Which popular diet is right for you?

From low-carb to intermittent fasting and keto, dietitian Susie Burrell breaks down trending diets – and who they are best for.

The thing that may surprise you is that most diets will work, if they are followed.

But when diets are especially restrictive and eliminate a number of food groups, dramatically slashing calories as a result, they are generally difficult for most people to follow for any extended period of time.

So if you are keen to drop a few kilos, here are the key things you need to know about the popular diets of the moment so you can make an informed decision about which one may be right for you.

Intermittent fasting

Intermittent fasting covers a range of dietary programs that encourage followers to either dramatically reduce calorie intake on two non consecutive days (the 5:2) or fast for an extended number of hours each day (16:8).

It can reap a range of metabolic benefits, which may include slow but sustainable weight loss.

Pros of intermittent fasting:

  • The 16:8 can be relatively easy to follow and takes the focus off calorie counting and overall food restriction.
  • The only thing dieters need to focus on is eating all their calories within an eight-hour period.
  • Can fit in with life well, allowing times for eating more at social events and celebrations with dieters able to somewhat buffer the effects by not eating for a number of hours afterwards.

Cons of intermittent fasting:

  • The 5:2, in which followers include two especially low calories days each week can be difficult to follow long term.

Intermittent fasting is best for:

  • Those wanting to reap the health benefits associated with fasting including reducing blood pressure, blood glucose and cholesterol.
  • Will support small weight losses of 1-2kg a month in those with relatively small amounts of weight to lose (5-10kg).

keto diet

Keto diet

The keto diet is a very specific low-carb diet that requires at least 70 per cent of calories to come from fat.

This shifts the body’s natural state from burning glucose as its primary fuel into ketosis, in which fat stores are broken down to fuel the brain and the body.

Traditionally used to manage some medical conditions, keto can be very effective in achieving relatively quick weight loss – when it is followed.

Pros of a keto diet:

  • Keto can result in relatively quick weight loss and suits some people who enjoy higher fat food.
  • Followers report a general feeling of euphoria when in keto and hunger tends to be less of an issue than can be experienced on reduced calorie eating programs.

Cons of a keto diet:

  • It is not easy to achieve keto – there are very few foods to work with to achieve a 70 per cent fat diet, which makes adherence and long-term sustainability difficult.
  • Keto, which includes minimal dairy, legumes and wholegrains can impact calcium and fibre intake.

The keto diet is best for:

  • Those with large amounts of weight to lose and individuals who like high fat foods.

Low-carb diet

Low-carb diets include many popular regimens including Paleo, the Dubrow, Dukan and the latest offerings from CSIRO, and include plans that contain anywhere from 20-45 per cent carbohydrates overall.

Here, refined grains, fruit, starchy veggies and cereals are likely restricted, in favour of larger amounts of protein-rich foods and low calorie fruits and vegetables.

Pros of low-carb diets:

  • Low-carb diets generally work for most people, at least initially.

Cons of low-carb diets:

  • Over time, weight loss may slow as metabolic adaptation reduces metabolic rate to compensate for the reduction in carbohydrate and calorie intake.

Low-carb diets are best for:

  • Those wanting or needing to lose weight fast. Once weight loss slows though, you will be better to increase carbohydrates over time or adopt a more sustainable regimen such as fasting or the Mediterranean diet.

mediterranean diet

Mediterranean Diet

Voted the one of the healthiest diet options, eating a Mediterranean diet means that you will naturally load up on plenty of fresh food and lean protein while significantly reducing your intake of processed foods.

Pros of the Mediterranean diet:

  • One of the healthiest diets, those who follow a Mediterranean diet live longer and have a reduced risk of developing a number of lifestyle diseases including Type 2 diabetes, some types of cancer and heart disease.

Cons of the Mediterranean diet:

  • While extremely healthy, a Mediterranean diet is not always lower in calories and as such is not specifically associated with weight loss.

The Mediterranean diet is best for:

  • Those wanting a healthy diet but who are not specifically interested in weight loss.
  • Ideal to adopt once you have lost a few kilos and are looking for a healthy way to maintain this loss.

Vegan diet

Plant-based diets are the flavour of the month, and indeed ditching all animal food in favour of extra grains, cereals, fruits, legumes and vegetable will likely reduce calorie intake overall.

Pros of a vegan diet:

  • Increasing our intake of wholegrains, nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables is a generally a good thing.

Cons of a vegan diet:

  • The key thing to know is that while vegan diets may be perceived as healthier, this is not always the case as processed vegan foods can be as calorie dense as regular foods. For this reason, a plant based or vegan diet will not guarantee weight loss long term.

A vegan diet is best for:

  • Those who are wanting to adopt a plant based lifestyle as opposed to wanting weight loss.

paleo diet

Paleo diet

The Paleo diet is a relatively low-carb diet that focuses on proteins, good fats and some vegetables based on a hunter-gatherer philosophy that embraces natural, unprocessed foods.

Followers are encouraged to avoid all legumes, grains and dairy instead seeking out their fats from nuts, coconut oil, oily fish and meats.

Pros of a Paleo diet:

  • A pure Paleo approach will include very little processed food, making it a relatively healthy diet – if you can stick to it.

Cons of a Paleo diet:

  • Dietary fibre intake is significantly impacted, which can cause gut discomfort for some.
  • With minimal dairy, calcium intake too can be impacted.
  • In real life it is difficult to stick to long term, especially if you eat out frequently and don’t have a lot of interest in food prep or cooking.

The Paleo diet is best for:

  • Those who will benefit from a lower carb style of eating, although there are better dietary approaches that will achieve similar results with a less restrictive approach to diet and weight loss.

Very Low Calorie Diet (800 calories)

Very Low Calorie Diets (VLCD) generally use meal replacement products and diet shakes to achieve an extremely low calorie intake of just 800 calories a day.

They have been used for many years in clinical settings to achieve weight loss.

Pros of VLCD:

  • VLCDs are very effective in achieving quick weight loss if they can be followed.

Cons of VLCD:

  • VLCDs are difficult to maintain long term and there is a high risk of weight regain when normal eating resumes

VLCD is best for:

  • Those who need to lose weight quickly, for those who do not find it difficult to follow strict diets or for those who often do not eat a lot during the day and find the structure of meal replacement programs easy to follow.

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Written by Susie Burrell.