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It’s time for 2019 New Year’s resolutions, and many resolutions revolve around improving health. Choosing the resolution is easy…now how will you achieve it? A quick Google search should do it. But now dietary advice pops up from every corner of the Internet citing seemingly strong support for their way being the BEST way to achieve your goals. You will find endless dietary trends: everything from paleo to gluten free, low FODMAP to Weight Watchers with everything in between. So how do you know which one is right for you?

Let’s break down the scientific research behind five of these trendy diets:

 

1. The Paleo Diet

What is it?

The Paleo Diet loosely mimics nutritional patterns from the paleolithic era approximately 10,000 to 2.6 million years ago. It emphasizes consumption of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and animal proteins, with minimal inclusion of sugar, grains, legumes, dairy, and processed foods.

What does the research say?

Long-term paleo diet may be associated with:

Bottom Line: Positive outcomes are associated with the paleo diet, though researchers question whether these are because of the diet itself (no grains, dairy, sugar, etc.) or the benefits of increasing nutrient dense fruits and vegetables.

2. A Plant-Based Diet

What is it?

A plant-based diet promotes high intake of foods derived from plants, and limits or completely excludes animal products (meat, poultry, fish, dairy). It is most often associated with a vegan or vegetarian diet.

What does the research say?

A healthy plant-based diet appears to be associated with:

  • A lower risk of mortality.
  • A lower body mass index (BMI)in those who follow a vegetarian diet, when compared with the BMI of a nonvegetarian.
  • This same articlepointed out potential nutrient concerns for those following a strict plant-based diet: vitamin B12, zinc, and protein. Complete exclusion of all animal products puts one at higher risk for inadequate intake of these nutrients.
  • One articlefound that production of food for a nonvegetarian diet required 2.9 times more water, 2.5 times more energy, 13 times more fertilizer, and 1.4 times more pesticides than a solely plant-based diet.

Bottom Line: A plant-based diet supports environmental sustainability, and may lower risk of mortality and a high BMI. However, if you choose to be strictly plant-based, it’s important to be aware of nutrients that may be lacking and modify your diet accordingly.

3. The Ketogenic Diet

What is it?

The ketogenic diet focuses on very low-carbohydrate intake and very high-fat intake, with the goal of using fat as the body’s primary energy source instead of glucose. A medical ketogenic diet can be used to treat seizures primarily in children with epilepsy, and occasionally in adults with epilepsy as well.

What does the research say?

  • One study reported that in overweight and obese men, 4 weeks of a strict ketogenic diet resulted in reduced body weight but did not alter their energy expenditure or increase fat loss.
  • Another study compared a strict ketogenic diet with a nonketogenic low-carbohydrate diet and found that both diets were equally effective in reducing body weight and improving insulin resistance. However, they also found that the ketogenic diet resulted in elevated LDL and cardiac complications, in addition to adverse emotional and mental effects.

Bottom Line: The ketogenic diet may promote weight loss and improve insulin resistance but appeared to be no more effective than a less restrictive low-carbohydrate diet and may be associated with more adverse metabolic and mental side effects.

4. The Gluten Free Diet

What is it?

A gluten free diet is one that excludes all food items containing the protein gluten. This means exclusion of anything containing wheat, barley, rye, and any derivative of these grains. A gluten free diet is recommended for individuals with celiac disease.

What does the research say?

  • Non-celiac gluten sensitivityis recognized in some individuals, and they may benefit from a gluten free diet to avoid adverse symptomatic responses to gluten.
  • A study measured levels of plasma proteins involved in inflammation and observed correlation with gluten intake in young adults not affected by celiac disease. They found that increased gluten intake was associated with increased concentrations of plasma a2-macroglobulin, which is a marker of inflammation.

Bottom Line: Anyone with celiac disease is recommended to follow a gluten free diet. Some individuals may benefit from a gluten free diet due to non-celiac gluten sensitivity, but diagnosis for this condition is not yet readily available.

5. The Mediterranean Diet

What is it?

The Mediterranean diet focuses on whole foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, healthy fats and oils, poultry, seafood; allows moderate inclusion of alcohol (red wine) and dairy products; and limits inclusion of added sugar and red meat (Whalen 2016).

What does the research say?

The Mediterranean diet may be associated with:

Bottom Line: Research shows some benefits may be associated with the Mediterranean diet, related to inflammation, lower mortality risks, and reduced blood pressure.

The path to a healthier 2019 will look different for every person, and learning the research behind different diets will help you find YOUR best path. Unsure how to interpret all this research on your own? Consider talking with your healthcare provider or a Registered Dietitian! They can help you decide which lifestyle changes and diet trends will best fit you and your goals, and set you on the right path for the New Year.

By Meghan Anderson Thomas, MS

I constantly hear:

Omnivores: “Vegetarians just don’t look healthy.”
Vegetarians: “ Meat just isn’t good for you.” Or “I feel so much better when I’m not eating it”

So who has it right? Can they both be right and wrong at the same time? I think the answer lies in the motivations behind the eater. The omnivore may have a point because vegetarianism, like all other diets, has the capacity to be unhealthy.

Essentially, vegetarianism, pescetarianism, veganism, etc. are elimination diets. Like any elimination diet, they have the potential to lack vital nutrients including certain vitamins that are predominately found in animal products. According to Sabate, vegetarian diets when compared to meat-based diets are more likely to be deficient in vital nutrients(1). Similarly, when omnivores (typical American diet) obtain the abundance of their calories from meat and dairy they have less room for the fruit and vegetables that provide them with the other nutrients vegetarians so easily acquire. Moreover, studies show that the increased risk of cancer and heart disease in meat-based diets may be related to a deficiency in the phytochemicals and other compounds found in plant-based foods, not just the intake of saturated fats and excess calories(2).

Again, the problem lies in the motivation. Vegetarians and omnivores alike that eat for health are much more likely to eat properly. The choice of becoming a vegetarian for health reasons alone may lead the vegetarian in question to a more healthful diet in which they are cognizant of variety and balance. That being said, there are plenty of vegetarians that may be doing it for the wrong reasons or are, like most, uneducated in making the proper nutritional decisions.

The observation that vegetarians are unhealthy may actually be evident. Most will argue that they have been deficient in iron, zinc, calcium and B vitamins since they have eliminated animal products, leading to anemia(2). Not to mention that most vegetarians are women who are prone to anemia due to menstruation. The fatigue that follows leads to the snowball effect of fatigue, decreased exercise and depression. The point is, diet has a strong influence on health and well-being and it is dangerously easy to eat incorrectly, even if one’s intentions may be pure. This is seen in all “types” of eaters alike.

It is important to remember that as a vegetarian, the elimination of a steak may reduce your risk for heart disease, hypertension, atherosclerosis, hyperlipidemia, etc., but it is not a free pass to eat all the junk food you can to make up for it. The elimination of meat alone is not the ticket to health. Instead, it seems to be a correlation: the vegetarians motivated by health are also more likely to be cognizant enough to eat right all of the time. Furthermore, Sabate illustrates that the vegetarian diet is viewed as improving health and limiting disease when compared to the meat-based diet(1).

References
1. Sabate, J. (2003). The contribution of vegetarian diets to health and disease: a paradigm shift? The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 78 (3), 502S-507S.
2. Nieman, D. C. (1999). Physical fitness and vegetarian diets: is there a relation? The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 70 (3), 570S-575S.

By: Laura S.

I am currently training for my second marathon in my adult life, and while the aches and pains feel the same as last year, and as the mileage starts to creep up it feels like deja vu- one minor detail has changed: this year I am running the marathon as a vegetarian.

Vegetarian endurance athletes have become quite a trend in the last couple of years. Some noteworthy endurance athletes include Brendon Brazier (vegan ironman), Rich Roll (vegan ultra ironman), Robert Cheeke (vegan body builder), and Michael Arnstein (fruitarian ultra runner); just to name a few.

Giving up meat during this marathon training means I will be missing out on complete proteins and key amino acids from my diet. These amino acids are also called limiting amino acids and they are: lysine, threonine, methionine, and tryptophan. Limiting amino acids are found in the shortest supply from incomplete proteins. Incomplete proteins are those found in plant food sources and geletin.

The most frequently asked question I get asked when becoming a vegetarian involved getting enough protein. While I do not eat meat, fish, or dairy (except for yogurt) I get plenty of protein in my diet by using protein complementation.

Protein complementation is the most efficient way to get all 9 amino acids into a vegetarian’s diet. Protein complementation is when you combine two vegetable proteins (legumes and grains for an example) to get all 9 amino acids that are essential for your body. The breakdown of protein complementation goes like this:

 

Food Limited Amino Acid Complement
Beans Methionie Grains, nuts, seeds
Grains Lysine, threonine Legumes
Nuts/seeds Lysine Legumes
Vegetables Methionine Grains, nuts, seeds
Corn Tryptophan, lysine Legumes

By combining vegetarian protein sources you can ensure that you are getting all 9 amino acids. Protein complementation does not have to be done at the same meal. If you ate beans for lunch and then had some raw almonds for a snack later, you would be adding the methionine that you had missed out on during lunch.

A vegetarian diet, if planned correctly, can provide you with all of the vitamins, minerals, and amino acids the body needs.