In the midst of so many fad diets to choose from, it’s hard to know which one to try. Below, we break down some of the most popular diets so you can make the right choices for your lifestyle.
Summer is in full swing and although you may feel excitement for fun-in-the-sun activities, you may have a slight panic, too. Because summer outings mean summer outfits (and rarely-forgiving swimsuits). If you are like many people out there, you may be feeling the itch try a new diet to get beach-ready.
Yet, while weight loss is a big reason that people choose a specific diet, it is not the main reason to think about trying new eating habits. Health is the most important reason to think about what you eat and determine whether it may be time for a change. Whether you’re looking to manage a particular health condition or simply want to eat healthier, read on to get the basics of 9 of America’s most popular diets + 1 of our favorites.
#1 : Ketogenic Diet
The “keto” diet is all the rage these days, but what exactly is a ketogenic diet? The keto diet is a short-term, low carb and high fat (LCHF) diet that focuses on weight loss. On this diet, your calorie breakdown looks like this: 70-75% fat, 20-25% protein, and 5-10% carbs.
You may be thinking, how does a high fat diet help you lose fat? That’s a perfectly valid question. The answer lies in switching your body from burning carbs (glucose) to burning fat (ketones) through the state of ketosis. You see, when you eat carbs, your body must produce insulin. Yet, insulin causes fat cells to be stored in the body instead of entering the liver to be used as energy. When you go strictly low-carb, you lower insulin levels and enter ketosis, which lets fat cells release stored water and then be burned as fuel.
The keto diet is a diet that calls for drinking tons of water and cutting carbs to make your body use it’s storage of fat. When done properly, people experience weight loss and often better sleep, have more energy, and find it easier to concentrate. One thing to keep in mind is that you may have a negative reaction if you don’t keep potassium, magnesium, and sodium levels up. Luckily, you can get a supplement for that!
Learn more about the keto diet in our Ketogenic Diet Beginners Guide here:
What is the Keto diet? And how does it work? Get your Keto diet questions answered, plus see a Keto… Read more.
#2 : Paleo Diet
Many people go Paleo because they want to invest in better nutrition and health. The foundation of the Paleo diet is the principle of returning to what early humans used to eat in the Paleolithic era. This was a time before the practice of harvesting grains, refining sugars, and adding artificial preservatives to food.
A Paleo diet includes meats, seafood, vegetables, low-sugar fruits, most nuts, and healthy oils. It strictly eliminates grains, legumes, dairy, sugars, potatoes, peanuts, vegetable / hydrogenated oils, and all processed foods.
By removing processed foods and additives from all daily meals, many people on the Paleo diet have experienced improvements in leanness / body composition (percentages of fat, bone, water and muscle) and an increase in energy and metabolism.
If you’re interested in trying out the Paleo diet, check out our weekly meal plan service! All of our meal plans include a Paleo option.
#3 : Whole30 Diet
The Whole30 program has a lot of overlap with the Paleo diet, but is a short-term elimination diet. For 30 days, it eliminates certain foods that are considered inflammatory in order to give your body a break and essentially hit the “reset” button.
The “whole” in Whole30 comes from its rule of making sure each food you eat is as close to its original whole food source as possible. This means avoiding processed foods or at least having the fewest ingredients in each food as you can.
This diet is supposed to be followed religiously for 30 days because any cheating ruins the elimination reset. Although you say farewell to sugars, grains, dairy, alcohol, and most legumes for a month, the nice thing about Whole30 is that it doesn’t have any calorie counting and has no set fat-protein-carb ratio you need to follow every day. So, you can follow your whims within the permissible food groups.
To find out more about what you can and can’t eat on the Whole30 diet, check out our article here:
# 4: Vegan and Vegetarian Diets
While both vegan and vegetarian diets cut out all animal protein, there is one distinct difference between the two: animal products. Vegetarians can eat anything except meats and seafood, but vegans follow a strictly plant-based diet and avoid any food that comes from an animal. This includes meats, seafood, dairy, eggs, and some vegans omit honey as well.
Although a vegan diet is more difficult to follow than a vegetarian diet, it is becoming increasingly easier to find positively delicious vegan recipes, vegan products in grocery stores, and quality vegan restaurants. Since vegetarian and vegan diets have proven benefits in managing diabetes and reducing heart disease risks, it is great that they are becoming more accessible.
Whether you try one of these two diets for health, environmental impact, religious beliefs, or the treatment of animals, make sure to get a good balance of nutrition and think about taking a supplement with calcium, zinc, and vitamin D and B12.
Our weekly meal plan service makes it easy to go vegetarian, since we include a vegetarian option for all of our meal plan menus. We even have community members (like Kitchen Hero Tiffany) who eat plant-based, and they always offer up vegan tips in our Facebook Group!
#5 : MIND Diet
(Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay)
The MIND diet doesn’t only have a cool name, it actually aims to help a person’s brain and reduce their risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by up to 53%. You may be wondering, does the MIND diet really work to help prevent brain decline? The answer to that question isn’t 100% known yet, but according to a 900-person study published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia, it does have a significant effect. Those who participated in the study and closely followed the diet were found to have a similar cognitive functioning level of someone 7.5 years younger.
What you can eat on the MIND diet is similar to the Mediterranean and DASH heart-health diets. The Mediterranean Diet embraces the typical eating habits of communities around the Mediterranean Sea. Their diet that is high in fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats from fish, nuts, and olive oil has contributed to an overall better level of health and life expectancy.
The DASH diet stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension and uses the U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute’s diet recommendations to help people lower high blood pressure. Eating with DASH means filling your plate with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and low-fat dairy.
The MIND diet takes the successes of the Mediterranean and DASH standards and blends them into 10 food groups that are “brain-healthy”. It also outlines 5 unhealthy food groups to avoid whenever possible.
10 Brain-Healthy Food Groups:
- Green leafy vegetables
- Other vegetables
- Whole grains
- Olive oil
5 Unhealthy Food Groups:
- Red meat
- Butter / stick margarine
- Pastries / sweets
- Fast food / fried food
#6 : Low-FODMAP Diet
A low-FODMAP diet can look odd and sound intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. Long story short, it is a diet that restricts certain carbs that don’t absorb well in the small intestine. When these carbs aren’t absorbed, they travel to the colon and are fermented by bacteria, which can cause bloating, digestive distress, and every kind of IBS symptom. To help determine which foods are affecting different people, the low-FODMAP diet was created.
FODMAP is an acronym that stands for the very sciency names of the carbs that can be fermented (oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols, if you really want to know). By following a period of elimination and then reintroduction of FODMAPs, you can determine which foods / carb groups you react negatively to and then avoid them in the future.
To learn more about the diet and get a FODMAP food list, read our article here:
#7 : Weight Watchers Diet
Since the 1960s, Weight Watchers has been one of the most popular diets and is now found in 30 countries around the world. The main concepts behind this diet is to help participants lose weight through forming good habits, getting more exercise, and having support to reach their weight goals.
The revolutionary thing about the Weight Watchers diet is that no food is off limits. Sound too good to be true? Well, it’s not. Weight Watchers works on a point system where participants can eat whatever foods they want as long as they don’t exceed their total point goal for each day. Since nutritious foods have fewer points and sweets have more points, it forces you to keep your food choices in check and form better habits.
Weight Watchers had PointsPlus that calculated points based on total fat, carbohydrate, dietary fiber, and protein, but implemented a new SmartPoints system in 2015. The new points are calculated using calories, saturated fat, sugar, and protein. Whether you use SmartPoints or PointsPlus, our meal plan gives the number of points for both systems on every single recipe in our meal plan service. You can learn more about our meal plan features here.
#8 : Atkins Diet
Dr. Atkins developed this low-carb diet to help people lose a substantial amount of weight and make their bodies healthier. By limiting carbohydrates (glucose), the body will burn fat for fuel instead and will have a more consistent level of energy and blood sugar. The Atkins diet is also helpful in lowering cholesterol, but if you need to drastically alter your cholesterol, you may want to look into the Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes (TLC) Diet that is endorsed by the American Heart Association.
If you need to lose 40+ pounds or have a 35-inch (for women) or 40-inch (for men) waist, then Atkins 20 is your friend. Every day it requires you to limit your total net carbs (minus fiber) to 20 grams.
The Atkins 4 Phases break down:
- Phase 1: Introduction – for two weeks, eat a maximum of 20 grams of carbs, three 4-6 oz servings of protein, and 3 servings of health fat per day. These carbs can come from low-carb veggies, fish, poultry, red meat, olive oil, cheese (2-4 oz / day), stevia, and butter or cold pressed oils (2-4 Tbsp / day)
- Phase 2: Balancing – add 5 net carbs to your week with nuts and small amounts of berries
- Phase 3: Fine-Tuning – once you are within 10-15 pounds of goal weight, reintroduce legumes, starchy vegetables, fruits, grains, and dairy
- Phase 4: Lifetime Maintenance – find the right balance where you eat carbs without gaining weight back and stick to it.
If you have less than 40 pounds to lose, then you can try Atkins 40 which is an almost identical diet but bumps up the amount of carbs you can eat to 40 grams per day.
#9 : Flexitarian Diet
We discussed the vegetarian diet, and you may have heard about a pescatarian diet, but do you know what a flexitarian is? The name comes from the words “flexible” and “vegetarian” and means that the diet is mostly vegetarian to promote better health, but doesn’t necessitate cutting out all meat at all times. This diet gives you the freedom to adapt to how your week is going, who is in town, and what events you will be attending.
Since this diet is so flexible, it has been reported to be one of the diets people find easiest to follow. In addition, the flexitarian diet is in the top 5 rated diets for weight loss, diabetes management, and heart health.
Even though the Flexitarian diet has such a high success rate, you still need to figure out what’s for dinner. Meal planning can be time-consuming or overwhelming, even if you are on a flexible diet. That’s where we can help with our easy and effective “diet” . . .
#10 : Cook Smarts Diet
Although it isn’t the most common diet yet (yes, yet!), it should be. The Cook Smarts “diet” is all about healthy home cooking that you can stick to. We give you Original, Vegetarian, Paleo, and Gluten-Free versions of every recipe on the weekly menu so you can be a flexitarian in an easy and healthy way.
We also give advanced nutrition facts that provide calorie info so you can adjust according to your health or weight loss goals. When you cook at home, you control what you put in your body and how much you put in your body. Since eating more fiber can help people lose weight and body fat (according to this Atlantic article), cooking meals at home where you can adjust your fiber is one of the best “diets” you can have!
In today’s busy world, people often cheat on their diet simply because they don’t have time. With Cook Smarts, it is easy to make meals at home and enjoy healthy leftovers because we save you hours every week by sending recipes right to your inbox and giving meal prep suggestions for every meal.
If you want to get healthier or lose weight, try getting your Cook Smarts on and see what a difference it can make for your body (and your time!).
Most Popular Diets Defined
Learn more about the top health diets, including which foods to eat and avoid, with this infographic guide.
Have you tried any of these diets before? If so, let us know how it worked for you in the comments below!
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