The different diet philosophies out there can be confusing— and there’s a new one being raved about every other month. So which one will help you with your goals? Faye Remedios gets the expert view
After much research, we’ve come to the following conclusion: No single diet offers the magic formula for
health. It’s a matter of working with your body type and listening to your gut—literally. Perhaps you’d prefer to
incorporate elements from the different ideologies out there to arrive at a plan that keeps you feeling light,
energetic and satisfied, besides noticeably boosting skin and hair health. To help get you started, we decode five popular diets and get experts to weigh their pros and cons. All you need to do is discuss it with your
own doctor before you take the plunge.
In a nutshell, this diet excludes any foods that come from animals, including dairy products and eggs. Instead, the focus is on fruits, vegetables, leafy greens, whole grains, nuts, seeds and legumes. The ideology behind veganism goes beyond diet and includes a wider sphere such as concern for the environment. It’s as
important to support sustainable agriculture and reduce your carbon footprint as it is to give up milk.
PROS: Vinod Channa, celebrity fitness trainer lists the benefits:
“Vegan diets are cholesterol-free and low in saturated fat. They can help in lowering blood pressure. If you’re at risk of developing chronic diseases such as heart disease or cancer, this could be the ideal diet for you. Apart from this, vegetables, fruits, beans and legumes are rich in antioxidants, which are important because they have the ability to protect your cells from the free radicals caused by a number of things, including pollutants such as tobacco smoke and radiation.”
CONS: It’s not easy to stick to such a strict diet, because vegans steer clear of any animal products and by-products. This includes honey. If you choose to go vegan, you may have a hard time picking from the menu when dining out. Channa says, “There are vegan sources for most nutrients, but it might be a challenge to consume enough of them. Take iron and vitamin D, for example. Vitamin D isn’t typically found in the vegan diet, but can be obtained through exposure to sunlight. When people think iron, they typically think meat. But beans and leafy greens are also good sources, and you can increase iron absorption by coupling them with foods that are rich in vitamin C. You’ll also need to supplement vitamin B12, which only occurs naturally in animal foods. A healthy diet should include some form of protein in every meal. Since vegans forego typical protein sources like meat and eggs, they have to incorporate it through different means. If you’re thinking about going vegan, it’s time to stock up on soy, quinoa, lentils and beans. And beware of overly-processed meat substitutes, which can be packed with sodium and preservatives. Check the label before opting for that frozen tofu burger.”
A gluten-free diet is one that excludes glutinous grains, i.e. wheat (and its products), rye and barley. It is usually recommended to people who are suffering from celiac disease or are unable to digest wheat. The diet is rich in wheat-free grains like rice, flattened rice, quinoa, oats, fruits and vegetables, and restricts the consumption of processed foods.
PROS: Some people are sensitive to gluten—even if not terribly allergic —and consuming it can lead to inflammation. Once you stop eating gluten, a lot of the problems reverse themselves and go away. Channa warns that a lot of processed foods contain gluten. “If you’re paying more attention to your diet by searching for foods without gluten, then by default, you’ll be eating far less processed food. That’s a good thing, because you’ll also be eating fewer chemicals and preservatives. Besides, your overall health could improve. For example, eliminating gluten can definitely help you lose weight. Even those suffering from migraines can expect some relief by eliminating gluten.” Going gluten-free also lowers your risk of developing certain diseases. For example, you’re less likely to get type 2 diabetes or anemia, and even people with type 1 diabetics may benefit from skipping the bread. Finally, a gluten-free diet ensures that you’ll eat more good carbs, and fewer refined bad carbs.
CONS: Gluten-free food tends to have more sugar and preservatives to mask the taste of certain ingredients and is also priced a little higher than wheat products. Nutritionist and fitness trainer Suman Agarwal points out,
“Wheat is ubiquitous in most Indian cuisines, and eliminating it would remove various foods like broken wheat and semolina from your diet, which can lead to deficiencies of vitamin B Complex.” One of the biggest cons associated with a gluten-free diet is the lack of certain important nutrients such as folate. Unfortunately, most gluten-free foods don’t have the amount of folate you need, due to the fact that they aren’t fortified.
Also called intermittent fasting, this diet encourages your body to use stored energy—glycogen and fat— as its primary fuel, which can, over time, reduce your risk of developing chronic disease. The premise is that you eat normally for five days a week, without any restrictions, and fast for two days, ie keep your calorie intake under 500.
PROS: Anju Majeed, director and senior scientist at Sami/Sabinsa Group, says, “This diet helps you lose weight
and keep it off, reduces your risk of developing cardiovascular diseases and diabetes, and lowers blood pressure.”
CONS: You need to approach this one with caution, especially if you’re diabetic or prone to sudden drops in sugar levels. Channa says, “Any plan that swings severely from one extreme to the other will be a struggle for most people to stick to. They’ll go back to their old eating habits in no time. Also, the concept of eating ‘normally’ for five days of the week is open to interpretation. While focusing on a set amount of calories, you might miss out on getting the right nutrient balance.”
This one emphasises on eating primarily plant based foods, such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts. It also encourages you to swap butter for healthy fats such as olive oil and canola oil, and to use spices and herbs instead of salt to flavour your food.
PROS: This diet is very heart-friendly as a large percentage of what’s on your plate is mono unsaturated fat, which reduces the risk of heart disease, unlike the cholesterol-spiking saturated fats and transfats. Channa says, “The Mediterranean diet has a high concentration of cancer-fighting antioxidants, because of its emphasis on fruit and vegetables, its focus on regular physical activity and its reduced sodium levels, thanks to the elimination of processed foods.”
CONS: The fact that this diet does not detail the exact amount of servings required can be confusing. What it does instead is list out the total macronutrient distribution. Again, calorie intake or physical activity parameters are not given, so you could be flummoxed if you’re looking for specific measurements. Channa weighs in, “Lastly—moderate consumption of wine—one to two glasses per day is encouraged when following the Mediterranean diet. This may not be advisable for people taking certain medications, or those with elevated triglycerides or pancreatitis.” This is also an expensive diet as it involves investing in huge quantities of fresh produce. Agarwal says, “If you’re looking to lose weight, this isn’t the best option. Plus, salt is the basic spice used in Indian cooking and this diet favours herbs. And then, olive oil and canola oil are the preferred oils, but their low smoking point makes them unsuitable for Indian cooking.”
As the name suggests, this one requires you to eat only uncooked food that is heated to not more than 140°F or 40°- 46 °C.
PROS: Uncooked food tends to retain all its water-soluble vitamins, like vitamin C. Agarwal says, “It also eliminates all processed foods from your diet. So it’s automatically free of transfats, saturated fats, refined flours, sugars and sodium. Also, since the diet is abundant in fruits and vegetables, it helps ease constipation and keeps your cholesterol and blood pressure levels in check.” This diet is rich in healthy fat and fibre. Preeti Seth, cosmetologist and nutritionist at Pachouli Spa & Wellness Centre, says that it works very well for weight loss.
CONS: First and foremost, Seth warns that it’s very difficult to live on uncooked food and it takes a lot of motivation to keep going. Besides, cooking sometimes increases the amount of essential nutrients in the foods, like lycopene. Agarwal cautions, “More importantly, cooking tends to destroy any toxins and bacteria in the food. Raw foods can lead to stomach infections (food poisoning and gastroenteritis). They are not gentle on the digestive system.” A 100 per cent raw food diet is not the best choice for everyone. Mamtaa Joshi, image and fitness consultant, says, “Most of us need some balance between cooked and raw foods for optimal vitality over the long term.”