What’s that Diet? Part 1

Face tattoos. Chris Brown’s enduring popularity. A $700 dry cleaning bag dress. File them under “Things that make you go huh?”

While we can’t explain high-fashion plastic, we can take a look at something else that can often be confusing: trending diets. New ones seem to pop up all the time, to the point that knowing which one is which, let alone which might be worth trying, can be completely perplexing. Today’s blog article is Part 1 of a three-part series on trending diets. In Part 1, we’ll look at raw food and keto diets and intermittent fasting. Visit the Healthy Human blog again soon to learn about other diets such as intuitive eating, paleo, Whole30, the Mediterranean diet, DASH, and flexitarian eating.

Before we get started, though, a big caveat: We’re huge endorsers of healthy living and eating well, but we aren’t professional scientists or nutritionists. Always consult your doctor before starting a new diet or changing your lifestyle in any way. And whatever diet you do decide to explore, never underestimate the power of sleep and exercise!

What Is the Raw Food Diet?

The lowdown: Raw fruits, vegetables, and grains

“I thought I smelled animal products,” Michelle Williams’ Avery LeClaire hilariously announces when she sees Amy Schumer’s character eating lunch in I Feel Pretty. It’s safe to guess that the glamorous, lithe Avery eats a raw food diet. In that diet, you can set the oven mitts to rest. According to raw-food diet advocates, heating food destroys its nutrients and natural enzymes. As WebMD puts it, “In short: When you cook it, you kill it.”

Instead of heating foods, raw food enthusiasts consume raw fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and sprouted grains. The diet is frequently vegan, although some participants eat animal products such as unpasteurized dairy, raw eggs, and raw fish. Foods can get warm—they just can’t go above a heat threshold (typically around 115‒118℉).

Pretty much everyone can agree that fruits and vegetables are good for you, so in that sense, raw foodism is excellent. It’s also low in sodium, and it could help control blood pressure. Plus, raw foodies tend to consume fewer calories, so it could also help with weight loss. Raw foodies need to be careful about getting all the vitamins they need, however; potential deficits include calcium and vitamins B12 and D. Raw foodism also isn’t for the minimalist-of-effort type of dieter: “Raw food diets often require tedious preparation, such as blending foods to make smoothies and sauces, and dehydrating ingredients to make crackers and ‘cookies,’” reports US News & World Report Health.

What Is the Keto Diet?

The lowdown: Low carb, with the goal of using fat for energy

The goal of the keto diet is to get your body into a state of ketosis, during which the body uses fat as a fuel source instead of carbs. After a few days of following a keto diet regimen, the body, low on carbs for energy, instead starts making ketones, organic compounds that are used as fuel. Healthline reports that “when this happens, your body becomes incredibly efficient at burning fat for energy. It also turns fat into ketones in the liver, which can supply energy for the brain.” Healthline also notes that keto diets “can cause massive reductions in blood sugar and insulin levels.”

The food focus of the keto diet is fat. The general formula, which varies depending on the person, is 60‒75% of calories from fat, 15‒30% from protein, and 5‒10% from carbs. According to Everyday Health, with guidance from Kristen Mancinelli, RD, that means liberal consumption of oils and fats like olive oil, butter, and heavy cream; proteins like grass-fed beef, fatty fish, and dark-meat chicken; fruits and veggies such as avocado; and nuts like walnuts and almonds. What not to eat: margarine, potatoes, corn, sweetened nonfat yogurt, honey, fruit juice, and more. (Please see the Everyday Health article for a longer list of do’s and don’ts.) The main foods to avoid are anything high carb, so you won’t be chowing down on pasta and bread.

As with most diets, the keto diet has its fans and its detractors. Evidence does suggest that it helps with short-term weight loss, although it’s too soon to tell if it provides longer-term weight loss. US News & World Report Health ranks it very low: #39 in Best Diets Overall. That’s a tie for last place with the Dukan Diet. Their reasoning? “With its combination of unusually high fat plus remarkably low carb content, experts had enough reservations to place the Keto diet way down in this category. Experts expressed particular concern for people with liver or kidney conditions, who should avoid it altogether. The jury is still out whether Keto offers more potential health risks or benefits for people with heart conditions or diabetes.”

What Is Intermittent Fasting?

The lowdown: It’s not what you eat but when that matters.

A recent study from the National Institute on Aging, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Louisiana pointed to the strong potential of fasting. The study, conducted on mice, found that increased time between meals led to healthier, longer-living mice, compared to those that ate more frequently. “We think what’s going on is when you stop eating for X-number of hours, your metabolism goes into standby mode,” Dr. Rafael de Cabo, the study’s lead author, told USA Today. “Your body fixes and removes all the garbage during this time….When the next feeding comes, you are better prepared for the energy you’re about to consume.”

Though intermittent fasting routines vary widely, IF might entail 24-hour fasts, the 16:8 methodonly eating during an eight-hour period, such as between 1 and 9pm—or the 5:2 method of eating normally five days a week, and then significantly restricting calorie intake the other two. The actual food regimen isn’t specified, but a well-balanced diet is typically advocated.

Here’s how Dr. Deborah Wexler, the director of the Massachusetts General Hospital Diabetes Center, summed it up: “There is evidence to suggest that the circadian rhythm fasting approach, where meals are restricted to an eight to 10-hour period of the daytime, is effective,” although she recommends that individuals “use an eating approach that works for them and is sustainable to them.”