lean meats, fish, fruits, and vegetables. Since the diet is based only on what was available at the time, whole grains, dairy, alcohol, coffee, refined vegetable oils, and processed foods are excluded.
Due to the focus on lean meats, and exclusion of carbohydrates and processed foods, people have experienced, decreased blood pressure, increased insulin sensitivity, improved cholesterol, and greater weight loss than similar diets.
While paleo has a broader variety of food options compared to other similar diets, some may find its complete exclusion of whole grains and dairy limiting and hard to maintain. With the reliance on fresh foods, time for shopping and preparation also has to be taken into consideration.
As with any diet, be sure to consult your primary care provider before to ensure it’s safe and effective for you. Some people on paleo diets experience vitamin deficiencies, since calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin B are largely found in excluded foods. High levels of consumption of red meat have been linked to a higher risk of heart disease and diabetes, and high saturated fat and protein intake increases the risk of kidney disease and certain cancers.
Unlike other trend diets, intermittent fasting isn’t about what you eat as much as when you eat it. Most intermittent fasting plans allow the intake of any type of food, as long as it’s consumed within your designated eating period.
The daily approach is the most common, restricting daily eating to one six-to-eight hour period per day, followed by fasting for the rest. Typically, this is broken up into the 16/8 method, fasting for 16 hours, then eating over a period of 8 hours. When recommended, this plan often excludes breakfast and restricts eating after dinner, though which meals are included in the 8 hours is up to the individual.
Another common fasting practice is the 5:2 approach. For 5 days of the week there are no restrictions on what kinds of foods can be eaten, the other 2 days are then limited to one 500-600 calorie meal per day. This is not a method recommended by dietitians, as it promotes binging and depriving your body of nutrients.
There are similar concerns with the long-term fasting diet plans which promote going without eating for anywhere from 24 to 72 hours at a time. Dietitians strongly urge against this method as it’s not shown to have conclusive health benefits. Those who try this method and successfully lose weight often seen that weight return, since fasting can trick the body into thinking it’s starving and will store weight as a result.
While long term fasting and binging are not recommended, the 16/8 method has its benefits. Intermittent fasting can boost cells’ ability to cope with stress, help with weight loss, improve insulin sensitivity, verbal memory, and blood pressure, and promote ketone production. Those focused on physical performance have found that intermittent fasting helps with weight loss while still maintaining muscle mass.
However, most professionals haven’t fully concluded whether intermittent fasting or a side-effect of the diet is the true source of the benefits. Intermittent fasting is associated with a lower caloric intake and promotes not eating too close to sleep. Medical professionals agree that lowering the number of calories eaten may be more beneficial than focusing on when those calories are consumed.
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