Decoding diets

Eat like a caveman, lower your calorie intake, sugar is enemy No.1a low-down on popular diets and what they can or can't do for you

In the quest to stay fit, nothing is as timeless and fluid as diets. Exercise regimens and fitness fads come and go but the fixation with diets remains constant. After all, as Mumbai-based celebrity CrossFit trainer Shivoham Bhatt points out, “Thirty per cent of what you see in your body is due to your workouts and 70% is the result of what you eat. That’s why I tell people who train with me to watch what they eat."

Before you decide which diet to try, a look at what they let you eat, how tough they are to follow, and what they can really do for you.

The Paleo diet

“One can eat a good variety of foods in this diet," says Reema Chaudhury, a Mumbai-based clinical dietitian and certified nutritionist from the Benedictine University in Chicago, US.

The promise

Weight loss, greater vitality and more lean muscle.

To eat and to avoid

You could eat any vegetable preparation cooked with ‘ghee’ (clarified butter) and/or coconut oil, minimal spice and salt. Any home chicken recipe, fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds can also be included. You will have to avoid all legumes, grains, refined oils, extra spices and dairy products.

Pros

“In this diet, the intake of compounds related to inflammation and acidity is much lower. It includes foods that don’t raise insulin levels and ensures a healthy intake of fibre since it is a produce-based diet," says Neha Gandhi, a New Delhi-based nutritionist with a master’s degree in food science and nutrition from the University of Leeds, UK.

Cons

Not only is the modern man not the same as his ancestors, most modern fruits and vegetables are not what they used to be because of the fertilizers and chemicals used. Most modern meats aren’t the same either. This diet could lead to nutrient deficiency. “The benefits of legumes far outweigh their anti-nutrient content (contents that do not have any nutritional value) compared to grains and nuts. Legumes also have great antioxidant and anti-cancer qualities that you are deprived of. The absence of dairy food in the diet could lead to bone problems. People with special health conditions and food restrictions cannot follow the Paleo," warns Gandhi. Vegetarians will find it difficult to adopt this diet.

5:2

The promise

Weight loss and improved blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

To eat and to avoid

“On fasting days you could plan meals, including breakfast with egg and toast with fruits and milk, followed by grilled or steamed chicken/fish with sautéed vegetables and brown rice for either lunch or dinner," suggests Gandhi. “For vegetarians, porridge/oats/‘poha’/‘idli’, with fruits and milk, followed by sautéed vegetables with brown rice/vegetable biryani." On the other five days, normal healthy eating is recommended. On an average, men require 2,400 calories in a day, and women, 2,000 calories.

Pros

Gandhi says the 5:2 diet reduces the risk of heart disease, promotes weight loss and helps control blood sugar and cholesterol. Chaudhury adds, “This diet gives one the mental satiety of eating a wide range of food with no restriction on five days and yet shows results."

Cons

Two days of restricted eating can lead to severe nutrient deficiency, warns Chaudhury. Gandhi says there is a risk that fasting could induce overeating the next day. “Fasting could also lead to anxiety, sleep deprivation and nutrient deficiency," she adds. “It could result in great fluctuations in weight once discontinued."

Alkaline

The promise

The basic premise is that an alkaline diet helps maintain the body’s acidity at healthy levels.

To eat and to avoid

Most herbs and spices, such as ginger, garlic, black and white pepper, cumin, mustard, fennel, cloves and cardamom, are alkaline-forming.

Also stock your refrigerator with fruits and dry fruits, including almonds, raisins, dates, apricots, mangoes, guavas, lychees, peaches and coconut, and vegetables such as eggplant, zucchini and tomatoes. You can also have ‘ghee’ and lentils. Say goodbye to salt, rice, lamb, bread, chicken, fish, dried beans, cashews, peanuts, pistachios, cottage cheese and yogurt. Fruits like berries and plums, canned juices, and vegetables such as beans and cooked spinach are also not allowed, says Gandhi.

Pros

“Consuming more foods that are metabolized into alkaline residues and fewer foods that are metabolized into acidic residues can help preserve muscle mass," says Neha Patodia, nutritionist at Gold’s Gym, Kolkata. If you are a vegan, this a good diet to follow.

Cons

Gandhi says our bodies are likely to witness a shift in pH balance with this diet, since the human body is not designed for too much alkalinity. “At times, this diet can get confusing. For example, lemons and apple cider, which are acidic in nature, are listed as alkaline because of how they are metabolized by the body," says Patodia.

Sugar detox

The promise

Removing sugar from your diet will ensure you eat less, avoid an energy crash, have healthy blood sugar levels, control diabetes and help you lose weight.

To eat and to avoid

Stock your kitchen with all kinds of grass-fed meats, eggs, fish, nuts, vegetables lentils, ‘ghee’, olive oil, coconut oil, butter, lentils, lemons and wholegrains like wheat, brown rice, etc. While at it, bid goodbye to alcohol, MSG (monosodium glutamate), simple carbs, including white pasta, white rice and white bread. You can’t have simple sugars, artificial sweeteners, fruits and fruit juices either, advises Patodia.

Pros

Patodia says the sugar-detox diet is easy to follow as it includes most food groups. Just look out for the hidden sugar in processed and pre-packed foods. What’s more, it does not set any limits on portion sizes or ask you to keep a calorie count. “The best part about this is that it omits bad carbs and hence is good for weight loss and diabetes control," she adds.

Cons

The stricter versions of this diet exclude most fruits, hence important vitamins, antioxidants, phytochemicals may not be available to you without supplements, warns Patodia.

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