According to the International Food Information Council, in the past year at least 55 percent of us have tried losing weight. Rising temperatures and revealing clothing may prompt many of us to experiment with a new diet to shed a few pounds. Here’s the skinny on three diets I am frequently asked about this summer.
The Wheat Belly Diet
The online promotion in big, bold, red print reads, “lose up to 20, 30, 50 pounds. No calorie counting. No hunger. No measly portions. And positively, no self-denial. Belly fat melts off! Lose the wheat and health improves.” The small print at the bottom of the advertisement reads: “The people portrayed in this promotion experienced extraordinary results using Wheat Belly. Regular exercise and proper nutrition are essential to achieving and maintaining your desired physique. Results are not typical.” Doctor Davis, the author of Wheat Belly is indeed a medical physician having graduated in 1985 from the Saint Louis University School of Medicine and trained at The Ohio State University in Internal Medicine and Cardiovascular Disease.
The basis for your weight loss is the elimination of wheat from your diet and limiting total carbohydrates to 50-100 grams per day unless you are diabetic in which case you are further limit them to just 30 grams daily. Since one serving from the fruit, dairy or grain group contains on average,15 grams of carbohydrate you must rely on meat, cheese, oil, nuts, seeds and vegetables for the majority of your energy. It’s a modern day version of the Atkins diet without cured meats or wheat. Dr. Davis blames wheat’s modern genetic modifications for a variety of common ailments including blood sugar regulation, hormones that control appetite, celiac disease and more than 50 other conditions.
In addition to avoiding wheat and the typical taboo dieting foods such as desserts, snack foods and alcohol, he recommends you avoid heavily processed or genetically engineered foods. This includes anything made with cornstarch and cornmeal, soy and gluten free foods. You must also limit rice and legumes to ½ cup each/day, avoid fruit juices, limit dairy to 1-2 servings per day and consume only small amounts of fruit. Here’s a sampling of daily menus from the Wheat Belly Diet.
Day 1 Breakfast: Hot flaxseed cereal
Day 1 Lunch: Large stuffed tomato with tuna or crabmeat mixed with chopped onions or scallions, mayonnaise. Selection of mixed olives, cheeses and pickled vegetables.
Day 1 Dinner: Wheat-free pizza, mixed greens with radishes, chopped cucumber and worry free ranch dressing and carrot cake.
Day 2: Breakfast: Scrambled eggs with 2 Tbsp. of extra virgin olive oil, sun-dried tomatoes, basil pesto and feta cheese. A handful of almonds, walnuts, pecans or pistachios.
Day 2 Lunch: Baked Portobello mushroom stuffed with crabmeat & goat cheese
Day 2 Dinner: Baked wild salmon or seared tuna steaks with wasabi sauce. Spinach salad with walnuts or pine nuts, chopped red onion and Gorgonzola cheese, vinaigrette dressing and a ginger spice cookie.
How much of a conversion would this require in your food budget and time spent in the kitchen? I agree we eat far too many processed carbohydrates and this diet could lead to weight loss and improved health if we spent more time actually preparing foods using scratch ingredients. However, you have to be able to afford and like the nutritional lifestyle you choose if you are going to stick with it for the long term.
This is more of a food practice than a diet. The main reason people juice is to obtain a raw supply of nutrients from fruits and vegetables. Juicing is where you take fruits and vegetables, put them into a machine that purees and separates the solids and drain off the juice. The benefit is that the juice becomes a concentrated, natural source of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytochemicals. It’s quick, easy and helps people more easily consume the daily 5-A-Day recommendations. It’s fun for kids to experiment with and there are a lot of healthy, tasty recipes on line. You do need to wash your fruits and vegetables well when preparing them and thoroughly clean your machine between uses.
A downside to juicing is that the machines can be expensive. A juicer ranges in prices from $17 to $450. Proponents of juicing believe that it helps them cleanse their body of toxins and repair and regenerate cells by eliminating free radicals. Juicing does do this but no more so consuming whole fruits and vegetables. While they contend that the concentrated amounts of juice have added benefits, there is no scientific evidence that extracted juices are healthier than those you get by eating the raw fruit or vegetable by itself. Furthermore, some vitamins lose their kick as they are exposed to light and air so you need to consume the juice right away. Because the juicer separates the liquid from the fiber, you are literally tossing out a good portion of health benefits. Fiber helps you feel fuller longer, slows the rise in blood sugar of the food you are eating, lowers LDL cholesterol and helps to maintain a healthy GI tract. As with all juices, liquid calories can add up quickly. The bottom line is that juicing is not a bandage for a poor diet but can be a fun way to experiment with fruits and vegetables.
The Paleo diet suggests that we eat like our hunter-gatherer ancestors eating free-range meats and avoiding anything that didn’t grow naturally, before modern farming. Basically if a caveman didn’t eat it, you shouldn’t either. According to the author, Dr. Loren Cordain, “Today more than 70% of our dietary calories come from foods that our Paleolithic ancestors rarely, if ever, ate. The result is epidemic levels of cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, osteoporosis, arthritis, gastrointestinal disease, and more.”
Dr. Cordain has his PhD in health education and a minor in exercise physiology.
The Paleo diet is similar to the Wheat Belly diet in that it’s predominantly meat, cheese, oil, nuts, seeds and vegetables and requires that you avoid highly processed foods, refined sugar, dairy, legumes and grains. It also blames the Agricultural Revolution and practice of grain farming as the cause of modern day chronic diseases like heart disease, cancer and diabetes.
It’s based on the following 7 themes:
- Increasing the protein in your diet to 19-35% of your calories rather than the average 15%. Meat, seafood and animal protein were the staple food in the caveman diet.
- Reducing your carbohydrate intake to 35-45% of your calories rather than the recommended 45-65%. (Note the Wheat Belly diet was 9-18% carbohydrate!) Non-starchy fruits and vegetables or those with a lower glycemic index are the recommended to lower blood sugar spikes because they are more slowly digested and absorbed.
- Increase your fiber intake through non-starchy vegetables and fruits, not whole grains and refined grains.
- Increase your fat intake primarily through mono and polyunsaturated fats with balanced omega-3. Eliminate trans fat and reduce omega-6 polyunsaturated fats. These monounsaturated fats and omega-3 were the mainstays of Stone Age diets.
- Increase your potassium and lower your sodium intake. Lower potassium intake is associated with higher blood pressure, heart disease and stroke.
- Increase your intake of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and plant phytochemicals through lean meats, fruits and vegetables.
- Reduce the acid in your diet. Dr. Cordain suggests that after digestion, all foods present either a net acid or alkaline load to the kidneys. Acid producers are meat, fish, grains, legumes, cheese and salt along with processed foods. Alkaline producing foods are fruits and vegetables. He states that excess dietary acid over time may promote bone and muscle loss, increase your risk for high blood pressure and kidney stones, and may aggravate asthma and exercise induced asthma.
Both wheat and dairy are absent in this diet. Individuals need to be knowledgeable on non-dairy sources of calcium and vitamin D. It is also important to know that there have been no extensive clinical trials to support acid-alkaline diet and its effectiveness. That’s not to say that removing foods that are higher in acid such as many of our processed foods, soda, caffeine and sugar isn’t a good move, but our bodies are very capable of maintaining a healthy pH level on their own. The Paleo diet, like the Wheat Belly Diet is a challenge to follow in modern times and might be expensive.