During the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us have either gained weight or taken the time to get into shape – and in some cases, a little of both. Regardless, we’ve all been inundated with information and claims about popular diet trends in the news or on social media.
The best advice when it comes to crafting a healthy diet isn’t to trust an online trend, but to instead seek guidance from a dietitian trained to help us focus on being healthy, which is far more important than simply losing weight. They can answer questions about dietary and lifestyle factors, like stress, that affect health and can help build a personalized, long-term plan that includes proper caloric intake, optimized supplementation and prioritizes whole foods. Here are some insights from the dietitians we work with to debunk three popular diet trends:
“Everyone should do intermittent fasting.” This type of fasting can vary; for example, an individual can restrict eating during given times of the day or days of the week. These fasting patterns are based on circadian biology – the notion that our body runs on a clocklike cycle – and that there are ideal windows for calorie intake that can optimize liver function, the microbiome and digestion.
While there can be benefits of this type of diet for some people – intermittent fasting can support sustained weight loss for people who are obese – it’s not meant for everyone. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, have had an eating disorder, are chronically stressed, or don’t sleep well, this may not be right for you. Intermittent fasting should not be a first step for people new to diet and exercise.
“Keto is the best way to lose weight.” Keto diets are based on the fact that some fats are very good for us, like those from avocados, olives and coconuts, and they shift calorie intake to a fat-heavy diet (up to 80%) with very low carb intake (as little as 5%). When compared to the standard American diet, which is high in carbs and sugars, a keto diet will keep blood sugar balanced, break down adipose tissue (stored “fats” in our body) and burn those good fats as energy.
While a keto diet can lead to great benefits, like weight loss due to breaking down adipose tissue, better energy and decreased chronic inflammation, it’s more of a quick-fix solution and not a long-term lifestyle. A keto diet typically works better for men and is not recommended for people with hormonal imbalances or kidney or liver disease.
“Going vegan is better for me and the environment.” The health and well-being of our environment is closely connected to all facets of human activity, including what and how we eat. Eating meat for instance, can be harmful for the environment because its production involves pollutants like pesticides to grow feed, methane produced by animals and carbon dioxide from transportation.
But that doesn’t mean cutting meat from the menu is the only way to improve our diets and save the planet – we just have to be mindful of where our food comes from. As a whole, we all could consume more vegetables – say, by having one vegetarian meal each week – but we can still savor meat in moderation. Incorporating beans and lentils will ensure adequate protein when we cut out some meats. Buying local, in-season foods and organic, humanely sourced meat will also improve your diet’s impact on the environment.
Taken together, we have to understand that diets should be designed for an individual’s own goals and lifestyle. There is and never will be a one-size-fits-all miracle diet. By working with a dietitian and prioritizing nutrition, you’ll be well on your way to looking – and more importantly feeling – healthier.
Gary Kracoff has a degree in naturopathic medicine and is a registered pharmacist and John Walczyk is a compounding pharmacist at Johnson Compounding & Wellness in Waltham, Mass. For more information, visit www.naturalcompounder.com. Readers with questions about natural or homeopathic medicine, compounded medications, or health in general can e-mail [email protected] or call 781-893-3870.