Forget the fads: Trust these science-backed diets

Fad diets come and go, mainly because they’re unsustainable or downright detrimental to your long-term health.

However, there are numerous branded diets or structured ways of eating that consistently feature on annual lists that rank the most popular, most searched, or most effective and sustainable diet plans.

These diets are generally backed by scientific research and remain popular in mainstream society because they’re sustainable – they’re all generally based on sound nutritional principles. and many adherents have achieved results by following one of these approaches.

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What’s right for you?

The diets vary in their macronutrient structures, which means there is no one-size-fits-all option. We know that everyone is different and will therefore respond differently to certain diets and eating plans.

As such, consulting with a qualified nutritional expert is the best way to determine the diet best suited to your genes, lifestyle and goals.

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The Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean diet has gained a reputation as one of the healthiest eating plans around. Emerging research continually affirms existing claims, while also identifying potential new benefits for both mind and body.

For instance, a study published in the journal Nutrition & Diabetes found an associational link between those who ate a Mediterranean diet and reduced weight gain and lower waist circumferences.

The American Heart Association has also stated previously that a Mediterranean diet might help to reduce cholesterol, which helps to lower cardiovascular health risks, while a recent study published in the Journal Movement Disorders linked this diet with a lower risk of Parkinson’s Disease among women.

The diet consists predominantly of vegetables, nuts, whole grains, some seafood and fruits, and plenty of olive oil, with low amounts of dairy products and red meat.

Adherents consume considerably less sugar, processed foods, refined carbs, and hydrogenated and saturated fats than those who eat westernised diets. Many consider this a balanced diet plan because it includes all macronutrient groups. It is also easy to maintain due to the variety and the fact that it doesn’t severely restrict portion sizes.

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Intermittent fasting

A growing body of scientific research shows that calorie restriction from partial fasts could help to reduce and manage weight, while also improving health markers such as cholesterol and blood sugar levels. Adherents often also report experiencing sustained energy throughout the day.

One theory is that intermittent fasting increases insulin sensitivity, which aids blood sugar regulation. By increasing the body’s responsiveness to insulin (the hormone that regulates blood sugar) you can reduce excessive fat storage, as well as limit or manage various lifestyle diseases.

Intermittent fasting follows the principle of abstaining from eating for 15-18 hours to skip a meal or two.

Even two-day-a-week fasts may promote some of the same benefits that uninterrupted calorie restriction promises. In its more commercial forms, intermittent fasting techniques go by several names, including the FastDiet, the 5:2 Diet, the Mosley Diet or the Warrior diet.

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The Pegan diet

The pegan diet, proposed by Mark Hyman, M.D., director of the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine, is a mix of paleo and plant-based vegan eating plans, both of which have scientific research that affirms their efficacy.

While one advocates a great deal of meat and the other excludes all animal sources, the premise is built around the exclusion of processed foods while advocating for a diet that is closer to nature with an abundance of natural whole foods.

This entails eating five or more cups of vegetables, four servings of carbohydrates, three servings of proteins, two servings of healthy fats, and one dairy substitute a day. These foods are consumed over three meals a day, plus two snacks. Meat and fish can also form part of the diet, but only in small amounts.

Adherents are only allowed one cheat day, along with two desserts and two alcoholic drinks per week. The diet excludes dairy, starchy vegetables, and grains that contain gluten.

READ MORE | 8 Common Myths About Veganism – BUSTED

Ketogenic diets

Ketogenic diet followers eat meals that are very low in carbs and high in natural fats. Research has affirmed its use as a medical treatment for drug-resistant epilepsy, especially in children, with more evidence showing benefits for weight-loss compared to other low-carb and traditional diets.

When used correctly, this dietary technique has the potential to reduce body fat and improve your health by prompting your body to utilise stored fat, rather than glycogen, for fuel.

Due to the low carbohydrate intake prescribed by the diet, the body is then forced into a state of ketosis, converting stored fat into free fatty acids and energy in the form of ketones or ketone bodies.

These ketones replace glucose as the body’s primary energy source. As ketone levels rise beyond a threshold, the body enters a state of ketosis.

The classic ketogenic diet excludes high-carbohydrate foods such as starchy fruits and vegetables, bread, pasta, grains and sugar, while increasing foods high in medium-chain triglycerides – which are more ketogenic – and long-chain triglycerides.

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Atkins diet

The Atkins Diet is a milder, more formalised ketogenic diet. It is one of the first and more popular low-carb diets. It was devised by Dr. Robert Atkins in 1972 and popularised through a successful series of books.

There are numerous studies that affirm the potential benefits of this diet, including studies published in respected journals like the Annals of Internal Medicine and others like the British Medical Journal.

Followers of this diet are required to drastically reduce their carbohydrate intake to encourage the body to burn fat instead of glucose for energy. Protein, vegetables and fats dominate this eating plan, with foods like white rice, pasta and flour, potatoes and sugar completely excluded.

People on this diet must count the total grams of carbohydrates and must minus the total amount of fibre (in grams) consumed each day. The two-week induction phase of the plan restricts carb consumption to 20g/day. Adherents then slowly add more carbs over three more phases. In the fourth and final maintenance phase, dieters can eat roughly 75g of carbs a day.

This diet is known to deliver quick results, but maintaining this type of eating can be difficult as it’s restrictive in nature.

There are also concerns regarding its saturated fat content, and the lack of antioxidants, fibre and other nutrients from the limited consumption of fruits, vegetables and grains. Dieters often requires supplements to make up for these shortfalls.

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New Nordic Diet

The New Nordic diet is a science-based approach to eating that predominantly focuses on the consumption of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, eggs, oil and seafood, while foods like meat, dairy, dessert and alcohol are eaten sparingly.

A study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that a healthy Nordic diet impacts genes in abdominal fat, turning off genes related to inflammation.

This way of eating helped study participants lose weight without feeling deprived, and reduced their risk of type 2 diabetes.

Due to its composition, it is often compared to the Mediterranean Diet. However, the New Nordic diet uses rapeseed oil instead of olive oil, and produce is native to Scandinavia.

This new diet also contains 35% less meat than the average Danish diet, more whole grains, and locally-sourced produce, 75% of which should be organic.

Food options includes whole grain cereals such as oats and rye; local fruits and berries like rose hip, lingonberries and bilberries; and cruciferous and root vegetables such as Brussels sprouts, broccoli, turnips, parsnips and beets.

Protein sources include beef, pork, lamb and reindeer, and seafood such as herring, mackerel and salmon.

Accoutrements include parsley, dil, mustard, horseradish and chives. Strangely, though, the diet proposes including vegetable oil-based margarine and

Ultimately, the most effective diet is a sustainable eating plan that you enjoy following. The common elements in all successful diets include an abundance of fresh, whole foods that contain nutrients, portion control, some combination of all 3 macronutrient groups, and enough variety to keep eating interesting and tasty.

Author: Pedro van Gaalen

When he’s not writing about sport or health and fitness, Pedro is probably out training for his next marathon or ultra-marathon. He’s worked as a fitness professional and as a marketing and comms expert. He now combines his passions in his role as managing editor at Fitness magazine.

When he's not writing about sport or health and fitness, Pedro is probably out training for his next marathon or ultra-marathon. He's worked as a fitness professional and as a marketing and comms expert. He now combines his passions in his role as managing editor at Fitness magazine.

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