Dieters Beware: 5 Popular Diets and Their Potential Heath Risks

The healthiest diet is one of moderation because you’re more likely to stick with a diet allows for variation. Choosing a specific diet plan, and having clear food guidelines, can make moderation easier. In the end, the diet you pick is a personal choice. No matter your decision, it’s important to know the pros and cons of your eating habits. Here’s the low-down on possible health hiccups of five of the most popular diets.

Paleo

Foods you can eat on a Paleo diet

Foods you can eat on a Paleo diet | Source: iStock

The Paleo diet is the ultimate throwback diet, based on a pretty simple premise: If cavemen didn’t eat it, you don’t eat it. It’s a hunter-gatherer approach to eating. The majority of the Paleo diet is animal protein, vegetables, and some fruit. You’ll be ditching dairy, refined sugar, grains, and legumes.

Copying a diet that was prevalent more than 2 million years ago has some pros (like more veggies and no processed food), but the Paleo diet certainly has a major downfall: too much meat. When animal protein is expected, and encouraged in a diet, going overboard can be very easy — exponentially increasing your risk for heart disease. Regular meat consumption has been linked to diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.

The National Institutes of Health reported that “1 additional serving per day of unprocessed red meat raised the risk of total mortality by 13%. An extra serving of processed red meat (such as bacon, hot dogs, sausage and salami) raised the risk by 20%.” Conversely, “[t]he researchers estimated that substituting 1 serving per day of other foods—like fish, poultry, nuts, legumes, low-fat dairy and whole grains—for red meat could lower the risk of mortality by 7% to 19%.”

U.S. News, in its 2014 rankings of “Best Diets Overall,” the Paleo diet scored at the very bottom, tied at No. 31 with the Dukan diet. “Experts took issue with the diet on every measure,” the magazine scolded.

If you’re thinking about going Paleo, keep in mind that a healthy diet is a balanced one. Meat shouldn’t be king at every meal — even on the Paleo menu.

Source: iStock

Source: iStock

Gluten-free

A gluten-free diet can be healthy for the 1% of the U.S. population with Celiac Disease and those with gluten intolerance. It may be the only way to maintain bodily wellness. But what if you’re not a Celiac sufferer and you’re gluten-free? Is it healthy then? The answer depends. “Gluten-free” doesn’t mean healthy.

Look past the “gluten-free” label, and check the ingredients. Packaged foods, of any kind, are typically loaded with unnecessary sugar, salt, or fat. The goal isn’t to replace gluten-ous foods with starch or sugar-filled substitutes. Focus on finding whole foods to try as new alternatives.

Harvard Health Publications reported that a “gluten free diet can set you up for some nutritional deficiencies. Fortified breads and cereals have become a major source of B vitamins in the United States. Although breads made with white rice, tapioca, and other gluten-free flours are becoming more common, they are generally not fortified with vitamins.”

Dr. Daniel A. Leffler, an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, mentioned to the health publication, “The average American diet is deficient in fiber. Take away whole wheat and the problem gets worse.” You can get the fiber you need from other grains, such as brown rice or quinoa, or from fruits, vegetables, and beans, but you’ll need to make the effort.

Always check out the produce section first. Find whole foods, like sweet potatoes and squashes, and try grain alternatives like sorghum or buckwheat. Don’t assume that the item you’re reaching for is healthy because it’s gluten free — read the label.

Vegetables, chicken, turkey, tomato

Source: iStock

Vegan

Vegans stick to a plant-based diet, avoiding animal products of any kind, including meat, dairy, fish, and eggs. A whole food diet can certainly do wonders for your health. Research has shown that vegans tend to have lower body mass indexes (BMIs) and a reduced risk of diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. But they are also more vulnerable to nutritional deficiencies.

However, vegan diets limit some of the nutrients your body needs on a daily basis and affect your system’s ability to absorb nutrients efficiently. According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, vegan diets are usually lacking in: B-12, Omega-3 fatty acids, Vitamins A & D, Iron, Zinc, and Calcium.

You may want to consider taking supplements to adjust for these dietary deficiencies, such as liquid B-12 or Zinc Picolinate. Likewise, eating more Vitamin C will help your body absorb iron.

Fresh Vegetables, Farmer's Market

Source: iStock

Raw

Most raw diets are similar to vegan. The only caveat: All food is uncooked. Some raw eaters do consume animal products, like unpasteurized milk or cheese. Along with the nutritional deficiencies that vegan’s deal with, eating raw presents other factors that could complicate your health.

We cook food for several reasons, and one of them is that some foods cannot be safely eaten in their raw state. Buckwheat, alfalfa sprouts, and kidney beans all fall into that category — uncooked, they’re toxic. Raw honey can cause food poisoning, and according to MayoClinic.com, may cause infant botulism. Cooking is the best and final defense against salmonella, E. coli, and the like.

Aside from toxicity, food that is safe to eat raw can cause digestion problems. Steaming or cooking vegetables breaks down the cellulose, in it’s cell walls, and alters the plants’ cell structures so that fewer of your own enzymes are needed to digest the food, not more. Consuming a large amount of raw veggies will likely cause some amount of stomach upset.

As with most diets, there are certainly some major cons to eating raw, mainly the base of fruits, veggies, and nuts. But keep your overall health in mind. Sticking to a prescribed diet isn’t your goal — health is.

Source: iStock

Source: iStock

Mediterranean Diet

If you’re looking to get healthier, this is, arguably, one of the easiest diets to get right. The Mediterranean diet should be one of moderation. Consisting of plants, fats, legumes, and fish, it shuns the typical American diet of high-fat dairy products: eggs, refined grains, and processed food.

The slippery slope here is olive oil. While good fats are a necessity for health, too much of a good thing can happen quickly when the serving size is one to two tablespoons.

As Joel Fuhrman, M.D. says in his book Eating for Health, “Dieters must carefully count calories from oil and eat small portions of it. Remember, oil does not contain the nutrients, fiber, and phytochemicals that were in the original seed or fruit. Compared to the calories it supplies, it contains few nutrients except a little Vitamin E and a negligible amount of phytochemicals.”

This is not to say that adopting a Mediterranean diet can’t be healthy. Just make sure to keep track of how much fat you are incorporating into your meals — from food like nuts and avocados, as well as olive oil; and as always, moderation is key.

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