HEALTH

Pros and Cons of the Most Popular Diets

October 28th, 2020

Some diets are fads (like drinking gallons of celery juice) while others stand the test of time (hello, vegetarianism). Regardless of the specifics, diets continue to soar in popularity. According to the Boston Medical Center, approximately 45 million Americans go on diets every year, and one recent British survey suggests adults may try up to 126 fad diets during their lifetime. While we’re less interested in what’s on trend than in maintaining long-term health, it’s worth knowing what’s available on the diet front so you can make the best decision for you, your family, and your lifestyle.

Paleo Diet Pros and Cons

Ready to embrace your inner caveman? If so, the paleo diet might be a good fit.

What Is the Paleo Diet?

The paleo diet was created in the 1970s by gastroenterologist Walter Voegtlin, who suggested that eating similar foods as our Paleolithic ancestors could help make modern humans healthier. Going paleo focuses on prioritizing fresh, whole foods (like meat, fish, and vegetables) and avoiding processed items, refined sugar, and grains.

Paleo Diet Benefits

Advocates tout weight loss, clearer skin, increased energy, and lower body fat as potential paleo diet benefits. The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) explains your diet will be cleaner without additives, preservatives, or chemicals, and you may experience improved satiety while consuming more protein and healthy fats.

Paleo Diet Cons

Naysayers caution against the paleo diet claiming it simplifies what our ancestors ate, noting there’s still a lot we don’t know about that period. History.com reports: “While the Paleo diet emphasizes meat and fish, it’s not clear that proteins formed the majority of actual prehistoric diets. As with our modern eating habits, diets in the Paleolithic era would have varied wildly according to location.” For example, groups who lived in dry, desert climates may not have had access to fish, while those who lived by the water would have depended on fishing more than hunting in order to survive. UPMC also notes that many excluded ingredients have nutritional benefits you may be missing out on.

Easy Paleo Recipes

Get started with our easy paleo recipes the whole family will love.

  • Paleo Pancakes: Kick off your morning with a tasty shortstack made with coconut flour, raw honey (the only sweetener that’s paleo approved), and almond milk.
  • Thai Red Curry Salmon Bowl: Try this comforting dish flavored with paprika, tomato paste, coriander, and coconut milk.
  • Beef and Broccolini Stir-Fry: This dinner is ready in a flash and perfect for busy weeknights. You’ll need grass-fed skirt steak, bone broth, and plenty of veggies.

Whole30® Diet Pros and Cons

It began as a 30-day challenge in 2009, but the movement that Whole30® founder Melissa Urban created now inspires people year after year.

What Is the Whole30 Diet?

The Whole30® is a 30-day program aimed at changing your relationship with food. It involves steering clear of certain categories (namely alcohol, grains, legumes, dairy, and sugar) while focusing on real ingredients and approved pantry staples that will help your body reset.

Whole30® Benefits

While it might feel restrictive at first, one thing going for Whole30® is it only lasts a month before you can reintroduce ingredients and see how your body tolerates them. Beyond that, here some potential benefits of joining the program.

  • Manage blood sugar: Enjoying whole foods may help you avoid blood sugar spikes and slumps throughout the day.
  • Get better sleep: Studies suggest eating fewer processed foods (while also increasing ingredients like protein and healthy fats) may help improve the quality of your nightly snooze.
  • Balance hormones: Potential endocrine disruptors are found in many popular food items like eggs, milk, and meat, so avoiding them may help balance out hormone levels.
  • Food relationship upgrade: While losing weight, sleeping better, and improving other physical markers may occur while following Whole30®, Melissa Urban emphasizes that the true goal is changing how you interact with food long-term, not what the scale says. (In fact, Whole30® recommends you don’t weigh yourself at all while participating in the program.)

Whole30® Diet Cons

One of the downsides of following Whole30® is eliminating grains, which doesn’t just mean avoiding all-purpose flour, but also whole wheat, oats, millet, buckwheat, quinoa, rice, and other grains. As a result, you may not get sufficient fiber, iron, magnesium, and other nutrients linked to good health. (For instance, some studies suggest consuming two to three servings of whole grains per day may help lower your risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.) Along the same lines, legumes like red lentils and black beans are brimming with nutrition (a half-cup serving of black beans offers 7g of protein and 5g of dietary fiber), but are also off-limits during Whole30. Unless you have a sensitivity to grains or legumes, it may not benefit you to eliminate them completely.

Healthy Whole30® Recipes

We have even more Whole30® recipes here, but these are three of our favorites.


Pros and Cons of a Ketogenic Diet

Curious about ketosis? Following a ketogenic diet is a low-carb way to switch up your lifestyle.

What Is the Keto Diet?

The ketogenic (or keto) diet is named after ketosis, a fat-burning metabolic state that happens when you drastically reduce your carb intake. When you’re not ingesting carbs, your body gets its energy by burning fat instead of glucose. The process produces compounds called ketones and helps kick your body into ketosis. The diet got its start in the 1920s when neurologists discovered that fasting helped reduce seizures in epilepsy patients. Eventually, a long-term diet strategy was developed so people could maximize ketones without deprivation. In order to follow a ketogenic protocol you’ll reduce carbs, nix sugar, and give up starches, plus avoid ingredients like grains, processed food, legumes, milk, and beans. On the menu: healthy fats and oils (like avocado oil and EVOO), high-quality protein, dairy, and plenty of fresh veggies.

Benefits of a Keto Diet

Although weight loss wasn’t the original purpose of the diet, it’s one of the potential keto benefits you may enjoy. A 2013 study suggests that a low-carb/high-fat diet was linked to lower blood pressure, and another study found it may give your brain a boost by improving mental cognition and memory.

Keto Diet Cons

One of the keto diet health risks that gets lots of press is the “keto flu,” which mimics symptoms of seasonal flu but is not an upper respiratory infection. Symptoms may include headache, nausea, muscle cramps, and vomiting, and often arise while transitioning to a keto diet. Another potential downside is that the diet can be quite restrictive, making it a challenge to stick with the program long-term.

Easy Ketogenic Recipes

We have 26 keto recipes here, but start with these three standouts.

  • Keto Carnitas: Bust out your Instant Pot for this family-friendly dinner that’s seasoned with flavorful spices like garlic powder, cumin, and paprika.
  • Keto Cauliflower Gnocchi: For a date night in, try tender cauliflower gnocchi tossed with savory brown butter.
  • Keto Buckeyes: For a sweet treat that won’t derail your diet, make a batch of keto-friendly buckeyes that offer an energy boost from MCT oil.

Vegan Diet Pros and Cons

Let’s wave goodbye to animal products and dig into the basics of a vegan diet.

What Is a Vegan Diet?

With more than 23 million people committed to following a vegan diet, it’s safe to say veganism has become mainstream. If you’re going vegan, it means you’re removing animals and animal byproducts like milk, honey, and even leather from your diet and lifestyle.

Benefits of a Vegan Diet

The World Health Organization has deemed processed meat such as hot dogs and deli meats risky to humans, and a diet filled with fruits and vegetables has been shown to help reduce the risk of certain diseases. In addition to the long-term health benefits of being vegan, you may experience weight loss. One study found that both vegan and vegetarian dieters were “slimmer than their meat-eating counterparts” and tended to consume more essential nutrients overall, such as magnesium, potassium, iron, folate, and vitamins.

Cons of Being Vegan

Whenever you remove entire food categories from your diet, it’s possible to experience nutritional deficiencies along the way. Some vegans are low in vitamin D (often sourced from milk or fatty dishes) and vitamin B12, found in meat, fish, poultry, eggs, cheese, and milk products. B12 works with B9 to form red blood cells, which may support muscle growth. If you experience any side effects of these vitamin deficiencies (which can range from fatigue to nervousness), schedule a blood test with your doctor and supplement if needed.

Simple Vegan Recipes

No cheese? No problem.

  • Vegan Shells and Cheese: If you’re missing comfort foods like mac and cheese, you’ll love this easy recipe that combines chickpea shells with a cashew-based sauce.
  • Apricot Sesame Cauliflower Wings: Cauliflower stands in for chicken in this tasty dish made with spicy sriracha, ginger, and apricot jam. Serve it with rice for the perfect takeout swap.
  • Dairy-Free Chevre Log: Your appetizer platter just got extra fancy. This goat cheese-inspired recipe features cashews, probiotic powder, lemon juice, and sea salt. Just add your favorite crackers.

Vegetarian Diet Pros and Cons

Of the diets in this list, vegetarianism might be the most nuanced—keep reading for all the interpretations.

What Is a Vegetarian Diet?

The vegetarian lifestyle was first popularized in the 1850s when a group of doctors held the inaugural American Vegetarian Convention and introduced a radial diet idea: excluding animal sources. Like a vegan diet, vegetarians avoid animal products but don’t eliminate dairy, which gives this way of eating some flexibility. Some vegetarians eat eggs but not dairy, while some eat both eggs and dairy. Others still eat fish and claim the title of “pescatarian” or say they’re “mostly vegetarian.” Some carnivores also happily participate in “Meatless Monday” once a week, a global movement that encourages everyone to reduce their meat consumption.

Benefits of a Vegetarian Diet

Vegetarian diet benefits abound. From My Bowl blogger Caitlin Shoemaker says she “experienced clearer skin, better digestion, and feels so much more energized,” after making the switch to a plant-based diet. And several recent studies note myriad benefits of going vegetarian, from reducing plaque in the arteries to experiencing weight loss.

Vegetarian Diet Cons

Eliminating meat may mean you’re lacking in certain nutrients (like protein and vitamin B12), but vegetarians can get ample protein from plant-based sources, so be sure to seek them out in foods like:

  • Beans
  • Tofu
  • Legumes
  • Tempeh
  • Seeds
  • Nuts

Easy Vegetarian Recipes

It’s easy to incorporate veggies into your weekly meal plan. Check out our list of 50 vegetarian recipes here.

  • Green Spring Rolls: This dish works as an appetizer or main course. The rolls are stuffed with herbs, crunchy peas, and creamy avocado.
  • Baked Brie with Fruit and Nut Compote: No one will miss a charcuterie platter when you serve up this warm baked brie covered with nuts, dried figs, honey, and rosemary.
  • Red Lentil Soup: Soup is a great make-ahead dish. Serve a hot bowl with a gooey grilled cheese to take dinner to the next level.

Gluten-Free Diet Pros and Cons

These days it’s possible to go gluten-free without feeling deprived of foods like pizza, sandwiches, and pretzels.

What Is a Gluten-Free Diet?

A gluten-free diet is just what it sounds like: a diet without gluten. Gluten is a naturally occurring protein found in a host of grains (including rye, barley, and wheat) and is created when two molecules—glutenin and gliadin—form a bond. Many people can enjoy bread and other glutenous foods without worry, while in others it causes unwelcome symptoms like bloating and other discomforts. When you’re starting a gluten-free diet, it’s important to stock your pantry with approved ingredients that won’t aggravate your stomach, including items like brown rice, quinoa, almond flour, almonds, beans, avocado oil, and coconut oil.

Gluten-Free Diet Benefits

According to a 2018 study, benefits of following a gluten-free diet may include a reduction in Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) symptoms such as abdominal discomfort, bloating, and fatigue.

Gluten-Free Diet Cons

For those with gluten sensitivities or celiac disease, eliminating gluten can drastically improve their well being, but some experts caution against following what’s perceived to be a diet trend. Assistant Professor of Medicine Dr. Daniel A. Leffler shares that “people who are sensitive to gluten may feel better, but a larger portion will derive no significant benefit from the practice,” adding that going gluten-free for nonmedical reasons can be a waste of money, since gluten-free food substitutes can be pricey. Another factor to note: avoiding gluten doesn’t just mean the obvious culprits like traditional pasta, bread, and all-purpose flour. Gluten may also be found in surprising places like jarred sauces, supplements, frozen vegetables or meals, and even toothpaste, making it even more challenging to avoid.

Family-Friendly Gluten-Free Recipes

We’ve got 40 dinner recipes to make crowd-pleasing, satisfying evening meals sans gluten, but here are three standouts.

  • Mustard-Herb Chicken: If roast chicken is your idea of comfort food, you’ll love this recipe, which includes whole grain mustard, ACV, garlic, and lots of herbs.
  • One-Pot Chickpea Pasta: Gluten-free pasta has come a long way. Everyone will love this creamy dish made with GF penne, mascarpone, and hearty mushrooms.
  • Roasted Salmon With Cauliflower Rice: This 30-minute meal relies on Middle Eastern spices for added flavor. Serve each fillet on top of your favorite gluten-free grain.
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Nicole GulottaNicole Gulotta is a writer, author, and tea enthusiast.

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