Are 2018’s Hottest Diets Nutritionist-Approved?

Every year there seems to be a never-ending list of new “fad” diets that take the world by storm. Some are keepers, but many are not, and some may even be potentially dangerous. At times it can be hard to decipher if a new diet is actually worth trying, which is why we spoke with Brittney Bearden, a registered dietitian and sports nutrition manager at Texas Health Sports Medicine – Fort Worth, to get her take on 2018’s hottest new diets.

A fad diet is a diet that promises rapid weight loss through what is usually an unbalanced diet and requires little to no exercise. The ease of these diets plus their claims of incredible results in a remarkable amount of time are the biggest lures, but if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Bearden evaluated five of the year’s hottest fad diets:

  • Raw foods diet
  • Ketogenic diet
  • Alkaline diet
  • Dukan diet
  • Whole30 diet

While some needed altering in order to be recommended, most did not pass the test.


The Raw Foods Diet

This diet is exactly how it sounds; a diet comprising of mostly raw foods. While sushi lovers may be rejoicing, this doesn’t mean you should sign up for that unlimited sushi Groupon just yet.

“The raw foods diet promotes raw, uncooked foods and claims food cooked above 116 degrees Fahrenheit loses the majority of its nutrients from the heat,” Bearden explains. “While some cooking methods can decrease nutrients in certain foods, the majority of vegetables retain their nutrient content when cooked.”

Bearden adds that cooking some foods actually improves the absorption rates of nutrients and phytochemicals when we consume them. For example, our body can absorb lycopene, a phytochemical found in tomatoes, more effectively when the tomato is cooked.

Bearden says that while the raw foods diet has positive aspects to it like its inclusion of whole, unprocessed fruits and vegetables and elimination of processed foods, cutting cooked foods entirely out of your diet can cause consequences for your health and possibly nutritional deficiencies.

Bottom line: Bearden suggests following the raw foods diet halfway by eating a combination of healthy raw and cooked foods in a balanced way to maximize your health.


The Ketogenic Diet

Originally created for people who suffer from seizures, the ketogenic diet, also known as the keto diet, is a high-fat, moderate-protein, and low-carb diet that promotes putting your body in a state of “ketosis”. Ketosis is when your body is forced to burn fats rather than carbohydrates, which our bodies normally use for energy. Your body then starts making ketones, hence the name, which are organic compounds that are byproducts of the body breaking down fat for energy when carbohydrate intake is low. These ketones are then eliminated from the body through urination.

While the diet makes sense from a consumer standpoint, Bearden warns that its restrictive qualities mixed with its high-fat intake can make it unhealthy.

“The diet is comprised of 70 to 80 percent fat, which leaves little room for healthy food items like fruits, starchy vegetables, whole grains, beans, and legumes,” Bearden explains. “It also doesn’t solely promote heart-healthy fats, but allows for all types of fat, including foods high in saturated fat, like bacon and butter.”

Bottom line: While the keto diet will help you lose some water weight initially, since our bodies retain fluid in order to store carbohydrates for energy use, Bearden doesn’t recommend the diet long-term. If you’re an athlete or weekend warrior, Bearden also suggests staying away from the Keto diet since carbohydrates are the body’s preferred energy source for high-intensity exercise.


The Alkaline Diet

The theory behind this diet is that acid-producing foods will lead to disturbances in the body’s internal pH level, and by replacing acidic foods with more alkaline ones you can improve your health and possibly prevent chronic disease — even cancer.

“In general, acid-forming foods include fish, poultry, meats, dairy, caffeine, salt, and sugar, while alkaline-forming foods include fruits and vegetables,” Bearden says. “We all know fruits and vegetables are healthy and most Americans don’t reach the recommended amount of at least five servings daily, but lean meats, fish, poultry and dairy also contribute important nutrients in the diet so only looking at it in the sense of pH is unwise.”

As a chemistry refresher, the pH scale ranges from zero to 14, and the more acidic something is, the lower its number on the scale, and vice versa. But unlike your chemistry project, Bearden says our bodies are more than capable of maintaining a perfect pH balance, which is usually around 7.4.   

Bottom line: While including more fruits and vegetables in your diet is beneficial, cutting out healthy “acidic” foods can make it harder for you to receive important nutrients. If following an alkaline diet helps you to make healthier food choices, then go for it, but don’t worry too much about if your pH is within a certain range.


The Whole30 Diet

At one point or another, many of us have wished that we could hit a reset button on something going on in our life. Well, that’s the motivation behind the Whole30 diet — a metaphorical reset of your eating habits. For thirty days you focus on eating whole, unprocessed foods and cutting out all added sugars, artificial sweeteners, alcohol, grains, most legumes and peas, soy products and dairy.

The idea is that our bodies have become accustomed to highly processed, modern diets that trigger hormone imbalances, trigger inflammation, and can provoke subtle food intolerances that may have an effect on our total health. At the end of the thirty days, your diet is “reset” and you now have the power to choose which foods you really miss instead of what your body is telling you it craves, and you have a better idea of what potential side effects foods may have on your body as you add them back.

Bottom line: Sounds pretty great, right? Not so quick; Bearden cautions that while the Whole30 diet may initially sound reliable, it excludes certain food groups that are nutritious and good for our health.

“Avoiding added sugar and processed junk food is always the goal,” Bearden says. “Promoting fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, protein, and healthy fats is also a positive aspect of the diet, but a con of the diet is the elimination of several food groups, like grains, dairy and legumes. If no food allergies or intolerances are present, these foods can be a healthy component of a balanced diet. Multiple studies have shown a reduced risk of heart disease and improved blood glucose control with the consumption of whole grains and legumes. While dairy is not the only source of calcium, the majority of dairy products also contain vitamin D which promotes calcium absorption.”

Aside from the dietary restrictions, Bearden says that the diet also has many rules that can lead to feelings of shame or guilt if you have a misstep anytime during the diet.


The Dukan Diet

Last but certainly not least is the Dukan diet, which is comprised of four stages. The first two stages focus on weight loss and the last two focus on maintenance. Stage one lasts for two to five days and calls for eating only lean, high-protein foods, along with 1 ½ tablespoons of oat bran and large quantities of water. Stage two adds some low-carb vegetables in with the protein sources from Stage one.

Once your desired weight has been reached, you can transition into Stage three and four by slowly incorporating minimal amounts of fruit, starchy vegetables and cheese. Walking is the only exercise suggested by the diet.

Bottom line: Although the diet could initially lead to weight loss due to the low caloric-intake, Bearden does not recommend this diet due to its extremely restrictive qualities, even noting that it can be potentially dangerous for those with certain health conditions like heart disease or diabetes.


The Takeaway

While many of the diets had positives aspects to them, most were too restrictive for Bearden to give a unanimous seal of approval. So what’s the takeaway? Find a “lifestyle” way of eating, meaning having a balanced, healthy approach and adjusting your intake to your level of physical activity.

“A balanced approach means eating for health and nutrition the majority of the time by including fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, legumes, low-fat dairy, and healthy fats,” Bearden explains. “Eating is something you will do the rest of your life, so it’s important to learn how to do it in a way that’s healthy, practical, and sustainable for life.”

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