YOU may currently feel like you’re 90 per cent chocolate – and you’re not alone.
January tends to kick off with most of us feeling sluggish, clogged (quite understandably) with cheese, and anxious about the fact we’ve spent the last month or so probably drinking too much and not moving enough.
And so, we embrace the new year with resolutions galore and swear off sugar, bread, meat and crisps in one fell unsustainable swoop, then end up back on all of them by the second week of Jan.
It’s an annual loop a lot of us can’t help but fall into, and dieting often involves a world of yo-yo-ing and guilt, but if you’re determined to slim down in 2022 these popular diets could be a place to start.
We also asked dietitian Dr Carrie Ruxton from Health & Food Supplements Information Service (HSIS) for her verdict on each:
The Keto diet
The Ketogenic diet goes big on fat, and super low on carbs.
In fact, on keto you eat less than 50g of carbohydrates (like pasta, bread, potatoes) a day, alongside around 40-50g of protein for women, 50-60g for men.
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Meals are bulked up with non-starchy vegetables (lots of greens!) and fat (from olive oil, butter and avocados, to leaving the rind on your bacon).
Essentially, the aim is to keep blood sugar – glucose – levels safe but low, and lose weight via ketosis, which is when the body creates energy by burning fat.
Dr Carrie says: “This very low carb diet is a more extreme version of Atkins and supposedly helps cut body fat by causing your body to go into ketosis (where you burn fat).
"However, it’s no more effective for weight loss than a moderate carb diet and can be difficult to follow when eating out because it’s so restrictive.
"The diet is low in fibre which can lead to constipation so consider a psyllium supplement or a probiotic to support your gut health.
"The high fat content isn’t advisable for people with a family history of heart disease or stroke.”
The Mediterranean diet
The long healthy lives and hearts of people in the Mediterranean have long been touted – and it’s not just down to all that sunshine they get.
It’s a bit of a catch-all term, but generally this diet is based on the healthy lifestyle habits of people who live in France, Greece, Italy and Spain.
That means lots of lovely seasonal fruit, veg and pulses, eating more fish and less meat, and – you’ll be pleased to hear – merrily scoffing pasta and bread.
Olive oil is also a crucial ingredient – whether you’re cooking, or dousing salads with it.
Dr Carrie says: “This is a well balanced diet with all the nutrients and food groups you need for health, and a big focus on fruits and vegetables.
"To improve the sustainability, tailor the diet to local, seasonal produce rather than imported foods. Olive oil can be swapped for UK-grown rapeseed oil.
"While this diet is great for heart health, it would only be effective for weight loss if portion sizes are controlled.
"The diet is low in meat so top up on iron, zinc and vitamin D with a multivitamin and multimineral supplement.”
The Atkins diet was first followed in the 1970s and picked up pace in the 2000s becoming one of the most popular diets of all time.
Another low carb one, it’s quite similar to the Keto diet and prioritises high calorie foods over carbohydrates so your body burns fat, rather than glucose.
The difference with Atkins is, you gradually increase your carb intake over time, which can make it more sustainable (especially if you absolutely love bread).
Dr Carrie says “This high protein diet is more flexible than keto but still has a big emphasis on limiting carbs so fibre levels can be low.
"The high content of animal foods scores poorly on sustainability but this could be overcome by sourcing UK meat/fish and minimising food waste.
"The diet is effective for weight loss but only because it bans the sugary, processed treat foods that pile on the pounds.
"Studies show that Atkins diets are low in magnesium, iodine and calcium – all vital for good bone health – so consider topping these up with a multivitamin.”
Veganism, vegetarianism and flexitarianism are less diets, more lifestyle choices, but cutting back on animal products can help you lose weight as well as reduce animal cruelty and support climate change efforts.
Vegans don’t eat any animal products (be it steak or honey), while vegetarians cut out meat and fish, and flexitarians choose to regularly reduce their animal product intake, and opt for meat-free days.
It’s been found that cutting out or back on red meat can improve heart health, reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes, and help you maintain a healthy weight to boot.
Dr Carrie says: “Depending on whether your plant-based diet is low meat or no meat, this will determine whether you get all the nutrients you need.
"While great for sustainability, plants are low in certain nutrients, such as zinc, B12, iron, iodine, selenium, vitamin D and omega-3 fats.
"Also, their high fibre content can interfere with mineral absorption.
"Plant-based diets are not necessarily effective for weight loss as this depends on the overall calorie intake – after all, chips are plant-based!
"The best way to follow this type of diet is to ensure variety, try to include some fish and eggs – as they are nutrient-rich, and ensure you’re taking a daily omega-3 supplement.”
Discover your inner hunter gatherer with the paleo diet – it restricts you to ingredients that would likely have been found 10,000 years ago.
So rather than highly processed foods high in fat, sugar and salt, like biscuits, ready meals and crisps, you do as your ancestors did and eat lean meats, nuts, fruit, vegetables, grains, seeds and legumes (like, beans and chickpeas).
You don’t have to cook it all over fire, but we won’t judge if you do.
Dr Carrie says: “Paleo diets encourage strict avoidance of modern, processed foods (typically good) but also dairy and wholegrains (not good as it limits particular nutrients).
"Research that as HSIS we reviewed as part of some analysis work we were reviewing for our Back to Basics Report – The Nutrients You Need Served On A Plate – found that paleo diets are not nutritionally balanced and have a high carbon footprint thanks to their high meat content.
"Depending on portion sizes, paleo diets would be expected to cause some weight loss but only because there is very little you can eat out of the home.”
Maintaining a healthy weight is really important for helping manage a range of health conditions, from Type 2 diabetes to joint pain, cancer risk and heart disease.
However, the truth is, no diet suits everyone – and dieting is not always advisable, depending on many factors, from age, to pregnancy and various health conditions.
We’re all different shapes and sizes, with different medical histories, genetics and metabolism, and no diet will miraculously solve all your problems, or work without recognising a range of other factors, like fitness and exercise levels, as well.
If you’re not sure where to start with losing weight, and before starting a new diet, always speak to your GP.
Check out the free NHS Weight Loss Plan app and The Eatwell Guide for a breakdown of what a balanced diet looks like.
The DASH diet is a healthy, sustainable weight loss plan for people who have, or are at risk of, diabetes.
And can be useful even if you’re not.
It’s been proven to lower blood pressure and cholesterol, and linked to a reduced risk of depression, some cancers, stroke and heart disease, amongst other conditions.
When it comes to dinnertime, a DASH meal will look a lot like one served in the Mediterranean – expect lots of fruit and veggies, lean proteins,whole grains, nuts and fish.
Dr Carrie says: “With it’s big emphasis on sodium reduction (which helps lower blood pressure) and high fruit and veg, the DASH diet is actually very healthy and is effective for preventing heart disease and stroke.
"However, the calories are generally too high for weight loss unless you plan to be strict on portion size.
"A study found that the average DASH diet contains more than 2,200 calories daily which would maintain weight in most people.”
There are lots of different ways to do this – it’s about finding the right version to suit you, so there may be a bit of trial and error to get through.
The 16/8 method involves eating within an eight hour window, and fasting for the other 16 every day.
It can be simpler than it sounds, as you can sleep through much of the fasting time, and then skip breakfast, or just eat it later on.
Admittedly, it may be difficult if you struggle to get up and about without tucking into breakfast (and the NHS does recommend that you eat breakfast every day).
Alternatively, the 5:2 diet involves eating normally five days a week and then restricting your calorie intake to 500 (women) or 600 (men) for the final two days of the week (not necessarily the weekend, don’t worry).
The Eat Stop Eat method is more stark, and will see you fast for a full 24 hours once or twice a week.
Dr Carrie says: “There is good evidence that intermittent fasting helps weight loss but it probably isn’t enough for people who need to lose more than a stone.
"Sticking to the 5:2 version can be very challenging unless you’ve got a will of iron for those very low calorie days.
"The 16:8 version can be easier to do. To avoid low nutrient levels, aim for a balanced diet and keep high sugary, high fat treats and alcohol to a minimum.
"Consider a daily multivitamin and multimineral supplement to ensure you’re meeting nutrient targets.”
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