Most diets focus on reducing calories or limiting a specific food group or macronutrient (think: the very-low-carb keto diet). But what about a diet program that promotes eating primarily two specific foods: red meat and white rice? This is the basis for the Vertical Diet.
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The diet was created by Stan Efferding who, according to his website, is an IFBB professional bodybuilder and world-record-holding powerlifter. Efferding claims he developed this diet after 30 years of studying, training, competing and coaching, with the goal to help people improve their performance and body composition.
What Is the Vertical Diet, Exactly?
The diet is based on whole foods and claims to optimize gut health and correct hormone imbalances and nutritional deficiencies, while also improving your energy levels, stamina, endurance and recovery.
The premise of the Vertical Diet is to "build a solid foundation of highly bioavailable micronutrients to enhance metabolism and overall digestive health. This foundation of micronutrients supports a structure of easily digestible macronutrients that can be adjusted specifically to meet your body's demands."
This isn't easy to follow initially but the site includes a diagram of an upside down "T" to help explain this further. The "vertical" part of the diet is the vertical line in the "T" which stands for red meat and white rice. This is the bulk of what you'd find yourself eating on the Vertical Diet. The theory behind this is that red meat is an optimal source of protein loaded with healthy fats (their words, not ours), creatine, iron, B vitamins, zinc and selenium, while white rice is easy on the gut and a source of carbohydrates.
Obviously there are some holes in this. There is no way you can meet all of your nutritional needs by eating just red meat and white rice, which is where the bottom of the "T" comes in — this is the part of the "T" that runs horizontally. This part of the diet is a small amount and limited variety of other foods like oranges, yogurt and almonds, to help you meet the rest of your vitamin and mineral needs.
Which Foods Are Allowed (and Not Allowed) on the Vertical Diet?
Here's an overview of what you can and cannot eat on the Vertical Diet:
- Red meat
- White rice
- Greek yogurt
- Ultra-processed foods
- Processed vegetable oils
- Soybeans or any other soy products
- High-FODMAP vegetables like cabbage, onion and asparagus (foods high in FODMAPs can cause gas and bloating for some people)
- Foods containing lectins — including brown rice, legumes or other whole grains — because they're considered "anti-nutrients" by some groups; however as the Harvard School of Public Health points out, there's little human research to support this
So, Is the Vertical Diet Healthy?
The diet's website touts Crossfit Games athletes like Camille Leblanc-Bazinet and Ben Smith, along with "The Mountain" Hafthor Bjornsson from HBO's Game of Thrones as advocates and followers of the diet. There's no arguing that they're able to compete at an extremely high level — but does that mean the diet is healthy overall and appropriate for everyone?
The diet claims to be appropriate for all adults and kids but there are some major downsides, including nutritional deficiencies in the diet (which could be especially detrimental for growing kids). Here's a few:
1. Lacks fiber: Whole grains, legumes and loads of fruits and vegetables are unnecessarily restricted. Unless you suffer from irritable bowel syndrome, you're better off incorporating as many of these fiber-rich foods as possible. Nine out of 10 Americans are already not getting enough fiber, as reported in a 2017 paper published in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine.
Fiber is important because it helps lower cholesterol, control blood sugar, maintain bowel health and lower your risk of dying from heart disease and all cancers, per the Mayo Clinic. It can also help you maintain a healthy weight. By removing these fiber-filled foods from your diet, you increase the likelihood that you're shorting yourself on this key nutrient.
2. Not plant-based-friendly: This one is not for vegetarians, vegans or even flexitarians. You have to really love red meat (and white rice).
What's more, by following this diet, you'll be missing out on the health benefits associated with eating less red meat, which include better heart health and a lower cancer rate.
3. Not Earth-friendly: Research shows that when it comes to slowing climate change, we actually want to eat less protein from animals, not more. According to the World Resources Institute, it takes more natural resources to produce animal-based foods compared to plant-based foods.
4. Limited variety: With the bulk of your diet consisting of red meat and white rice, you're bound to get bored. But research also shows that limiting your variety might be harmful for your health. A March 2015 study published in the Journal of Nutrition found that those with the most variety in their diet had 21 percent lower odds of developing metabolic syndrome, a cluster of conditions that up your risk for heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes. That said, the variety of foods they consumed closely resembled those recommended in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
Should You Try It?
Unless you have IBS or other serious digestive issues, this diet isn't your best bet. There's not enough research done on humans to back up the diet's health claims, and the limitations around which foods you can eat might leave you susceptible to nutrient deficiencies and related health problems.
If you're looking for a weight-loss diet, there are plenty of other options that don't come with such serious drawbacks. And if you want a performance-enhancing diet, you're much better off partnering with a health professional such as a registered dietitian, who can help make sure all your nutritional bases are covered.
- Stan Efferding: "The Vertical Diet"
- Harvard School of Public Health: "Lectins"
- American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine: "Closing America’s Fiber Intake Gap"
- World Resources Institute: "Animal-based Foods are More Resource-Intensive than Plant-Based Foods"
- Journal of Nutrition: "Greater Healthful Food Variety as Measured by the US Healthy Food Diversity Index Is Associated with Lower Odds of Metabolic Syndrome and its Components in US Adults"
- Mayo Clinic: "Dietary fiber: Essential for a healthy diet"
- Mayo Clinic: "Metabolic syndrome"
- 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans: "Key Elements of Healthy Eating Patterns"