What’s that Diet? Part 3
There are so many diets on the market, it can be hard to know which is which. In this three-part blog series, we’re exploring some of the most popular trending diets. Check out Part 1 to learn more about the keto and raw food diets and intermittent fasting, and Part 2 to read about the DASH, Mediterranean, and flexitarian diets. Today we’re looking at three diets that have been getting a lot of attention in recent years: the paleo diet, Volumetrics, and Whole30.
Before we get started, a quick 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 Paleo Diet?
The lowdown: Eat like the old days … the really old days.
The paleo diet, aka the caveman diet, is rooted in the idea that we should eat like our ancestors from the Paleolithic era (~2.5 million to 12,000 years ago), before foods were farmed and long before they were processed. Proponents of paleo say that the human body isn’t genetically built for the food we put in it in the modern era. Dairy, legumes, refined sugar, grains: hunter-gatherers didn’t eat any of those things, so, the thinking goes, we shouldn’t either. Instead, paleo dieters eat meat, fish, fruits, and vegetables. Eggs, nuts, seeds, and oils such as olive oil are okay; processed food, potatoes, and refined vegetable oils aren’t.
The paleo diet may be the epitome of a trending diet, to the point that it was the subject of a 2014 New Yorker article with the title “Stone Soup: How the Paleolithic Life Style Got Trendy.” Where it’s less popular, it seems, is among some experts, according to US News & World Report Health: “Slapping the diet with multiple low scores, the experts couldn’t accept that entire food groups, like dairy and grains, are excluded, making it hard for dieters to get all the nutrients they need. It’s one of the few diets that experts actually considered somewhat unsafe and only somewhat complete nutritionally.” In its ranking of Best Diets Overall, US News & World Report places paleo in 32nd place.
WebMD does note studies on certain aspects of the paleo diet that “have found that a diet rich in lean protein and plant-based foods can make you feel fuller, control blood sugar levels, and help you lose weight.” As with any diet, consult your doctor if you’re interested in pursuing the paleo diet, and always be mindful of getting a full array of nutrients to keep your body healthy.
What Is Volumetrics?
The lowdown: Eat low-density foods.
Higher on the US News & World Report Health list is Volumetrics (ranked #5), a diet created by Dr. Barbara Rolls, a professor and chair of nutritional sciences at Penn State. As the name implies, volumetrics focuses on the volume of what you eat. Foods vary widely in density within any given amount: High-density foods have a lot of calories per weight, whereas low-density foods have fewer. Eating low-density foods lets you still eat plenty, but because you’re consuming fewer calories, you may lose weight.
The foods that fall into the low- vs. high-density categories won’t surprise you. They’re arranged into four categories, ranging from low to high:
- Category 1 includes nonstarchy vegetables and fruits, and broth-based soups.
- Category 2 includes whole grains, starchy fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, and low-fat dairy.
- Category 3 includes higher-fat meats, bread, and cheeses.
- Category 4 includes fried foods, nuts, and fats.
When you’re following Volumetrics, you eat three meals, two snacks, and a dessert each day, with a focus on the first two categories and minimal consumption of Category 4.
In answer to the question “Does it work?” WebMD puts it simply: “Absolutely. The advice boils down to a nutritious and sensible diet that any nutritionist would recommend: Cut calories and unhealthy fat, with lots of high-fiber vegetables and fruits.” WebMD further explains, “This plan is more of a lifestyle change that will help you make wiser food choices, which will lead to sustainable and long-term weight loss.”
What Is Whole30?
The lowdown: 30 days of restricting what you eat.
Whole30 dates to 2009, when co-founder Melissa Hartwig, a certified sports nutritionist, wrote about her recent 30-day diet experiment. The premise of Whole30 is that for 30 days, according to the official website, you “eliminate the most common craving-inducing, blood sugar disrupting, gut-damaging, inflammatory food groups” from your eating regimen. “Let your body heal and recover from whatever effects those foods may be causing. Push the reset button with your health, habits, and relationship with food, and the downstream physical and psychological effects of the food choices you’ve been making.”
What that means, in practice, is that over the course of 30 days, you eat foods such as vegetables, meat and seafood (in moderation), some fruit, and natural fats. Look for foods with few ingredients, or even no ingredients because the food hasn’t been processed. Don’t eat legumes, grains, dairy, baked goods, or foods with added sugar, MSG, or sulfites. Don’t drink any alcohol. And don’t step on a scale during those 30 days. A more complete list of do’s and don’ts is available here; we recommend reading through all the program rules carefully if you’re considering Whole30.
US News & World Report reports that in a survey of 1,600 Whole30 dieters conducted by the company, 96% of participants had lost weight. However, Whole30 didn’t place highly in the US News & World Report Best Diet Overall rankings. It’s close to the end of the list at #37; “Whole30 lacks scientific support and is severely restrictive, according to the experts. Its short-term approach and long-term promises didn’t win over the panelists.” Those who love Whole30 really love it, but whether it’s right for you depends on your needs, goals, preferences, research, and doctor’s advice.