Which Diet is Best?: Exploring Fad Diets and a Case for Going Stress-Free

I hope all of you doing the Clean Eating Challenge are enjoying the benefits of clean food in your lives! It has been a very eye-opening month for me as well. I have been reading, listening, and researching different nutrition findings, as my interest has definitely been piqued from a few questions I’ve been receiving. First of all, I just want to remind everyone that I am not a nutrition expert, dietician, nutritionist, and have not received any degrees specific to diet. Rather, my information comes from my experience as an athlete, books, research, and podcasts that other experts have put out there.

I would also like to remind you that when you embark on your own nutrition information quests to look at the source. There are some studies and dieticians that are actually paid by companies (like big grain companies) to endorse certain food groups (aka corn). Also, make sure the diet is nutritional and doesn’t promise fast weight loss, as this is not healthy for your body. There is definitely a lot of misinformation out there and gray areas that realistically do not have definitive findings yet. And there is also the frustrating outcome that certain foods “affect different people differently”.

With all of this said, I’m going to briefly discuss the Paleo/Whole30 programs, Keto, the Mediterranean diet, and finally, discuss a sugar-free diet (my personal challenge for the month of February). But the overall message I want you to take from this is: find a diet that includes healthy foods that nourish your body and help it run efficiently… there isn’t a one-size fits all, perfect diet that exists. The most important things are that it’s full of foods that you enjoy, it’s good for your body’s overall health, and it feels right for you as an individual. (And, yes!- I have a few clean recipes and on-the-go snack options included at the end as well!)

Paleo/Whole30: These diets are very similar, as the Whole30 and Paleo both eliminate grains, dairy, alcohol, legumes, and sugar. The difference between the two is that Paleo allows natural sweeteners such as maple syrup and honey and also allows recipes that imitate foods that are typically used with non-compliant ingredients (aka grain-free pancakes, cookies, pizza crusts, etc). The Whole30 is more based on trying to improve your relationship with food by eliminating foods that normally get you off track and cause system-wide inflammation. The Whole30 is meant to be more of a reset that is done for 30 days, and then foods are gradually added back in to see how your body reacts to them. The Paleo diet is a lifestyle that is meant to be done long-term.

Pros/Cons of the Whole30: The Whole30 is designed to improve your relationship with food and reduce system-wide inflammation. It has a ton of testimonials as to the improvement of disease, weight loss, and better energy. I personally loved the diet and did a Whole90. It is a great diet to help you be more conscious of what you eat and find recipes that are clean.

The cons? The diet does have a few gray areas that don’t make a lot of sense. First of all, grains are eliminated because of an element they contain that causes inflammation. This is a good concept; however, the same element is present in nuts, which are encouraged on the diet. Also, seeds such as chia seeds are allowed on the diet and these are technically a grain. So, a few discrepancies exist. The lack of dairy also leaves the participants at risk of developing a calcium deficiency if they are not careful to include large amounts of calcium-rich foods each day. Additionally, I found my workouts to suffer when I was on the diet to an extent, as whole grains are one of the best sources of energy you can have when it comes to exercise. So, if you are a serious competitor or exercise enthusiast, this is something to consider.

Pros/Cons of Paleo: The Paleo does provide similar benefits to the Whole30 in that you have to clean up your diet and find clean recipes. You also are likely to reduce system-wide inflammation due mostly to eliminating sugar. The Paleo is a lifestyle, so it is good that it allows a greater range of options in grain-free pancakes/breads/etc. The cons are also similar to the Whole30. Discrepancies still exist between grains/nuts/seeds and the risk of creating a calcium deficiency is still a factor.

For both diets, general energy may increase, but workouts are most-likely going to suffer to a point because our bodies naturally burns carbs as the first source of energy, and complex carbs are eliminated in both diets. In the Whole30 book, they do mention that if you are an elite athlete, the diet it not recommended for this reason. Aside from this workout decline, there are foods that are being eliminated that can provide great nutritional benefits. Whole grains such as brown rice, oats, ancient grains, and other whole grains provide good gut bacteria, fiber, and energy. Grains normally get a bad reputation because they are combined with sugar, making them addicting and often leads to overconsumption. Also, simple grains, such as white bread, white rice, and many cereals are often lumped together with complex, whole grains. Simple grains basically act as a sugar in our system, causing a quick energy burst and then a crash, and are stored as fat if they are not burned quickly. Whole, complex grains are available as a more sustainable energy and have less elements that are stored as fat because of their high fiber content. In addition, dairy, such as plain Greek yogurt (or other dairy products without added sugar) can be an excellent source of protein and healthy probiotics and bacteria for your gut, if your system is dairy tolerant. Most importantly, dairy provides an excellent source of calcium that your body needs. Finally, legumes, specifically beans and lentils are excellent sources of iron, calcium, and protein, especially when prepared correctly.

Overall, the Whole30 and Paleo diets can be good resets to your diet and some may find them to be very beneficial, especially if they are lactose-intolerant or addicted to sugar (which, to be honest, most of us are and I’ll get into this more later on). However, for the long-term, it may be a good idea to go a different direction if you want your diet to be nutritionally well-rounded.

Ketogenic Diet: The Ketogenic diet, “Keto diet”, is a diet that has participants drastically reduce their carbohydrate intake in order to put their body into a ketosis state where it burns fat rather than carbohydrates for energy.

Pros/Cons of Keto: Like all diets, there are pros and cons to the Keto diet. The pros of the diet include increased energy, fat burn, weight loss, and improved complexion. The cons of sticking to the diet long-term are that it cause certain health issues, especially if the diet is not implemented correctly. Some also report lower energy levels, especially in athletic training (but then again, some report increases as well, so the jury is out on that one). You may see pictures of bacon, eggs, and cheese in relation to the Keto diet and wonder how this can actually be healthy for you. The Keto diet works most efficiently when a high volume of vegetables are consumed along with good fat sources and lean proteins. The reason vegetables are essential to the diet is because they aid in helping the liver run efficiently. Without them, there is a risk of liver issues. Additionally, there is mixed research on the diet’s effect on the kidneys.

Overall, the diet can be a great thing to utilize for a few months, as the Paleo or Whole30, but is probably best to avoid using it as a long-term solution to ensure you are getting the most well-rounded nutrition you possibly can.

Mediterranean Diet: This diet has been coming out on top in different research findings, specifically when it comes down to a person’s overall health. This diet encourages fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fish as your main source of meat. It is a very clean-oriented diet, encouraging consuming plant-based foods.

Pros: This diet is great for a person’s overall health, it reduces cholesterol, improves energy, and has multiple disease-preventing elements that cannot be ignored. If you are looking for a diet that helps improve your health, this is definitely the way to go.

Cons: The only real cons I can see are that this diet can become expensive and hard to implement long-term because of the limitations on of meats and less plant-based foods that most people are accustomed to including in their diet. Also, the right kind of fish cuts can be expensive and hard to find during certain seasons. However, when it comes to getting your health on track, it is worth these minor setbacks.

Overall, this diet is your best bet if you are looking for a strict diet that makes you as healthy as you possibly can be. It does require you to make big changes (which all of these fad diets do); however, if you are serious about health, these changes pale in comparison to a longer, healthier life it may provide.

Sugar Additive-Free Option: In my own life, I have decided to go sugar-free. From the different diets I have tried, I have found many benefits from each, but the underlying message I have found from several dieticians/nutritionists and from my own personal experience is that including a variety is always best and so is being relaxed about your food intake (not counting calories,obsessing over macros, or expecting yourself to be perfect 100% of the time). Do what works for you!

I had been doing a Paleo diet after doing a Whole30 in November, and I recently added in grains, legumes, and dairy (all free of any kinds of sugar additives). I have definitely experienced the most food freedom and best kind of relationship with food I have ever had in my life since adding these back in. The one rule I have for myself is to stay away from sugar additives (cane sugar, stevia, organic cane sugar, corn syrup, sugar, aspartame, truvia, splenda, sucralose, glycerin, sucrose, all syrups, and a long, long list of more- borrowed from Whole30’s program- see list here). I allow fruit juice as a sweetener as well as raw honey and 100% maple syrup.

This may sound like I’m eliminating a lot of foods… everything has sugar in doesn’t it?! First of all, let’s distinguish between naturally occurring sugar and sugar additives. There is naturally occurring sugar in foods, such as apples, that is just there from the time it’s picked off of the tree. And then, there are sugar additives, which are added in by a manufacturer. I am not suggesting to eliminate natural sugars, but simply the sugar additives. In America, people are flat out addicted to sugar additives and that is how the manufacturers prefer it. Why? You ask. Well, because sugar is actually as addicting as cocaine, in fact, it is more addicting. So, no wonder it is added to everything! The more addicted we are, the more likely we are to purchase the same product again and again, like smokers purchasing cigarettes (except, we’ll feel even more compelled)!

So, it’s basically impossible to cut out sugar then, right? It is not easy to get started, but once you read the labels and put in the work of finding the foods and recipes, you are set for life! No, I don’t eat bread, yogurt with added sugar, pre-packaged meals, granola bars, sugar-filled protein bars, cereal, marinara sauce, pizza, or a number of other foods, but you know what? When I look at that list, those were foods that I normally didn’t feel awesome about eating in the first place. They are addicting, I found myself easily over-consuming them, and while some of them may provide a small nutritional benefit, I feel much better choosing from sugar-free foods and focusing on the foods I can eat (which is a very extensive list, by the way).

Steel cut oats, oatmeal, brown rice, and quinoa are the top of my grains list (and I’m definitely planning on adding in other “ancient grains” as well), and after adding them in, I thought I’d be bloated, put on water weight, and increase my fat content. I actually lost a few pounds because of the increase in fiber! And did my workouts improve? Absolutely. It feels like I have a spring in my step that I had lost and attributed to my latest milestone birthday that brought me into my 30s… nope! It was just the lack of energy stores. I found that the bread and cereals with the added sugar were actually the only carbs that I struggled with.

Plain Greek Yogurt, an occasional splash of milk, cottage cheese, low-fat cheese here and there… I’ve added a small amount of dairy back in. Calcium is very important, especially to women as they age to promote bone density. Some people are intolerant or react poorly to dairy and there are definitely supplements you can take and foods (such as nut milks or orange juice) that have added calcium. However, it is always best to get nutrients from their natural source if you are able. I have found that dairy has not been an issue for me, as, once again, the real culprit was most-likely the flavored yogurt full of sugar additives.

Lentils and beans are the legumes I’ve added back in, which I have had no adverse reactions to, and I enjoy having another source of calcium so I don’t have to overdo the dairy in order to get my recommended daily amounts. They are also full of fiber and iron, which is never a bad thing to include. I have still held off on peanuts, as there are numerous studies reporting that they are not beneficial (and peanut butter often has… yes, you guessed it, added sugar!).

All veggies, fruits, and proteins were never off the table for me, so that offers a wide variety of foods to choose from that I enjoy. It is a very easy diet to follow now that I have found the brands that do not add sugar, and it makes for a very relaxing lifestyle. I feel, overall, a lot less confined now that I have added in food groups that I had been limiting and feeling guilty about consuming. If you are looking for a place to start, I highly recommend starting with a sugar-free journey. You are still offering yourself all of the benefits of nutrients from each food group and giving yourself a large variety of options for foods you enjoy. I include red meat a couple times a week and even found a few cookie recipes that are free of sugar additives! I’ve found it to be the most sustainable, freeing, and satisfying nutrition path I have followed to date. And, although there are so many crazy, mixed-messaged research findings, I don’t think there will be one study that will find cutting out sugar to be bad for you.

Overall, if you are getting serious about your health and need a very strict regimen, the Mediterranean Diet is definitely the way to go. However, I would highly recommend (in my unprofessional and experience-based opinion) to use fad diets as a cleanse only. Try it for a month or two, but then, just stick to a diet that is healthy, sustainable, and allows you to eat without overthinking, measuring, counting, or stressing.

You need to pick a diet that includes foods that are good for your body. However that will be vastly different for each individual. For me, sugar-free is awesome! But it may be different for you… you may be a vegetarian, a Keto fanatic, a carb-cycler, or a 80/20 kind of person. Overall, just made it a sustainable, stress-free lifestyle that you love! You can have your cheat meals once every week or so, you can celebrate the big occasions with cake and ice cream, go out to eat here and there, but do it in moderation and then get right back on track. Enjoy the foods you eat- focus on the healthy new recipes and foods you love rather than the foods you miss! You deserve to have a body that runs efficiently, is full of energy, and is disease-free… feed it high-quality foods (with a small dosage of whatever-you-want) to help you live life to the fullest!

What are your thoughts on going sugar additive-free? Have any of you found different diets that are best to be used long-term? What is the least stressful diet for you?

Paleo Snickerdoodles

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 cups blanched almond flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons melted coconut oil
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup raw honey add a tablespoon or two for a sweeter cookie
  • 1 tablespoon GF vanilla extract
  • FOR TOPPING
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1.5 tablespoons coconut sugar

INSTRUCTIONS

  • Preheat oven to 350.
  • Mix all ingredients.
  • Form batter into about 12 balls and press onto cookie sheet (helpful to use parchment paper).
  • Sprinkle the topping over the cookies.
  • Bake for about 15 minutes (my oven cooks slowly).

Turkey Burgers and Sweet Potato Fries

Ingredients for burgers:

  • 1 pound ground turkey
  • 1 jalapeno finely chopped (can be omitted if you’re not into spicy)
  • 1 shallot or red onion finely chopped
  • 2 tsp lime juice
  • 2 Tbsp finely chopped cilantro
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 a teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Instructions

  • Place all ingredients in bowl and use hands to mix well.
  • Form into four patties.
  • Place pan or grill on medium heat (adding avocado or Olive oil first)
  • When pan is hot, place patties on and cook for about 5 minutes each side or until cooked through. ( 165)
  • Top with guacamole, avocado, pico de gallo and poached egg if desired!

For the fries:

  • Chop 1-2 sweet potatoes into fry thickness desired, mix with olive oil and spices desired (Cajun seasoning for me!) in large bowl until all fries are coated
  • Place fries in air fryer at 380 for about 20 minutes shaking occasionally or in oven on tin foil lined/oil coated cookie sheet at 425 for 20-30 minutes depending on desired doneness.

Balsamic Steak Salad:

Ingredients

  • Steak cut of choice prepared as desired
  • Greens of choices
  • Fresh cheese of choice (in moderation)
  • Grape tomatoes

Dressing- combine in blender or dressing shaker:

  • 3 Tbsp Balsamic vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 minced garlic clove
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp pepper

Autumn Chicken Salad

Ingredients:

  • Same Balsamic dressing as above
  • Pears
  • Goat cheese
  • Walnuts
  • Grilled chicken breasts or thighs grilled with seasonings of choice and cut into strips
  • Dried cranberries, raspberries, or pomegranate (not pictured)
  • Kale

Combine all ingredients and enjoy!

Turkey-Bean Chilli (from The Daniel Plan Cookbook)

Ingredients

  • 1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup finely chopped celery
  • 1 cup finely chopped carrots
  • ½ green bell pepper, finely chopped
  • 1 cup finely chopped red onion
  • 2 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 3 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 pound ground turkey
  • 1 Tbsp mild chilli powder
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 2 tsp driedn oregano
  • ½ tsp Kosher or sea salt
  • ¼ tsp black pepper
  • 1 (15 oz) can diced tomatoes
  • 1 (15 oz) can red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 (15 oz) can Cannellini or white Navy beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 cup low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth

Instructions

  • In a large pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add celery, carrot, bell pepper, and onion. Cook until soft, stirring occasionally. If vegetables start to brown, turn the heat down a bit.
  • Add tomato paste, and cook 2 minutes stirring continuously. Add garlic, and cook 1 minute
  • Add turkey to the pot. Break up turkey with the back of a wooden spoon or spatula while it cooks. Cook until turkey is no longer pink. Add chilli powder, cumin, oregano, salt, and pepper. Cook 2 minutes, allowing spices to release their flavors. Stir once or twice.
  • Add the tomatoes, beans, and broth. Cover and heat until chilli is hot and bubbly.

This is one of my favorite quick breakfasts or dinners: Paleo Pancakes and Turkey Sausages!

Breakfast Shake

Ingredients

  • 3/4-1 package frozen berries/kale/spinach
  • 1 scoop whey protein
  • 1-2 orange Juice
  • 1-3 tsp MCT Oil

Combine all ingredients in blender!

SNACKS: All found at Costco

Almond Flour Crackers (no wheat, comparable taste to Wheatables)
Dried Mangoes (yes I’m wearing neon green Crocs)
Grain-free Granola Bars (comparable price to Larabars and taste to Nature Valley’s hard 2 pack bars)
Mango Pops (comparable taste to fig newtons) and Rise Protein Bars (just almonds, honey, and protein!)

If you want any nutrition guidance, have comments, feedback, questions, or just want to drop me a line, fill out the Contact Form or email me: wholeehealthy@gmail.com !

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