The 10 Most Popular Diets Explained


By Sue Van Raes | The Chopra Center

Vegan or paleo? Gluten-free or whole grain? Whole food or fat-free? What you should eat gets a lot of press. Wanting to eat healthily is a great first step, but when it comes to aligning with a particular eating style, there are many factors to consider.

People are often confused about which dietary approach to choose in order to obtain optimal health and vitality. Each of the approaches below comes with specific health benefits and characteristics that may help you navigate what to put on your plate.

1. Whole Food

The whole food diet is the most basic and simple way of eating. It means eating food in its whole form with minimal processing. In 2011, the Harvard School of Public Health created one formula for a whole food diet: The Healthy Eating Plate, a simple and thorough guide to creating healthy whole-food meals.

With this version of a whole food diet, the following simple guidelines are recommended.

  • Fill half your plate with vegetables and fruits.
  • Fill one-quarter of your plate with whole grains.
  • Fill one-quarter of your plate with proteins (plant or animal).
  • Use healthy natural oils in moderation.
  • Drink lots of water (avoid sugary drinks).
  • Exercise daily.

These guidelines are basic, simple, and healthful. A whole food diet tends to improve your health and vitality as they rid your plate of processed foods, sugars, fast foods, and fried food, getting you back to simple and clean eating. (If you are dealing with specific health issues, you may need to alter the foods within the whole food regimen to address your health more assertively.)

2. Gluten Free

Gluten-free diets are popular. Research shows that approximately 1 percent of the population worldwide has celiac disease (gluten intolerance), and 10 percent of people in the U.S. are gluten sensitive.

Grains containing gluten include:

  • Wheat
  • Spelt
  • Barley
  • Rye
  • Farro
  • Kamut

While you may not be technically gluten intolerant or gluten sensitive (or are undiagnosed), eating less gluten can be beneficial for reasons such as decreasing inflammation, healing leaky gut(increased intestinal permeability), and reducing migraines. But don’t be fooled, eating gluten free does not guarantee good health. Beware of the ingredients in many gluten-free substitutions as they are often processed and high in sugar, GMOs, or preservatives.

3. Traditional

The term “traditional diet” was coined by dentist Dr. Weston Price, and it’s exactly what it sounds like: eating the traditional and local foods that are part of one’s culture. In the early 1900s, Dr. Price traveled around the globe, making the world his laboratory. He observed many cultures far and wide–from Eskimos to Swiss and African tribes to Polynesian Sea islanders. His research is based on the dental structure and health of these varying populations and how their traditional diets affected physical degeneration related to nutritional deficiencies.

The traditional diet recommends a whole food-based regimen based on nutrient-dense local foods from plants and animals, with a special focus on nutrient-dense foods such as local cultured butter, local raw milk, farm fresh egg yolks, and bone broth as well as various traditional sourdough breads and organ meats where available.

The traditional diet varies based on where you live in the world (climate and region), and emphasizes eating locally sourced food. Getting your food from local farmers markets or ranches, or growing it yourself results in more nutrient dense and pure food. As we say in the nutrition world: “The secret is in the source.”

4. Paleo

The paleo regimen is fairly simple: if the pre-agricultural, hunter-gatherer ancestors did not eat it, then neither should you. The paleo diet is based on the premise that genetically, you are almost identical to your ancestors. While this premise may not be true, this hunter-gatherer type of eating has many fans.

Paleo eaters avoid:

  • Processed sugar
  • Grains
  • Legumes
  • Dairy

The paleo eating style is based on a diet heavy on:

  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Unprocessed meats
  • Fish
  • Poultry
  • Eggs
  • Nuts
  • Seeds

While some followers find it meat heavy, studies have found that the paleo diet can have a positive impact on glucose intoleranceweight loss, and cardiovascular health. The paleo diet is an anti-inflammatory, pure, and clean option to check out.

5. Ketogenic

Originally created by the medical community as a supportive diet for children with epilepsy, the ketogenic diet is extremely low in carbs and high in protein and fat. The aim is to force the body into a ketogenic state—burning fat for energy instead of the usual glucose and glucose-rich carbohydrates. This eating style dispels the myth that “fat makes you fat.”

Researchers have discovered that the ketogenic diet has various associated health benefits beyond managing childhood epilepsy. One study showed a significant decrease in the growth of malignant brain tumors by 35 percent to 65 percent. Another study performed with normal-weight men may decrease cardiovascular disease.

And while the ketogenic diet requires more than a little diligence and commitment with limitations on eating many carbohydrates, one study of obese patients showed that the extended use of the ketogenic diet can have a positive impact on weight loss, body mass index, cholesterol levels (raising HDL and lowering LDL), and blood glucose levels, with no observed long-term safety issues.


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