Debunking Diet Myths

Published On January 16, 2014 | January/February 2014

A healthy lifestyle or just another diet fad?

By Kathleen Delgrande

PALEOLITHIC ‘DIET’

The word diet, in its most simplistic form, is defined as giving your body the nutrition it needs.

The Paleo diet consists of eating like our cavemen predecessors, which consists of a high-protein, high-fat and low-carbohydrate diet. This diet claims that by giving our bodies nutrients from living things, including plants, nuts and seeds from the ground, we will function at our highest capacity (mentally, physically andemotionally), lose weight and prevent diseases. This diet does not include processed or refined carbohydrates (vegetables and fruits are carbohydrates, but not those processed in a factory), dairy and legumes. The protein consumption comes from animals, fish and nuts. Fat comes from animals as well, but also nut and plant oils, such as olive oil and some nut oils. The body needs fat to function, plain and simple. Fat coming from red meat provides us with cholesterol, which protects and supports the brain and stomach, among many other organs. Without that protection, both the brain and body operate at suboptimal levels.

This diet (nutrition lifestyle choice) emphasizes mindfulness, while simultaneously listening our bodies’ needs and giving them the appropriate nutrition to function at its highest capacity throughout the day.

Pros:

  • Cuts out excess sugar & sodium
  • Includes more fruit & vegetable
  • Regulates blood pressure
  • Contributes to weight loss
  • Helps prevent type 2 diabetes
  • Increases energy, brain function
    and protection of the blood-brain
    barrier and gut barrier
  • Daily detox for organs within the
    body system

Cons:

  • Excludes whole grains, legumes
    and dairy
  • Exceeds dietary guidelines for daily
    fat and protein intake
  • Reduction in carbohydrate intake
  • By eliminating whole grains and
    dairy, you inadvertently decrease
    your fiber intake and increase the
    likelihood of developing colon cancer
    (Americans need more fiber!)
  • Begs the question of portion control
    more so than focusing on nutrient rich
    foods

Expert Opinion

With the Paleo diet, I know it is really popular within the crossfit population right now, and I think this is definitely more so than with other populations. I really think the basis of this diet, if we still lived in those times of our cavemen predecessors, would make sense. But it is really high-fat, high-density foods, which could be beneficial and, this is why I think that it is so popular within the crossfit communities with such intense workouts.
But, it goes back to evolution. I have read a lot of research on archeologists who have studied all of these diets throughout time. I think one of the ideas of going on a Paleo diet would be like saying, ‘Oh, that is what our ancestors did, and that was the way that they survived, so why are we eating all of these processed foods now?’ However, our bodies have evolved to be able to digest and consume the foods that are out there now. We also do not even know how long these people in archaic times were living. So, it is really just hard to say, ‘The Paleo diet is the way to go.’ And, because it is a higher fat or could be a higher fat diet, that can have its own health concerns in and of itself, if you are not eating a balanced diet.

JUICING ‘DIET’

This trendy, but debatable “lose weight quick” diet is one in which the dieter detoxes the digestive system by drinking only juice throughout the day, for every meal. The dieter does so by:

  1. Purchasing an expensive juicing machine
  2.  Buying raw fruits and vegetables in copious amounts
  3. Cleaning, peeling and cutting fruits and vegetables
  4. Combining all of the above ingredients into a juicer to maximize the enzymes from the fruits and/ or vegetables

While this may seem ideal, drinking ones’ calories all day, everyday has significant drawbacks. For one, the mouth contains muscles, which, if not used, begin to deteriorate. Contrary to popular belief, another common problem is the loss of fiber, rather than the increase of it. Skin on apples, for example, must be removed to properly obtain the juice and not clog the blender. The same is true for cucumbers. The main hindrance is the loss of fiber, followed by incessant hunger pangs, due to hormones not being released from salivary glands because of the lack of chewing solid foods. Not unlike the Atkin’s diet, water weight is the first to go, tricking the dieter into thinking that the juice cleanse is working. Since the body is made up of over 70 percent water, what you are really seeing and experiencing is your once-plump tissues deflating, causing the illusion of weight loss. However, once the cleanse is over, the body swells. This is due to the tissues that are reabsorbing the lost nutrients. For this reason alone, juice diets, and diets of all kinds, should be avoided.

Pros:

  • Cleanse the body of harmful toxins caused by processed foods, chemicals in the air, etc.
  • Immediate boost of enzymes (protein) to the bloodstream, giving you a burst of energy
  • Unlike caffeine, the boost does not spike then crash. The boost is more consistent, and your body and blood notice this difference
  • Effective for a post-workout snack when the body’s energy needs to replenish itself of nutrients, such as vitamins and minerals that are depleted
  • Great to have first thing in the morning!

Cons:

  • Diabetes (both types) may be affected by surges of fructose (fruit sugars) and cellulose (plant sugars)
  • Citrus acids, specifically grapefruit and grapefruit juice, may negatively “interact” with medications for cholesterol
  • The only types of food ingested are fruits, vegetables, some seeds and nuts
  • Irritable and angry mood swings/outbursts; lethargic for a minimum of 72 hours, due to water loss

Expert Opinion

I am not very happy with the juicing diet that is going on right now. I think it is a little ridiculous. One being that I am an eating disorder dietician, and I kind of think everything about this leads to a lot of disordered thoughts. It could be a really dangerous thing to do that could lead to disordered eating or eating disorders. The function of just chewing sends signals to your brain to tell you, ‘OK, I am eating and swallowing, and I am getting this nourishment.’ Then, this sends signals to your brain telling you, ‘OK, I am ready to stop eating.’ It is that biological function that you are essentially skipping, because you are just drinking something. And then, a lot of times with juicing, you are missing the fiber of eating the whole food and just drinking juice. And sure, you may be getting a lot of vitamins, minerals and nutrients, which is great. But then, if that is your whole diet, where is the protein? The sugar levels are so high that I cannot even imagine feeling satisfied just from juice. It is low satiety, which leads to craving protein, carbohydrates and all other macronutrients that your body needs to function efficiently.

RAW ‘DIET’

Consists of raw, typically uncooked foods, and if they are cooked they should not be above 118 degrees Fahrenheit. May include raw fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, eggs, fish, meat and unpasteurized dairy products (i.e. raw milk). May include Kefir and Sauerkraut
Raw veganism

  • Unprocessed, raw plant foods not heated above 118 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Raw vegans believe that if food is cooked above this temperature, enzymes (essential proteins and nutrients) within the food denature (break apart), rendering the nutritious value of the food useless, and it may in fact do more harm than good by leaving toxins behind

Raw vegetarianism

  • Excludes meat, fish and poultry
  • Allows dairy and eggs (optional, at individual’s discretion)
  • Foodstuffs included in this diet: fruit, vegetables, sprouts, nuts, seeds, grains, legumes, dairy, eggs and honey

Raw animal food

  • Any food eaten raw, uncooked, unprocessed raw muscle-meats/organ meats/eggs, raw dairy, aged eggs, fermented meat, shellfish and kefir
  • NO RAW GRAINS, beans and soy
  • Believe in grass-fed meats and wild game versus grain-fed meats

Pros:

  • Listening to ones’ body
  • Only eating raw foods is a natural cleanse to both the GI tract and digestive system
  • Promotes good health, especially with increased uptake of protein
  • Healthy hair, skin, nails and teeth and oral health
  • Clears up acne (no added chemicals)
  • Encourages creativity in the kitchen

Cons:

  • Probability of consuming raw, uncooked meat, potentially making one ill (i.e. salmonella poisoning)
  • Foodborne illnesses, such as: E. coli (found in undercooked beef, raw milk (think unpasteurized), juice and contaminated water), Campylobacter jejuni (found in raw chicken breasts), Listeria, Vibrio, Toxoplasma and Norovirus

Expert Opinion

I know that within the whole vegan and vegetarian community this lifestyle is more popular. There is always that risk of foodborne illnesses from under cooking, especially with meat and dairy products, if it is unpasteurized. To that extreme of eating raw meat, it is pretty intense. I would not recommend it. The concept of not cooking food beyond 118 degrees is one in which you do not necessarily overcook foods, rather after a certain point, you lose a lot of the nutrients, because the heat breaks them down. The proteins denature and renders them useless. Just like the other diets, I do not prefer that word at all, I think compared to paleo and juicing, the raw food diet could work. I have a dietician friend of mine who can do it really well. She is obviously a dietician, does not have any disordered eating and she gets a good balance, which I think is why it is workable for her. But, do I necessarily think it will outweigh more benefits than just a regular balanced diet that is not necessarily 100 percent raw? No, probably not.

VEGAN/VEGETARIAN ‘DIETS’

The key to living a healthy vegan or vegetarian lifestyle is to keep an open mind within the limitations of your diet.
A vegan and vegetarian diet consists of consuming plants, fruits, whole grains, beans, peas, lentils, soy, nuts, seeds, herbs, spices and plant oils, which includes eggs and dairy as options, according to the vegan/vegetarian diet pyramid.

According to Mayo Clinic, when people think of a vegetarian diet, they typically think it is one that does not include meat, poultry or fish. But, vegan and vegetarian diets vary in the array of foods that are included and excluded:

  • Lacto-vegetarian diets exclude meat, fish, poultry and eggs, as well as foods that may contain them (soups or processed/prepackaged foods). Dairy products, such as milk, cheese, yogurt and butter are included.
  • Lacto-ovo vegetarian diets exclude meat, fish and poultry but allow for dairy products and eggs.
  • Ovo-vegetarian diets exclude meat, poultry, seafood and dairy products, but allow eggs.
  • Vegan diets exclude meat, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy products — and foods that contain these products.

Pros:

  • Listening to one’s body
  • Lower disease rates, such as: cancer, high blood pressure and heart disease, and it also lowers BMI and the risk of hypothyroid disease
  • Assorted, moderate, balanced and varied food products (following USDA guidelines for any healthful and nutrient-rich diet)
  • Increased intake of wholesome foods
  • * Note: ADA approves vegetarian diets, even during pregnancy. It may be nutritionally adequate. Evidence proves that an increase in infant health is a direct result of the mother following a vegetarian-conscious lifestyle

Cons:

  • Limited food sources of protein from meat—tofu contains protein
  • Depending on the specific diet followed, necessary nutrients need supplements in pill form (ingestion of chemicals not naturally occurring in the body)
  • Lack of calcium (Calcium supports bone health and prevents early onset of osteoporosis)
  • Iron stores deplete (Women need two times as much iron with this diet, due to the loss of blood each month from their menstrual cycle. This also poses a problem throughout pregnancy, as the fetus is absorbing all of the provided iron, so it needs to be replenished)
  • Iodine, necessary for thyroid function (1/4 tbsp. iodized salt ought to reverse the imbalance)
  • Lack of vitamins B12, D and zinc (supplements can be taken to boost these vitamin and macronutrient levels)

Q: If you had to choose between vegan and vegetarian, which one do you think is the better choice?

A: Easily vegetarian, just because vegan is so much more strict. Not that it is impossible, either. But, especially since I work with an eating disorder population, I feel like you go through all of these phases saying, ‘Oh, I am going to go Paleo and now juicing.’ You keep eliminating food groups until you are barely able to eat anything. And I think in the greater scheme of things, being vegan, unless the whole diet is done appropriately with supervision of a dietician, which I would recommend, it is hard to meet all of your bodies’ needs. Consuming iron is really difficult when you are not having animal products, which contains all of the other nutrients that are necessary for overall health and wellness. So, living a vegetarian lifestyle gives you a little more wiggle room—obviously there are all of the different classifications, but you can eat eggs, milk, yogurt and fish—all of those things that would be eliminated on a strictly vegan diet. So, definitely vegetarian is a little more workable. I always question if it is not for a religious reason or something like that—why are you doing it?

Expert Opinion: Christina Moreno, RD, LD Program Dietitian at Cedar Springs Austin

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