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Wellness 5 minutes 27 April 2018

Demystifying Healthy Diets

Paleo, ketogenic, vegan and gluten-free, these diets may be trending, but they come with their fair shares of pros and cons.

Healthy diet

More and more people have jumped onto the healthy eating bandwagon over the past decade. But under the same banner, there are a slew of interpretations towards how to eat healthily, each with its supporters. It’s crucial to remember all these dietary methods are nothing more than general guides. There isn’t a healthiest diet in the world. Every person should find a dining approach that suits them the best.

Gluten-free Diet

There is only 1% of the world’s population who suffer from celiac disease, with signs of intolerance towards gluten. But the gluten-free diet is enjoying a surge of popularity as consecrated by Hollywood celebrities and sports icons such as Novak Djokovic, Gwyneth Paltrow and Miley Cyrus. The trend has grown into a business worth USD 4.2 billion in the United States, and it has spreading rapidly throughout Asia. According to academic studies, ethnic Caucasians are the most common victims of celiac disease. On the other hand, only one in 236 people are found to be gluten-intolerant in Asia where rice is the main sustenance.

What Is Gluten-free Diet?

The substance which makes flour dough pliable, gluten is the protein stored in wheat, barley and rye. Their by-products, including pizza, bread, cake, beer, biscuit, mayonnaise, make up a considerable part of the food world. Followers of the gluten-free diet eschew consumption of such foods or substitute the aforementioned grains with alternative ingredients during preparation. Some additionally give up eating oat and wheat-free products due to the potential of gluten remaining in the items. Instead, grains like millet, quinoa, sorghum, eragrostis and amaranth are incorporated into their daily meals.

The Benefits of Gluten-free Diet

Celiac disease mainly affects one’s digestive system, causing diarrhoea, intestinal inflammation and blockage of nutrient absorption. It could also lead to fibromyalgia and skin inflammation. The gluten-free diet helps patients of celiac disease avoid the above problems. It’s also believed that the diet bears curative abilities to autism and irritable bowel syndrome.

Not Everyone Is Made for This Diet…

It’s recommended to celiac disease patients only. According to a study conducted by the universities of Harvard and Columbia, gluten free dieters tend to consume less grain substitutes than the suggested intake. If this sustains for a long period of time, one could have a higher chance of having heart disease.

Paleolithic Diet

The Paleolithic diet, or simply paleo diet, brings us back to the very beginning of human civilisation. It advocates for consumption of foods eaten by human in the Stone Age, and is embraced by those who want to shed some pounds from their body but are hesitant to cut meat off their menu.

What Is Paleo Diet?

Our Paleolithic ancestors lived in a time long before any agricultural activity was available. They acquired food through hunting and collecting wild vegetables and fruits. Paleo diet was born under this premise. It eliminates grains, beans, sugar, salt, dairy products, and all the processed foods from consumption. A paleo dieter’s grocery list is simplified two categories: 60% meat (grass-fed) and 40% vegetables, including fungi, nuts and seeds. The likes of pumpkin and potato are abandoned as they are high in carbohydrate, the biggest no-go zone for all paleo diet believers.

The Benefits of Paleo Diet

Nutritionist and proponent of the paleo diet Loren Cordain claimed the DNA structure of modern human has not deviated from Paleolithic people. Therefore, adopting their eating methods could prevent heart disease, overweight, high blood pressure, diabetes and all kinds of health problems brought forth by the food inventions of our developing society.

Not Everyone Is Made for This Diet…

Unlike those who lived million years ago, contemporary wisdom emphasises the importance of a balanced diet. Over-consumption of meat and the saturated fat it contains is a primary cause for metabolic syndrome, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes – problems the paleo diet aims to solve. The abstinence of grains, beans and dairy products deprives our body of significant nutrients such as Vitamin B and D, cellulose, calcium and fibrinogen. Some go further to question the sustainability of the paleo diet in slimming, because it relies of the burning of glycogen reserves in our body instead of fat.
Vegan Diet

An extension of vegetarianism, vegan diet has been around since 1944. Compared to other healthy dietary approaches, there’s an additional dimension of respect to the Earth and moving creatures behind its philosophy. The rejection to meat and animal by-products is partly driven by humanitarian reasons to avoid any act of cruelty. In a way, the vegan diet goes beyond health concerns and explores one’s self-discipline and world view.

What Is Vegan Diet?

It denounces any animal-related foods, from meat to dairy products, eggs, honey and bird’s nest. Further to one’s diet, veganism also promotes against consumer goods made of the body parts of animals, such as leather and certain cosmetic products. It’s more restrictive than many forms of vegetarianism in this sense.

Not Everyone Is Made for This Diet…

A wealth of nutrients which sustain our health – protein, zinc, iron, calcium, vitamin, to name just a few – are found in meat, eggs and dairy products. Vegan dieters have to find food substitutes with all such nutrients or face malnutrition-related health problems. Other than that, they need to be mindful of their intake of soybean products as a protein alternative, since overconsumption of those could result in hormone imbalance.
Ketogenic Diet

The ketogenic diet raises a lot of eyebrows among food lovers, as it shakes up our perceived notion about what is healthy: the more fat you eat, the better. Energy is generated by burning fat and transforming it into ketone. By preserving enough fat in its body, a polar bear can maintain its energy level during a hibernation that could last for up to five months without eating.

Among the various form of energy our bodies run on, ketone is preferred by the human brain. However, it requires a diet composed of 80-90% fat, 15-20% protein and 5% carbohydrate. This extreme dining approach attracted people in desperate situations. Hollywood movie director Jim Abrahams used the ketogenic diet to improve the health conditions of his son Charlie, who suffered from serious epilepsy. Surprisingly, it worked. This inspired him to establish the Charlie Foundation to promote the functions of the ketogenic therapy.

What Is Ketogenic Diet?

The high fat, low carb combination forces our body to burn fat instead of glucose, through which ketone is produced to give us energy. Its associated diets include the Atkins diet and low/no carbohydrate diet.

The Benefits of Ketogenic Diet

Indeed, fat burning is a legitimate way to lose weight. Studies also show it this dietary strategy helps relieve inflammation, strengthen metabolism and the activity level of the brain. Good fat is a prerequisite. Avocado, coconut oil, seeds, yoghurt and nuts are all reliable sources of fat for ketogenic dieters.

Not Everyone Is Made for This Diet…

Consider the other side of the coin: high fat eating could induce stomachache, diarrhoea, high uric acid. In the long run, these side effects could develop into high blood fat, heart disease or cancer. Too much ketone accumulated in the body could yield ketoacidosis, which makes us drowsy, easily tired, nauseous or even faint. Diabetes patients and those with insufficient insulin secretion should not pursue the ketogenic diet in any capacity.
Low-calorie Diet

Eating has become a numbers game to some people. However, your calorie calculating app might not tell you whether you’re actually having a balanced diet. While it effectively measures how much energy you take in, it doesn’t take into account how much you spend. Moreover, human body is such a complex organism. The way we absorb and dispense energy is much more than simple math.

What Is Low-calorie Diet?

While every individual should consume a different amount of calories every day based on their body type, age, living environment, lifestyle and other factors, many nutritionists determine the appropriate range of daily calorie intake at 2000-2800 for men, and 1600-2400 for women. In comparison, low-calorie dieters limit their calorie consumption at 800-1500 every day.

NBA star LeBron James is one of the avid followers of the low-calorie diet. He attributes it as a primary reason for him having a clear mind and being agile in movement. Weight loss is one of the main goals of the dining approach, most suited to people who have their body mass index (BMI) at 30 or above. There are cases where a low-calorie dieter reduced their weight by 3-5 pounds every week and 44 pounds over a three-month period. A positive impact of slimming up is a lower chance in getting overweight-induced diseases.

The Benefits of Low-calorie Diet

Calorie control is the most direct method to lose weight. However, extreme implementation of such could spell disaster such as malnutrition.

Not Everyone Is Made for This Diet…

Low-calorie dieters will realise the initial benefits in weight loss is outweighed (no pun intended) by the troubles they could later experience. As a consequence of a restrained eating pattern, one’s metabolism could slow down with little energy left in the body. At this stage, not only does calorie control become ineffective in slimming, it could also trigger headache, lassitude, constipation, cholelithiasis and other undesirable situations.

One more point of note: foods with the same amount of calories could have vastly different impacts to our health. For instance, our bodies don’t absorb and burn 500 calories from an ice cream at the same rate as nuts. Unreasonable insistence on the diet could make followers miss out on some of the high-calorie foods with great health benefits like avocado. What one should look for in their food is nutrition, not ambiguous numbers. The so-called zero calorie foods and drinks are a good example. The artificial sweeteners they contain could easily carry higher sugar content than natural sugar and let consumers gain weight.

This story was originally written by Derek Cheong and translated by Vincent Leung. Click here to read the original version of this story.

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