Health magazines are bursting with contradictory nutrition information. One week, it’s the Paleo diet; the next, it’s keto. What do these diet terms mean, and which is the best for weight loss?
In this article, we’ll explore several popular diets and explain once and for all which one is best for shedding body fat so you look lean and feel healthy.
The Paleo Diet
Proponents of the Paleo diet argue that it’s the best way for us to eat for health and longevity because it emulates how humans evolved to eat. Paleo dieters eschew grains and legumes in favor of nutrient-dense foods like meat, fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds.
The logic is that our early human ancestors did not eat grains and legumes and lived a life free from maladies such as heart disease and diabetes. While this isn’t entirely historically accurate (some Paleolithic peoples ate beans and flour) the diet is largely based around an evolutionary perspective. Despite some historical inaccuracy, since the Paleo diet is based around meats, fruits, vegetables, and healthy fat sources, it is still a healthy way of eating.
The Mediterranean Diet
Similar to Paleo, the Mediterranean diet emphasises high-quality meat and seafood, fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats like olives and olive oil. This diet is based on what people living near the Mediterranean Sea eat. It has been shown in scientific research to confer similar weight-loss and health benefits as the Paleo diet, but it allows for whole grains and a higher carbohydrate intake. If you like pasta, this may be the better alternative for you.
Another currently popular diet trend is the “keto” diet. Keto is short for ketosis, the state in which your body produces ketones for energy instead of relying on carbohydrates. Ketosis has been shown to confer many health benefits, and research shows it can accelerate weight loss, too.
What does the keto diet look like? Keto dieters eat mostly protein, fat, and greens. Typical meals might consist of whole eggs scrambled with spinach for breakfast; a leafy green salad with beef, chicken, or fish and olive oil dressing for lunch; a cut of grass-fed meat and a side of broccoli smothered in butter for dinner.
Keep in mind that keto is a very low-carb diet. Eating even a small amount of carbohydrates (over 50 grams) can take your body out of the state of ketosis, which makes it very hard to stick to this diet. Many fruits and vegetables contain too many carbohydrates to sustain ketosis. Berries and citrus, as well as low-carb veggies like cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, and greens can be okay. While this diet can be helpful for weight loss, keep in mind that it is difficult for most people to stick to this way of eating long-term.
The gluten-free diet requires removal of all grains because they contain gluten, which supposedly causes gut inflammation, making it hard to lose weight. This means no bread, no pasta, and nothing processed or prepared with grains.
On the plus side, eliminating gluten from your diet does tend to cut down on processed foods, which are generally not healthy. On the other hand, walking down the grocery aisle demonstrates that you can still find chips, cookies, candy, and other gluten-free junk food. Just because something is marketed as gluten-free doesn’t make it healthy.
In reality, there are many people who have lost weight eating a diet rich in whole grains. Unless you suffer from gluten intolerance or Celiac disease, there’s no reason to cut gluten from your diet in order to lose weight.
Vegetarian and Vegan
Vegetarian and vegan diets are similar in that they both prohibit meat. Vegetarians eliminate meat and fish, but eat a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, beans, whole grains, eggs, and dairy. Vegans take things a step further, eliminating all animal products, including dairy and honey.
From a weight loss perspective, vegetarians and vegans cite research that diets rich in saturated (animal) fat lead to disease and weight gain. While saturated fat has been linked to obesity and cardiovascular disease, many of these studies are based on self-reported data, where people answer questionnaires about their diets, rather than controlled studies that put people on two different diets to compare them.
Though the science doesn’t necessarily support vegetarian/vegan diets for losing weight, they can be a great way to get more fruits and vegetables into your diet.
There is a right and wrong way to go about vegetarianism, though. Most junk food is technically vegetarian, but that doesn’t make it healthy, just as a gluten-free cookie isn’t any better for you.
If It Fits Your Macros (IIFYM)
This is basically an updated method of calorie-counting, using macronutrient targets. Macronutrients are proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. The IIFYM diet doesn’t eliminate any food at all. As long as something “fits” your macro targets, you can eat it. That means that if you eat eggs and vegetables for breakfast, you can have pizza for lunch because you “saved” your carbs for later. This diet appeals to people who enjoy some treats in their diet, but it can lead to some dubiously healthy eating choices since anything goes.
Which Diet is Best for Weight Loss?
The fact is that NO diet is best for weight loss. Eating fewer calories than your body needs for weight maintenance or weight gain is the only recipe to lose weight. Anyone who tells you otherwise is selling you a gimmicky fad.
While there is no one best weight loss diet, there are some commonalities between these diets that can teach us about the best way to eat for fat loss. First, most of these diets revolve around real, whole foods – the kinds your grandmother would serve. Meat, fish, eggs, dairy, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and healthy fats like olive oil all qualify.
Secondly, many of these diets emphasie food quality. In Paleo, grass-fed meat and wild-caught fish are better because they are more nutritious. The Mediterranean diet includes fish because it can be caught right from the sea and served that day. Vegetarians eat whole grains to get enough protein. Even IIFYM dieters emphasise nutrient-dense foods to “save” their calories and macros for fun foods like ice cream.
The bottom line is – if you want to lose weight, pick a way of eating that you enjoy enough to stick to long term. Control your portion sizes and emphasise high-quality, nutrient-dense foods most of the time. And every so often, splurge on that treat you fancy!
- Precision Nutrition, “Best Diet Nutrition Report” (2018)