In today’s society, there is an unparalleled emphasis on weight loss that comes in many forms. People struggle with going to extremes in dieting and exercise to reach their goals or decrease their size — even if those extremes could be considered unhealthy.

With the introduction of new fad diets, appetite suppressants and media showcasing the sculpted bodies these methods claim to create, some are more than willing to participate in the hopes of reaching the same outcome.

“I want to make healthy diets, forever," Read stated.

Kelly Read, RIT's registered dietician, commented on fad diets.

"Some of them have some good components, others ... it's just trying to lose weight in whatever way it may be," Read said.

This begs the question: Are these diets healthy?

There are three diets that stick out in the media and seem to be under current study on whether or not they are beneficial for your health. These are the ketogenic diet, paleo diet and more recently, the pegan diet.

Ketogenic Diet

The ketogenic diet works by forcing your body to succumb to ketosis, where you no longer have the glucose needed to provide energy and burn fat instead. To achieve this, participants deprive themselves of carbohydrates, eating fewer than 50 grams per day. This means a restriction in the amount of fruits and vegetables consumed, due to their richness in carbs.

To make up for the caloric deficit, participants need to consume a large amount of fats. While healthy fats are allowed within the diet, it's encouraged to eat large amounts of butter, oils and lard instead.

Kelly Childs, a CrossFit coach at Crossfit RSG, voiced her concerns about the diet.

"You are so restrictive on carbs, and carbs are so necessary for fueling our bodies. You look at some of the things people are eating and they are just so high in fats — you have to wonder how is that going to be considered healthy?" Childs wondered.

In fact, keto may lead to nutrient deficiencies, liver and kidney problems, mood swings and constipation. The acidity of blood also increases as ketone levels rise, which could lead to fatal conditions such as ketoacidosis.

However, the keto diet could be beneficial to those with serious health conditions such as diabetes, metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular diseases and children with epileptic seizures. But current studies have not yet concluded whether or not these benefits are from the reduced intake of carbohydrates or from the loss of excess weight of the participants.

Although dieters may see an increase in weight loss, many sources believe this is only a short-term fix and cannot be carried out in the long term.

“I definitely would say it's very hard to do long term. Unless you have a medical condition [like epilepsy], I wouldn’t recommend doing it,” Read said.

Paleo Diet

The second of these diets is based on foods that could be found and eaten within the Paleolithic era. According to Mayo Clinic, meals that consist of lean meats and fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds make up the paleo diet. This prohibits the consumption of dairy products, legumes, grains and other substances procured through modern age farming.

Many who follow the paleo diet do so in belief that human genetics don't align with a modern processed food diet, and that human bodies are fueled better on pre-farmed foods. Others attempt the diet to lose or maintain their weight.

There have been many found benefits of participating in the paleo diet such as weight loss, improved glucose tolerance, lower triglycerides and better appetite management.

Childs participated in the paleo diet for an eight- to 12-week clean eating challenge called the ‘Lurong Living Challenge’ with her previous gym. Her overall experience on the diet was beneficial.

"You felt a difference in your energy levels, you felt, you just felt better," Childs said.

There are also a few discrepancies found within the belief. For starters, diets would vary significantly person to person based on geographical locations within their ancestry. Also, humans have evolved to process a lot of the diet changes we see now, compared to the Paleolithic Era. Not to mention, according to many studies, humans included grains well before the start of farming.

Childs mentioned that the first few weeks were very difficult in the challenge.

“My numbers weren’t as high on things at the gym, I couldn’t lift as heavy, and I was super out of it. I felt like I was kind of in a fog,” Childs said.

As weeks went on, things improved; however, Childs explained that she didn’t think it was sustainable in the long term nutritionally or financially for the average person. But, she believed these diets could benefit as a jump start into clean eating.

"It's kind of hard to come up with things to eat ... and then when you do find [things to eat], you're eating these mass quantities of food just trying to get enough calories in you. It's definitely hard to sustain," Childs stressed.

Pegan Diet

A new diet craze that seems to combine the methodologies of the paleo diet and veganism is the pegan diet.

The pegan diet follows 12 key steps:

  1. Avoid refined carbohydrates.
  2. Eat mostly plants.
  3. Eat little fruit and stick to low-glycemic fruits.
  4. Avoid GMOs, preservatives, artificial sweeteners, hormones and pesticides.
  5. Eat a lot of healthy fats — foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
  6. Avoid nuts, seeds and vegetable oil.
  7. Restrict or avoid dairy products.
  8. Don’t eat meat as a main course, eat it ‘as a condiment.’
  9. Eat harvested low-mercury or sustainably raised fish.
  10. Avoid gluten.
  11. Eat other grains very sparingly.
  12. Eat beans every once in a while.

With the focus on vegetables, there are plenty of nutrients to be had as well as disease-preventing and inflammation-reducing plant compounds. The focus on healthy fats also contributes to heart health, and the restriction on processed foods can improve overall diet quality.

Downsides, much like those for paleo, include extreme diet restriction which makes it difficult to maintain. It also cuts out an excess amount carbohydrates and proteins that are necessary for a balanced diet.

Childs scoffed when she heard the restrictions of this diet.

"It's so restrictive. It's so restrictive. I am really struggling to find where they are coming up with any protein source," Childs stated.

Read mentioned again that it's never a good thing to restrict your diet so much that it makes it difficult to carry out.

“It is important to learn how to have good balance, learn how to be able to make healthy choices without the pressure of following a strict guideline of what you can and can’t eat,” Read said.

The Bottom Line

Although each of these diets may have their own benefits and downfalls, none can be easily kept up long term and could result in unhealthy eating habits.

Read recommended diets that are sustainable throughout a lifetime — not just a short period of change.

“I want to make healthy diets, forever,” Read stated.

Diets need to include all food groups and macronutrient groups, and should not cut down or restrict any of these. Fats, proteins and carbohydrates make up these macronutrients, and all are important in a healthy and balanced diet.

If you are having trouble with eating habits, meal plans or figuring out how to eat healthy on a student budget, RIT's nutrition and health services are always available.