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  • Melissa MacDonald DC

Nutrition: Why Does It Have To Be So Complicated



Without food we cannot survive, but what is the best diet? Which is the “healthiest”? How do you sort through all the content online or the recommendation from people? Diets or nutrition is complicated because people approach from a different perspective. When you are deciding on a nutrition plan common goals are:


  • To lose or gain weight

  • Reduce the risk of Type 2 Diabetes

  • Reduce the risk of a cardiovascular incident

  • Try to reduce the risk of Cancer

  • Set an example of kids

  • Improve energy

  • Improve digestive health

Another thing to consider is whether you are looking for a diet for short term change or a long-term lifestyle change. This blog will break down many common diets found out there currently. New diets are always coming out but the best diet is not the same for each patient, it is unique to you.


So let us look at the different diets out and discuss the benefits, the challenges, and if they are right for you.


Keto /Atkins/Low Carb Diet

These diets are designed around limiting carbs to around 20-150 grams. For perspective, a cup of pasta is approximately 45 g of carbs. These diets try to change the energy system the body uses from cards to fat and emphasize eating high protein and fat.

  • Benefits

This can be a benefit for fast weight loss and has been supported in the research to be a benefit for males to lose weight. Because of not eating sugar there can be a reduction in food cravings and it can resolve a sugar addiction. For male endurance athletes, this has been shown to be a highly effective diet.

  • Limitations

This can be an amazing diet for the right person but it can cause huge issues. The first 3-5 days of a low carb diet is called the “keto flu” – consisting of craving for sugars, brain fog, headache, fatigue, irritability, nausea, difficulty sleeping, and constipation. This is the most challenging thing to get through right at the beginning of the diet. Long term use can affect the “bad” LDL cholesterol in some people so regular blood work is recommended. Because of the high-fat content, it can affect female hormones and cause weight gain and difficulty with hormone management. In the worst-case scenario, low carb diets have caused nondiabetic ketoacidosis in lactating women which can be fatal if left untreated.


Weight Watchers

Weight Watchers is a health system that at its most basic explanation is points-based. Foods are assigned a number of points based on macro counts and clients are assigned a daily allotted amount of points to consume. The amount of points allowed per person is not simply an arbitrary number but based on many factors such as current weight, health, and dietary goals.

  • Benefits

Aside from meal plans WW also offers meals for purchase based on each person’s dietary needs. This makes meal planning very simple.

  • Limitations

For the main draw of WW being the already prepared meals, the price can often be a limiting factor. However, WW has been around for decades and has had tens of thousands of happy customers.

Intermittent fasting

This diet consists of complete caloric deprivation for extended periods of time with the idea caloric deficit will force the body to begin higher fat store utilization for energy. Along with the fat burning, it is also difficult for many to overeat above the daily caloric demand when trying to consume a day’s worth of calories in the allowed time frame. Different time frames are used such as an 18 off 6 on, or one meal a day diet.

  • Benefits

Massive weight loss has been seen with many who use this diet. It also allows for fewer food type restrictions as the restricted eating time limits the total amount of calories consumed

  • Limitations

When starting I.F. there can be large amounts of fatigue, irritability, and digestive issues as the body adapt to the influx of calories in such a short period of time. Also, sticking to the no calories in the fast time period can be difficult for most in the beginning.


DASH Diet

DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. The DASH diet is a lifelong approach to healthy eating that's designed to help treat or prevent high blood pressure (hypertension). The DASH diet plan was developed to lower blood pressure without medication in research sponsored by the National Institutes of Health.

The DASH diet encourages you to reduce the sodium in your diet and eat a variety of foods rich in nutrients that help lower blood pressure, such as potassium, calcium, and magnesium.

  • Benefits

By following the DASH diet, you may be able to reduce your blood pressure by a few points in just two weeks. Over time, the top number of your blood pressure (systolic blood pressure) could drop by eight to 14 points, which can make a significant difference in your health risks.

Because the DASH diet is a healthy way of eating, it offers health benefits besides just lowering blood pressure. The DASH diet is also in line with dietary recommendations to prevent osteoporosis, cancer, heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.

  • Limitations

Drastically reducing sodium levels may lead to electrolyte imbalances resulting in muscle and digestive issues. Salt is also one of the main things used in food flavoring which may result in poor diet adherence with less easily flavored foods.




Vegetarian/Vegan

These diets are similar as both restrict animal proteins but vegan restrict all proteins vs vegetarians only restricts meat but generally allows dairy and eggs. All plant-based foods are allowed.

  • Benefits

Generally, this diet will have increased weight loss if there is a balanced diet high in vegetables. Granted, from a calorie standpoint this style of diet does not reduce calorie consumption. These diets have shown in the research have shown reduced heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and premature death.

  • Limitations

Because animal products are eliminated there can be key nutrition missing, we need for a healthy working system. The biggest ones missing are:

1. Vitamins B12

B12 is important to have a normal function nervous system and circulatory system.

Symptoms of a deficiency can include fatigue, breathlessness, numbness, poor

balance, and memory trouble.

2. Vitamin D

Vitamin D is important for bone health. Deficiency can cause thin, brittle, and

misshapen bones.

3. Iodine

Iodine deficiency is important to thyroid health and cell growth and repair. Symptoms

include swelling of the throat, weight gain, fatigue, hair loss, dry skin, heart rate

changes, memory troubles, pregnancy issues, and menstrual irregularity.

4. Iron

Iron is important for healthy red blood cells. Reduced iron levels can lead to anima

that causes severe fatigue.

5. Calcium

Calcium become reduced with deficiency of vitamin D which contributes to loss of

bone density.

6. Zinc

Zinc is a trace element that is important to all functions of the body. Symptoms of

deficiency are loss of appetite, impaired immune function, hair loss, diarrhea,

impotence, and eye/skin lesions.

7. Omega 3

Omega-3 fatty acids are incredibly important for both body and brain health. DHA

and EPA are only found in animal proteins, mainly fish. A lack of fatty acids can cause

rough scaly skin.


Zone Diet

On the Zone diet, you get 3 Zone meals and 1 Zone snack a day. Each is a mix of low-fat protein, like skinless chicken, turkey, or fish; carbs (mostly fruits and veggies); and a small amount of “good” fat, like olive oil, almonds, and avocado.

No food is completely banned, but if you’re a carb-lover, you may find getting used to the Zone plan challenging. It encourages you to think of bread, pasta, grains, and other starches as condiments rather than as main or even side dishes. Veggies and fruits that are relatively high in sugar -- like corn, carrots, bananas, and raisins -- are on the “unfavorable” list. Fatty red meat and egg yolks fall into the Zone’s “bad fats” column. Every meal on the Zone has the same proportions: 1/3 protein, 2/3 carbs, and a dash of fat.

  • Benefits

There is no specific research to prove that eating a certain ratio of protein, carbs, and fats is going to rev up your metabolism and increase weight loss. But it is a proven fact that eating a calorie-restricted diet, such as The Zone Diet, can help you lose weight. The claim that the weight loss will be all fat and not muscle or water, however, may not be as true.

  • Limitations

The Zone diet breaks down protein, carbs, and fat into "blocks" that correspond to the amount of each you can have at each meal and snack. You can’t pile on the protein at lunch and then have all carbs for dinner. Women should have 11 blocks per day; men should have 14 blocks per day.


Paleo Diet

This diet is based around the thought that our food has changed faster then our digestive system can process. Our inability to process the food is what leads to chronic modern diseases. It feeds you on an ancestral diet from the hunter-gatherer days. It emphasizes eating nonprocessed foot such as

· Leans protein

· Vegetables

· Fruits

· Nuts

· Seeds

Foods that are avoided are processed foods, sugars, dairy, and grains. There can be some flexibility in cheese, butter, and starches such as potatoes and sweet potatoes.

  • Benefits:

There can be significant weight loss. This can be attributed to significant calorie reeducation from eating whole foods. On average people utilizing paleo will eat 300-900 fewer calories per day. Other benefits are reduction in heart disease risk such a lower blood sugars, lower blood triglycerides, and blood pressure.

  • Limitations:

The diet removes entire food groups such as grains and most dairy. Overall this style of feeding can be a great lifestyle change, but it is not a diet of convenience. It will take time to understand and learn to cook meals. Eat out or at family gatherings may be challenging to find paleo “approved” meals.

Mediterranean

Similar to the Paleo Diet is the Mediterranean Diet. Interest in the Mediterranean diet began in the 1960s with the observation that coronary heart disease caused fewer deaths in Mediterranean countries, such as Greece and Italy, than compared to the U.S. and northern Europe.

The main components of the Mediterranean diet include:

  1. Daily - consumption of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and healthy fats

  2. Weekly - intake of fish, poultry, beans, and eggs

  3. Moderate - portions of dairy products

  4. Limited - intake of red meat

  • Benefits

The Mediterranean diet can be a benefit because it can reduce the caloric intake and remove overly processed sugary food.

  • Limitations

Limitations are similar to that of the Paleo Diet.


There are countless other diets out there, some good and some not so good. The simplest things to understand about diets is that organic whole foods are a better idea than processed foods. Along with that it is important to have variety and balance in the foods we choose. All three macronutrients are necessary in some way and one should not automatically be looked at as bad or not needed. A healthy lifestyle change can mean different things for different people and diets are not one size fits all. Trying different diets for one month at a time and be a great way to determine which is best for your body. A successful diet helps you maintain your body composition and have energy.

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