Diet has become a four-letter word. With so many available options, it’s difficult to know which diet is right for you. The Harvard School of Public Health notes that a good diet should have relatively few restrictions and allow you to eat plenty of healthy foods. It should be something that is sustainable for the long term and focuses not just on weight loss but on overall health.
Ditching the Carbs
The standard low-carbohydrate diet is based on the idea that eating a lot of carbohydrates leads to food cravings, high insulin levels, insulin resistance and weight gain. Proponents of the diet claim that reducing carbohydrate intake and getting most of your calories from fats and protein help stabilize blood sugar and insulin levels and lead to weight loss and better overall health. The current recommendation is to get 45 percent to 65 percent of your calories from carbohydrates, but a low-carbohydrate diet generally restricts carbohydrate intake to less than 20 percent of calories by limiting carbohydrate-rich foods such as bread, pasta, fruit and starchy vegetables such as potatoes.
Forgetting the Fat
Fat contains 9 calories per gram, while protein and carbohydrates contain only 4. The theory behind a low-fat diet is that because fat is so energy-dense, eating a lot of it can lead to weight gain. Proponents of a low-fat diet also claim that eating too much of certain types of fat can lead to heart disease over time. The current recommendation is to get 20 percent to 35 percent of your calories from fat. A low-fat diet generally restricts fat intake to less than 20 percent of your calories. On a low-fat diet, you limit your intake of fatty foods like meat, seafood, poultry, oils, nuts and dairy products and focus on eating carbohydrate-rich foods like beans, fruits, veggies and grains.
On a low-calorie diet, calories are king. There is no real emphasis on whether your calories come from carbohydrates, fat or protein; proponents claim that as long as you expend more calories than you consume, you will lose weight. Although there are no specific recommendations, EveryDiet.org notes that dieters generally experience greater success when they get their calories from low-calorie foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and lean proteins.
Going Back in Time
The paleo diet is modeled after the habits of your Paleolithic ancestors. The theory behind the paleo diet is that the key to optimal health is to avoid the processed food of the industrial revolution and to eat only foods that you would have been able to hunt and gather back in the caveman days. The paleo diet includes meats, fish, poultry, nuts, seeds, fats and oil but excludes all grains, dairy, beans, legumes, sugar and alcohol.
Making it Mediterranean
The Mediterranean diet is based on the premise that people who live in the countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea have fewer incidences of cancer and heart disease and generally live longer than Americans. The Mediterranean diet emphasizes fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, whole grains, legumes, olives and olive oil. The diet allows seafood a couple times a week and poultry, eggs, cheese and yogurt in moderation. Red meat and sweets are reserved for special occasions only.
Balancing Blood Sugar
Like the low-carbohydrate diet, the low-glycemic diet blames carbohydrates for weight gain and other health problems, but the emphasis differs. The theory behind the low-glycemic diet is that certain types of carbohydrates, classified as high-glycemic, have a significant effect on your blood sugar levels, while the effects of others, called low-glycemic, are less dramatic. Proponents of the diet claim that eating only low-glycemic carbohydrates, like apples, kidney beans and lentils, while avoiding high-glycemic carbohydrates, like rice, white bread and potatoes, is the key to weight loss and optimal health.