Navigating the weight management maze: A nutritionist's take on trendy diets


11 Jun 2018 --- Dieting trends and popular ingredients tipped to contribute to weight loss are often centered on health, “mindfulness,” and natural products. Weight management and health, for today's’ conscious consumers, often play a role in food purchases and consumer interest in food and fitness has skyrocketed. NutritionInsight speaks to registered Dietician and Nutrition, Sharon Palmer MS, RDN on the topic of trendy diets: keto and paleo.

While the British Dietetic Association (BDA) has welcomed the public’s health-conscious attitude, it warns there are “seemingly endless amounts of diets out there all professing to be the key to a better you, with many diets claiming to be ‘healthy’ when in reality, they are anything but.” Interestingly, many of the diet trends that we see today offer crossovers in a variety of categories.

There’s been a 600 percent increase in people identifying as vegans in the US in the last three years. In the UK, the number of people identifying as vegans has increased by 350 percent, compared to a decade ago, according to research commissioned by the Vegan Society. Plant-based proteins have become increasingly popular, as well as free-from labels, which show no signs of slowing down. 

A plethora of studies have identified health benefits coming from a plant-based diet. For example, a Netherlands based study found that those who ate more plant protein at the expense of animal-derived protein showed a lower risk of developing coronary heart disease, while another study found the diet to lower cholesterol and blood pressure.

Meanwhile, ketogenic and paleo diets have surged in interest in recent months, with many consumers following these diets in a bid to curb weight gain and promote weight loss. More traditional diets, such as the Mediterranean diet, gets its name from the eating habits of people living in Mediterranean countries and has been linked to better health and longevity. A typical Mediterranean diet is high in fruits and vegetables, as well as healthy fatty foods like fish, nuts and olive oil.

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Sharon Palmer, MS, RDN,
Registered dietician and Nutritionist.

Dietitians are often on the front lines of nutrition and health news, so what do they think when it comes to weight management?

Registered dietician and Nutritionist, Sharon Palmer, tells NutritionInsight that she cannot believe that the Paleo diet is still going strong, “The emphasis on meat and avoidance of grains and legumes is unsustainable for the health of people and the planet,” she notes. 

Paleo diets encourage high intake of red meats and animal proteins, and the elimination of dairy, grains, legumes, and many fruits. Naturally low in calories and carbohydrates, the diet can weight loss, but there are potential health consequences.

“Paleo is still here, though I have a feeling it might have peaked and is no longer on the increase,” notes Palmer. “I haven’t seen any survey data supporting this, though. Some of the individuals that follow Paleo people may be the ones moving towards the Keto diet, too. All diets that are difficult to stay on will lose traction over time.”

Many people on Paleo diets miss carbohydrate foods, such as grains, starchy vegetables, and legumes – as well as alcohol (all prohibited on Paleo), according to Palmer. “They have ‘cheat days,’ but in my opinion any time a diet is so miserable that you have to have a ‘cheat day’ to go off of it, it’s a sign that it’s not a sustainable diet. Sustainable diets are diets you can live with for your lifestyle over a period of time. I think the traditional Nordic diet is becoming more recognized, but in the US I feel that it is not to the ‘trend’ status yet,” she says. 

“Keto is very popular right now. However, the diet doesn’t have proven benefits for general health and wellness, and it’s a very difficult diet to do,” Palmer notes. “I am concerned about the elimination of many healthful foods to achieve the strict ratio of protein, carbohydrates, and fat, such as eliminating whole grains, fruits, legumes, vegetables. We know these foods are important for health, so it would be difficult to achieve the level of nutrients you need (vitamins, minerals, fiber, phytochemicals) on a keto diet for the long term.”

“Besides, we really don’t know if ketosis is a desirable state for the body to be in over a period of time. There are healthier ways to lose weight,” she claims. “Studies show that the most effective weight loss diet is the one that you can stay on long-term.” 

According to Palmer, a diet that is sustainable is key for weight loss. “For example, the Mediterranean diet is delicious and healthful – it has multiple health benefits, such as reduced risk of heart disease, cancer, Type 2 diabetes and it can be used successfully for weight loss too. You shouldn’t expect to lose huge amounts of weight, one to two pounds a week is sufficient,” she adds. “Look at more mindful eating approaches, as you may not be aware of some of your negative eating behaviors. Eating whole plant foods, is ideal, as they are filling and low in calories.”

However, Palmer also notes that there is no silver bullet for weight loss. She also states that fiber seems to be a key as it is very filling. “Eating foods high in fiber are important for weight loss. There has also been some research on green tea and capsaicin so that I would encourage people to drink more green tea (unsweetened) and try spicy, vibrant foods in their diet. But these provide modest effects,” says Palmer.  

Is the obesity epidemic down to food manufacturers or the appetite of consumers? “The current food system plays a big role in weight – it is why we have a huge problem with obesity,” Palmer reveals. “People are now surrounded by unhealthful food choices 24/7, and we exercise less for our daily lives in the modern workplace. Very few of us are laboring in fields or factories in Western societies – we sit in our jobs, drive a car to work instead of walking and expend few calories in doing so.”

“We have an excess of calories available to us, and humans have not evolved to be in this environment of high energy foods in a low energy-expenditure environment. We need to reconnect with our food system and value high-quality, nutrient-rich foods in healthy amounts and get moving,” she concludes.  

You can read more about the paleo and keto diet in a special report on Dieting Trends by NutritionInsight here.

By Elizabeth Green

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