Diet trends come and go, inspiring some positive change but more often than not wreaking havoc along the way. Today we explore some of the most popular diet trends, how some aspects may help, which elements may harm, and what’s best when eating to thrive.
The Ketogenic (Keto) Diet
A ketogenic (keto) diet revolves around being in ketosis, which is when the body is predominantly burning ketones (fat) for fuel instead of glucose (sugar). To achieve this, someone on the keto diet would heavily restrict carbohydrates and consume more fat and a moderate amount of protein.
Modern physicians introduced the benefits of the ketogenic diet as a treatment for epilepsy in the 1920s 1. Recently, the keto movement exploded in popularity, and people pursued keto for many reasons, including weight loss, mental clarity, neurodegenerative diseases, and athletic performance 2.
One issue with keto? Much of the science surrounding keto benefits was done on men and post-menopausal women. This is because women in their reproductive years cycle hormonally, making it harder to study them; it also means many of the sweeping conclusions we make about diet trends do not apply to everyone 3.
Low-carb diets impose stress on the body. This stress can be the straw that breaks the proverbial camel’s back for people already dealing with large amounts of stress. Stress can include mental, physical, or emotional stressors. Some groups may not be suited to a long-term keto diet, including women in their reproductive years and anyone adrenally or hormonally imbalanced.
The Carnivore Diet
The carnivore diet varies in rigidity depending on who you ask. In its most puritanical version, people eat only red meat and salt. Others include all animal products, including white meat, fish, shellfish, eggs, and dairy. Others also allow for condiments, and some more relaxed carnivore’s also included fresh fruit in their diet.
The carnivore craze took off a few years ago and is utilized as a solution for autoimmune disease and weight loss. Many people have seen incredible results, and the carnivore community contains many die-hards that attribute their healing to a meat-only diet.
Like any elimination diet, giving the body a break from trigger foods can yield great results. In this case, the idea is to avoid the immune triggers found in vegetables and legumes, like lectins. In the short run, this can provide a great break and “reset” for the body; however, in the long run, avoiding all trigger foods does not mean you heal from such triggers.
Pairing the carnivore, or other elimination diets, with a healing protocol to address why greens or other vegetables can send your body into an auto-immune flare-up should be the goal.
There are a few reasons why long-term carnivore is not optimal. To start, avoiding any trigger foods means losing out on the hormetic stress that can provide adaptation in the body (like exercise). Plants and other non-carnivore foods also have various benefits, like the fat-soluble fiber that cannot be found in a diet that consists of only animal products.
The GAPS diet stands for gut and psychology syndrome, an elimination diet that removes a wide range of common trigger foods that interfere with the digestive system and brain. The GAPS diet promotes the consumption of meat, fish, shellfish, eggs, fruit and non-starchy vegetables, and fermented foods.
Like the carnivore diet, it eliminates foods like processed sugars, wheat, and other grains, starchy vegetables, and dairy. This way of eating can be a great launching pad to give your body a break and pursue other healing modalities so that you can eventually re-introduce a wider range of foods.
Another problem with elimination-diets long-terms is that they may lend themselves to orthorexic problems. People can quickly become obsessed with foods and diet culture to the point where this obsession is highly unhealthy. Remember that stress is stress, and if your strict elimination diet makes you feel fear surrounding “off-limit” foods or starts to impact your mental health or relationships dramatically, it could be doing more harm than good.
A gluten-free diet is one of the most popular diet trends. Gluten is a binding protein found in many grains, including wheat, barley, and rye. Celiac is a severe gluten allergy. Most people who follow the gluten-free diet are intolerant or avoid it for health reasons.
The gluten-free craze can be misunderstood because gluten is not a problem for most people. Instead, the real trigger of this intolerance is the glyphosate sprayed on many crops, including gluten-containing crops like wheat. Glyphosate is a dangerous substance to humans and contributes to health problems like gut permeability. By loosening and damaging the gut’s tight junctions, glyphosate wreaks havoc on the digestion of all foods and can often cause people to blame wheat for what is, in reality, a glyphosate problem.
Unfortunately, most crops suffer from at least some glyphosate toxicity in the US 4. Even organic wines are tainted with this herbicide due to the use of irrigation with glyphosate-tainted water. Avoiding gluten-containing products is a start, but more importantly, invest in high-quality organic food from trustworthy sources.
The Paleo diet is rooted in what individuals claim is the diet of our Palaeolithic ancestors. This diet eliminates foods that emerged with farming about 10,000 years ago. Restricted foods include gluten, grains, legumes, and dairy products. The diet also eliminates modern processed foods like sugar, artificial sweeteners, vegetable oils, margarine, and trans fats.
As a diet, paleo is more flexible and focuses on eliminating foods (like vegetable oils and artificial sweeteners) that are genuinely bad for human health. However, they unnecessarily demonize some foods (like dairy, grains, and legumes) that aren’t necessarily bad for everyone. Although the paleo framework can serve as a great base to better relate with food, there’s no need to take out foods that may work great for your body simply because the Palaeolithic people didn’t (theoretically) consume them.
Many cultures have evolved by relying heavily on foods like beans, rice, and legumes— they did so by preparing them properly! Soaking, sprouting, fermenting, and cooking foods properly helps remove the “harmful” substances in such foods that make them harder to digest.
A vegan diet eliminates all animal foods, including anything produced as a bi-product by animals like cheese, honey, or eggs. As a result, the vegan diet is often touted as being the world’s healthiest diet. Still, this argument falls flat when we examine the pillars of nutrients needed for proper human development, especially fat-soluble vitamins A, E, D, and K.
Although many plant foods contain a version of these vitamins, they do not contain it in its bioavailable form for humans. Vitamin A, for example, is found in plant foods as carotenoids, which have an extremely low bio-availability to humans. Retinol, on the other hand, is the highly bio-available form of vitamin A found in animal fats.
Although a vegan diet may initially yield a sensation of health, this is common in any drastic dietary change. Remember, any change promotes adaptation. This adaptation is especially true for those who are used to consuming highly-processed animal products like burgers from fast-food restaurants (and the vegetable oil-fried fries and high-sugar soft drinks that come with them).
The vegan diet is new and came around about 75 years ago 5. Veganism is a new human experiment; in the long run, vegan diets are nutrient-depleting and unsuitable for human health.
The vegetarian diet excludes all foods that are actual animal flesh but permits any animal bi-products like dairy (milk, cheese, yogurt), honey, and eggs. This diet has been around for much longer than the vegan diet and can be done more successfully than a vegan diet if done mindfully. A vegetarian diet’s success seems to hinge on blood type, whereby types A and B seem to do better, while O types do not 6.
One of the problems with vegetarian diets is forcing an ethical paradigm onto a body that simply does not thrive with vegetarianism. If someone has a whole carton of eggs and a kilo of cheese per day to feel satiated on a vegetarian diet, they might need more animal products, including meat.
What is the Best Diet?
Ultimately, the best diet for you will be a bio-individual approach. Of course, it’s not as marketable as a “one size fits all” cookie cutter answer, but some key things apply to most people that you can lean on in the quest towards creating your perfect diet.
1. Cyclical Choices
Although there are benefits to restrictive diets like keto, carnivore, and even low-fat diets: the problems tend to bubble up when we stick with a restrictive diet long-term. Like exercise, cross-training keeps our body guessing and adapting, and cyclical diets can encourage our body to “train” at adapting to different stressors.
Cycling in low-carb with higher-carb re-feeds, or sprinkling in occasional fasting days, keeps your body from plateauing to adapting to any type of diet. This kind of cyclical dieting is quite natural when we think of our ancestors eating seasonally and perhaps fasting occasionally during periods with less success hunting and gathering.
You can implement cycles either weekly, monthly, or seasonally. Women in their reproductive years do particularly well on a monthly cycle that mirrors the hormonal ebbs and flows of their menstrual cycle. This cycling might look like higher carb and higher calorie during her luteal and menstrual phase and a lighter keto diet during her follicular and ovulatory phases.
Quality matters no matter which combination of macros, meat vs. vegetarian or vegan, calories, or feeding time you choose. Food is a source of nourishment, so avoiding toxic chemicals that come when food is grown with conventional pesticides and herbicides is optimal.
We understand that organic food can be more expensive or harder to find. However, the most important foods to invest in quality-wise are animal products, especially those that are higher in fat. Animals store nutrients and toxins in their fat, so quality makes all the difference here.
Some tips to get more affordable, high-quality products are to buy locally, buy from the farmer’s market or direct from the farm, buy in bulk or find a local co-op. You can also invest in a farm-to-home cow share and split the delivery with some neighbors.
3. Read Labels
One problem with restrictive diet labels is that we assume anything “vegan” or “gluten-free” or “keto” is healthy. Often, it simply is not. Most packaged foods contain preservatives, added colors, flavors, and ingredients that are not health-promoting. Therefore, merely falling under a dietary label does not mean it is innately good for you. For example, diesel gas is technically vegan, gluten-free, and keto—that doesn’t mean you should drink it!
Don’t fall prey to blanket diet terms as the green light to eat food. Instead, understand where the food ingredients came from (quality matters!) and what other ingredients, like preservatives, colors, gums, flavors, and artificial sugar substitutes, may harm your health.
4. Mitigate Stress
Understanding your stress levels is vital as a road map for how much-added stress you should or can implement willingly into your life. Stressors include dietary stress, exercise, and other “healthy habits” like sauna and cold exposure therapy.
If you are highly stressed, avoid the diets that will add more stress to your bucket. This includes caloric restriction, low-fat, low-carb, or restrictive diets. Eliminate foods you are genuinely allergic or intolerant to, and then focus on deep nourishment and restorative rest.
Work on mitigating stress by resolving your life’s mental, emotional, chemical, and physical conflicts. Only then should you start adding in the added stress that exercise and diet can provide in the name of adaptation.
When it comes to food, most people have been conditioned to think of how much food they can consume that will be the most filling with the least amount of calories as being “superfoods.” We associate açai powders and big salads as being “health foods” when the reality is that the real dietary heroes are the vitamin, mineral, fat, and protein-rich higher, calorie foods typically found as animal products.
Whole fat milk, egg yolks, and beef liver are some of nature’s most nutrient-dense foods pound for pound. So it’s time to reframe what it means to nourish ourselves by reaching for ancestral wisdom and eating the kinds of nutrient-dense foods our grandparents and great-grandparents used to eat. This automatically eliminates the processed foods, including the ultra-processed vegan alternatives, in favor of whole fat, unpasteurized, grass-fed, animal products.
Whether you’re participating in intermittent fasting, cyclical keto, or gluten-free: nourishing yourself with nutrient-dense animal foods is imperative to providing the body with bio-available, fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K.
1 Wheless, James W. “History of the ketogenic diet.” Epilepsia vol. 49 Suppl 8 (2008): 3-5. doi:10.1111/j.1528-1167.2008.01821.x
2 Dowis, Kathryn, and Simran Banga. “The Potential Health Benefits of the Ketogenic Diet: A Narrative Review.” Nutrients vol. 13,5 1654. 13 May. 2021, doi:10.3390/nu13051654
3 “Menstruation Shuts out Women from Clinical Trials: Editorial | CBC News.” CBCnews, CBC/Radio Canada, 6 June 2016, www.cbc.ca/news/health/sport-exercise-menstrual-cycle-1.3618140.
4 “Glyphosate Contamination in Food Goes Far beyond Oat Products.” Environmental Working Group, 21 July 2022, www.ewg.org/news-insights/news/glyphosate-contamination-food-goes-far-beyond-oat-products.
5 Suddath, Claire. “A Brief History of Veganism.” Time, Time, 30 Oct. 2008, time.com/3958070/history-of-veganism/.
6 D’Adamo, Peter, and Catherine Whitney. Eat Right 4 (for) Your Type: The Individualized Diet Solution to Staying Healthy, Living Longer & Achieving Your Ideal Weight: 4 Blood Types, 4 Diets. G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1996.