Diet Trends: Get the Skinny on Whole30, Intermittent Fasting, Flexitarian

Always research the latest diet trends
Narrow down the most recent diet trends to find out which is right for you.

Most diet trends tend to come and go (baby food, anyone?). But sometimes a diet takes off, and it seems everyone is jumping on the bandwagon. Thinking of making the leap? Be sure to do your research.

“It can be tempting to try a new diet, especially if you see others having some success with it,” says dietitian Katherine Basbaum. “But keep in mind that just because a diet is popular doesn’t mean it’s good for you.”

Diet Trends in 2018

For those seeking a healthier way to eat, Basbaum recommends the annual ranking of top diets produced by U.S. News and World Report. This list narrows down the hundreds of diet options by rating each diet on the following criteria:

  • How easy it is to follow
  • Ability to produce short- and long-term weight loss
  • Nutritional completeness
  • Safety
  • Potential for preventing and managing diabetes and heart disease.

Rising to the top of this list in 2018, the Mediterranean Diet has become the gold standard, while other diets you may have heard a lot about recently don’t make the cut. We asked Basbaum to break down some of the pros and cons of a few of today’s diet trends.

Whole30

The Whole30 Diet is defined as a “short-term nutritional reset.” It requires that you eliminate entire categories of foods for a period of 30 days, including sugar (artificial too), alcohol, grains, legumes, dairy and processed foods. The premise is to cut out those foods often linked to inflammation and chronic diseases. When the 30 days is over, you systematically reintroduce individual food groups into your diet and evaluate how they make you feel. Then you can pick and choose which foods to keep and which to avoid.

Pros

Whole30 pushes you to cook and eat differently, to try new ingredients and kick junk food cravings. It may also lead to short-term weight loss.

Cons

The masterminds behind Whole30 aren’t dietitians or physicians, and there’s been no independent research to verify the effects of this diet on the body. Because it’s so restrictive, there’s a chance the diet could lead to malnutrition. From a practical standpoint, Whole30 also takes a lot of planning, making it tough to sustain even over a short period of time.

Intermittent Fasting

Intermittent fasting isn’t a diet per se — it doesn’t limit what you eat, but focuses instead on when you eat. Although there are many versions of this program, the premise is that you can eat pretty much whatever you want but only during a specific time period. For example, you may eat only during an eight-hour window. Or you might abstain from eating entirely for two days each week but otherwise eat freely.

Pros

Plans that involve fasting every other day appear to result in reductions in glucose and insulin concentrations. This helps control your blood sugar, thus lowering your risk of developing diabetes and other chronic diseases. Intermittent fasting has also been linked to short-term weight loss.

Cons

As you might expect, going without food for extended periods can lead to fatigue, irritability and trouble focusing. The extreme hunger experienced with this type of plan may make it impractical and unsustainable.

In addition, research hasn’t demonstrated that alternate-day fasting programs result in greater weight loss than standard weight-loss plans. There’s plenty of rodent-based data on the positive effects of time-restricted eating, but limited data from human studies. There’s also little or no published data linking intermittent fasting with clinical outcomes, such as a reduced risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer or other chronic diseases.

Choose the Diet That’s Right for You

For a one-on-one nutrition consultation, contact the UVA Nutrition Counseling Center.

Flexitarian

The author of the flexitarian diet is a registered dietitian, and U.S. News ranks it no. 3 in the Best Overall Diet category. As the name suggests, the flexitarian plan is based on the idea that you can be a vegetarian most of the time, but you don’t have to eliminate meat entirely to reap the benefits of a veggie-heavy diet. Instead of eliminating a food group, you’re actually encouraged to add one: the “new meat,” which includes tofu, beans, lentils, peas, nuts and seeds, and eggs.

Pros

Research shows the flexitarian diet is safe and nutritionally sound, and followers feel full on fewer calories. Even better: Foods are tasty and don’t require a ton of time to prepare. This choice helps prevent and manage diabetes and improve heart health by keeping blood pressure and cholesterol levels in check. There’s also the potential for long-term weight loss. Plus, you’ll likely save money by switching to mostly plant-based protein.

Cons

Individuals who like to structure their eating routine may find this is not the best option. The diet may be too flexible for some dieters accustomed to set calorie counts and food logging.

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