Whether you’re looking to drop a few kilos or just improve your health by eating more nutritious foods, one of the easiest ways to stick with it is by following an eating plan.
There’s no shortage of diets on offer, but sometimes understanding how they differ can be overwhelming.
In addition to decoding all the acronyms, it can be hard to figure out which ones are actually good for you.
Here, we look at the most popular diets and the science behind them.
This is based on the theory that gut health and low-sugar eating are associated with clinical anxiety. The dietary principles are sound – eat less processed foods, cut out sugar and nourish the gut. However, there’s nothing proven to show that this diet will successfully manage or prevent clinical anxiety.
The name says it all, so grab your spears and get ready to catch your own dinner. With a focus on consuming only animal-based foods, you’re going to be eating a whole lot of fat and protein. The main difference between this diet and the keto diet is that your overall protein intake is going to be a lot higher. Its long-term effect on gut health is questionable.
DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension)
There’s good evidence to show that this diet is effective in reducing blood pressure. And with a focus on grains, nuts, legumes and vegetables, DASH is a healthy diet for all of us, although it’s less likely to result in significant weight loss.
An area that will continue to grow, DNA diets simply link genetic risk factors to optimal eating habits, although you’ll get a similar result if you see a dietitian.
Dr Gundry lectin-free diet
This way of eating argues that the lectins found in many fruits, vegetables and legumes are associated with weight gain and autoimmune disease. There’s little to no evidence to support this.
One of the most popular low-carb diets, Dukan is a phased approach to dieting in which a low-calorie, low-carbohydrate approach is followed by a gradual reintroduction of regular eating habits. The strict conditions it requires to get results could be a deterrent in the long term.
Early time-restricted eating
On this diet, you eat all your meals in an eight-hour window starting in the morning. This enjoys additional benefits that come from complementing your circadian rhythm, such as consuming your calories when the body is burning them at the highest rate.
One of the fastest growing areas of dietary research, there’s evidence to support fasting for both health and gradual weight loss. The 16:8 diet in particular is an effective way to support calorie restriction and is relatively easy to follow compared to the 5:2, which requires severe calorie restriction.
An extreme form of a low-carb diet. If you can get and maintain your carb intake to just 20-50g per day and get most of your energy from fats, this is an extremely effective way to drop kilos quickly. The reality is that most people aren’t actually in ketosis as it’s hard to achieve.
This refers to any diet that contains fewer than 40% of calories (or less than 100g) from carbs per day. All are generally effective at shedding weight in a sustainable way. Most paleo and keto fans are simply following a low-carb diet.
Low-carbon/planetary health diet
A dietary approach likely to receive much more attention in future years, this encourages you to choose foods that have low carbon emissions. With a focus on eating less processed and packaged food, shopping locally and eating less industrially processed food in general, this approach is a lifestyle choice rather than a specific diet.
Clinically proven for those with irritable bowel syndrome, a low-FODMAP diet is best implemented in conjunction with a dietitian to guide you through the process and identify which of the FODMAPs are causing you grief. This diet isn’t specifically associated with weight loss, though.
Macro or IIFYM diet
Most diets have a specific macronutrient ratio – the relative amount of carbs, proteins and fats. Generally speaking, any diet that restricts carbohydrates to less than 40% of energy will be effective at inducing slow yet sustainable fat loss.
When it comes to health and longevity, you can’t go past the Mediterranean diet. With a massive seven to 10 serves of fresh fruit and veg and lashings of olive oil, your heart health will benefit. However, this diet isn’t specifically associated with weight loss.
A combination of the DASH and Mediterranean diets to target brain health, MIND is packed full of antioxidant-rich foods to help maintain and optimise cognitive function. A generally healthy approach, there’s nothing specific in this diet that will result in weight loss to any greater extent than general healthy eating.
This is based on the eating habits of those living in the north, with an emphasis on lean proteins, loads of fish, vegetables and wholegrains. Overall, the Nordic approach contains less sugar and fat, and a lot more fibre and omega-3 fats than Western diets. It’s a very good choice for both health and weight loss that can be easily sustained in the long term.
For the most part, paleo is a low-carb diet with a focus on proteins, vegetables, good fats and minimal processed foods. The biggest issues in the long term are an especially low intake of calcium and fibre from cereal grains, which can cause gut issues for some people.
If you like the idea of becoming a vegan but think you’ll miss your favourite meaty meal too much, the pegan approach may be for you. Combining paleo and vegan principles, it has a focus on fresh fruits and vegetables, minimal processed foods and small serves of lean proteins including eggs, fish and meat. Pegans strike a nice balance between a plant-based diet with a little meat on the side, so it’s a lifestyle, not a diet.
For those who like the thought of being a vegetarian but love fish, a pescatarian diet is for you. With all the benefits of vegetarian eating plus the added bonus of omega-3s and protein from seafood, from a lifestyle perspective pescatarian living is among the healthiest.
Scandi Sense diet
This eating plan indirectly targets macronutrients by encouraging dieters to stick to set portions of carbs, proteins, fats and vegetables. While seemingly simple, it actually becomes more complicated in terms of making the best food choices within each category. It falls into the “another day, another diet” category rather than offering any new science to support its use.
TLC (therapeutic lifestyle changes) diet
Developed as part of a national cholesterol-lowering program in the US, the TLC diet is a generalised low-fat, high-to-moderate-carbohydrate diet. This benefits cholesterol levels, but there are better options out there when it comes to weight loss and the health benefits that come from it.
While eating more plant foods is good, not all vegetarian or vegan foods are healthy, nor is this type of diet necessarily conducive to weight control if you still eat high-fat plant-based foods away from home. You’ll still need to pay attention to your carb, protein and fat intake if the goal is weight loss.
A rules-based approach that eliminates a number of foods including dairy, grains and legumes for 30 days. News flash – any diet that eliminates most of your food will result in weight loss. There’s nothing special, scientific or appealing here.
A random mix of low-carb eating teamed with intermittent fasting that also permits regular alcohol intake, there’s nothing unique about the Dubrow approach. It’s simply about minimising calories and carbohydrates most of the time.
So flexible it doesn’t really mean anything, other than eating plant-based foods most of the time and then cheating occasionally by digging into a pizza, steak or whatever takes your fancy. It’s not really a diet, but a lifestyle many of us already follow.
A technology-based approach to lifestyle and positive habit building, Noon offers a subscription-based coaching model to support healthy eating and weight control. While touchy-feely in its feel-good approach, it lacks the rigidity and structure many seek when wanting to lose weight fast.
One Meal a Day (OMAD) diet
This is a more extreme version of intermittent fasting in which one meal a day is consumed. This is associated with weight loss, but it’s far more difficult to stick to. Evidence to support its use for long-term weight loss outcomes is lacking.