Evaluating Diets

When we say the word “diet” what exactly do we mean?  Most of us associate the word with “trying to lose weight.”  But the actual definition of the word diet means “the food and beverages a person usually eats and drinks.”  So if we all agree that we eat and drink something every day, then aren’t we all on a “diet?” My point is that all of us are on a diet or a way of eating and it’s best to strive to make your diet meet your own individual nutrient needs keeping you as healthy as possible.

 Let’s evaluate a few of the more well-known or popular diets many people have either tried or are currently following either for weight loss or striving to improve their health.  Keep in mind there is no perfect diet.  They all have their pros and cons and what is right for one person may not be right for another.  The diets listed below are not ranked in any particular order but at the end, as a registered dietitian, I will give my opinion on which one would be suitable for most people to follow.


DESCRIPTION – Goes by various names – Paleolithic, Caveman, Stone Age and Warrior diet.  It emphasizes eating like how a hunter-gatherer did 10,000 years ago.

FOOD IT ALLOWS – Fish, grass-fed pasture raised meats, vegetables, fruit, roots and nuts

FOOD IT EXCLUDES – Grains, legumes, dairy products, salt, refined sugar and processed oils


·         Rich in protein and fiber – good for controlling blood sugar and weight gain

·         Low in sodium

·         More appealing to men


·         Lack of food variety

·         Can be costly to follow

·         Possible nutrient deficits since grain and dairy are excluded.  It’s recommended to supplement with calcium and vitamin D

·         May be hard to follow long-term


DESCRIPTION – This is a heart-healthy eating plan that incorporates the traditional style of cooking of countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea.

FOOD IT ALLOWS – Fruits, vegetables, fish and seafood, whole grains, nuts, legumes, olive oil, poultry, eggs, cheese, and yogurt.  Allows red wine in moderation.

FOOD IT EXCLUDES – Limits red meat, butter, replaces salt with herbs and spices, and sweets


·         Allows all major food groups

·         Includes a variety of foods and flavors

·         Recognized as a heart healthy diet, low in saturated fat

·         Encourages exercise

·         Long-term lifestyle diet


·         Can be expensive to follow

·         Not necessarily designed as a weight loss diet


DESCRIPTION – This is primarily a weight loss diet that limits carbohydrates so the body burns fat, including body fat, as fuel instead of carbohydrates.  There are 4 phases with gradual carbohydrate intake during each phase.  The initial induction phase allows no more than 20 grams of carbohydrate a day and after two weeks, carbohydrates are gradually increased to 120 grams a day.

FOOD IT ALLOWS – Red meat, fish, poultry, eggs, cheese, butter, mayonnaise; in the first 2 weeks, carbs are restricted to 3 cups of loosely packed salad or 2 cups of salad with 2/3 cup of certain vegetables.  It does allow adding fruit, vegetables, and whole-grains after the 2-week induction phase.

FOOD IT EXCLUDES – Refined sugar, white flour, white rice, white potatoes, milk, pasta made with white flour


·         Usually results in quick weight loss

·         Has shown improvement in triglycerides and HDL cholesterol

·         Provides satiety and structure


·         Too restrictive

·         Hard to follow for the long-term

·         May promote heart disease

·         Phase one can lead to an unhealthy level of ketones in the blood

·         High protein amount not recommended for people with liver or kidney problems

·         Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should not follow the diet


DESCRIPTION – DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension.  Mainly used for helping to improve blood pressure by emphasizing portion size, eating a variety of foods and getting the right amount of nutrients.  You can choose either 1,500 mg of sodium or 2,300 mg of sodium a day.

FOOD IT ALLOWS – Whole grains, fruit, vegetables, low-fat dairy, fish, poultry, nuts, and legumes.  Allows small amounts of red meat and sweets.

FOOD IT EXCLUDES – Discourages white bread, white rice, pasta made with white flour, foods high in saturated fat and trans fat, limited alcohol.


·         Complete, well-balanced meal plan

·         Can be followed long-term

·         May result in weight loss

·         Endorsed by the American Heart Association, USDA MyPlate and National Institutes of Health

·         Easy to follow


·         No drawbacks to this diet


DESCRIPTION – Designed for people with celiac disease or with non-celiac gluten sensitivity.  It excludes foods containing gluten which is a protein found in wheat, barley, rye and triticale which is a cross between wheat and rye.

FOOD IT ALLOWS – Any food that does not contain gluten – legumes, seeds, nuts, eggs, meat, fish, poultry (not breaded, batter-coated or marinated), fruits, vegetables, most dairy products and any grains that do not contain gluten such as amaranth, buckwheat, or quinoa.

FOOD IT EXCLUDES – Any food containing wheat, barley, rye and triticale. Will need to read food labels and avoid any suspected food with gluten unless labeled “gluten-free”


·         People with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity will experience significant relief and reduction in complications and can lead a healthy life

·         May encourage increase in fruits and vegetables


·         Can be hard to follow

·         Some gluten-free foods may not be enriched with iron, fiber, folate, or calcium

·         Will have to be careful about cross-contamination of gluten-free foods at home or when eating away from home such as at restaurants, school, etc.

·         For those with celiac disease, this is a life-long rigid dietary pattern

·         Gluten-free products can be more expensive

·         Those with celiac disease can feel socially isolated when eating out with family or friends due to limited food choices

 Which diet is suitable for most people?   It’s a tie – either the Mediterranean diet or the DASH diet.  They’re both:

 *Easy to follow

*Can be used as a lifelong diet plan

*All food groups are allowed

*They could result in weight loss

*Helpful in improving cardiovascular health

 How you eat – your diet - can have a huge impact on your overall health.  Make your way of eating be a positive impact on your way of life.