At least three times a year, the word “dieting” might creep into your consciousness.
One, at the start of it when you are bright-eyed about kicking it off on the right (and lighter) foot; next, before the year-end festive season when you need to fit into your new dress and also fit in more celebratory meals; and then just about any other time after you’ve met an old acquaintance who gives your love handles, batwings and double chin the apologetic side-eye.
It’s always easy to start on a diet, but never easy to continue with it. Don’t blame yourself for the half-hearted tenacity though. Diets are impractical and unhealthy to follow through for most of us.
A juice cleanse, as detoxifying as it sounds, will leave many hungry and tired, and since it’s not supposed to last more than one to three days, you are likely to revert to your old eating habits soon after. It also depends on the fruit and vegetables you choose — some have high sugar content, which defeats the original purpose of going on a diet.
The famous Atkins Diet sounded like good news — skip the carbs but eat all the fat and protein you want — until vegetarianism and veganism made that appear unsavoury and uncool. And since this diet encompasses a lot of meat eating, you’ll be consuming loads more seasoning like sauces and salt unless you like your Wagyu or Kurobuta au naturel.
There’s even a Version 2.0 take on the Atkins now, which spreads out the diet across four phases, with the first being protein-rich and promising rapid weight loss. Then you gradually introduce carbs back into your life over the next three phases until you know how much to consume in order to maintain your ideal size.
With the South Beach Diet, meanwhile. you’re allowed three meals and even two snacks (yay!) a day and, erm, you must have an exercise routine. But, let’s face it, if you had time for the latter, this wouldn’t even be a diet for you but the norm.
Altogether, there are more than 40 known and listed diets around the world, which means you are really spoilt for choice when it comes to picking one and staying on it. But going on one does not always have to mean losing weight. Some diets are designed to improve overall health, lower cholesterol levels and even improve fertility.
Here are a few for you to chew on (or, you know, just mention knowledgably at your next business dinner).
1. ORNISH DIET
Created by Dr Dean Ornish, this dictates that no more than 10 percent of your calories should come from fat. In short, stick to a largely plant-based diet and skip fats, oils and even “fatty” food like avocados and olives. This super low-fat diet lets you have mostly grains, vegetables, fruit, fat-free yogurt and cheese, and egg white.
Jaclyn Reutens, dietitian at Aptima Nutrition & Sports Consultants, says that fat is not always a bad thing as it helps to transport vitamins A, D, E and K — which are all fat-soluble — throughout your body. “This is not a feasible diet for the long term…you will have reduced immunity, brittle bones, dry hair, and wounds that take a long time to heal.”
To make this work better for you in the long run, have foods with healthy fat such as omega-3-packed tuna, salmon and cod at least twice a week. Also recommended are avocados, olive and sesame oils, walnuts, sunflower seeds and flax seeds, which offer monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fat.
2. FLEXITARIAN DIET
Like its name suggests, this combines the words “flexible” and “vegetarian”. Instead of removing any food groups, just add five more, such as beans, dairy, whole grains, fruit and vegetables, and even spices like dried herbs. While you are encouraged to get most of your nutrients from plant-based products, you can have meat once a week — a reasonable game plan if you do a fair amount of entertaining over meals. After all, like Reutens says, the real danger in consuming meat is having the skin and visible fat — this is where bad fat, which can raise cholesterol levels, lurks.
3. VOLUMETRICS DIET
You can eat as much of foods with high water content and low energy density as you like. Examples include mostly fruit and vegetables so it’s like a juice diet without, well, juicing. But why low energy density? According to Reutens, energy density refers to the amount of calories found in a specific amount of food. For instance, you can have a lot more fruits and vegetables but still consume a lot fewer calories than you would if you went with something like cake or ice cream in the same quantity.
“You would very likely be passing more urine…you’ll also feel more lethargic due to lack of energy and you will risk bloating and losing muscle mass,” she cautions. “Following a diet based on only fruits and vegetables sounds healthy but it is not well-balanced. These foods are high in dietary fibre, vitamins and minerals, which is great for you but you will become deficient in protein and starchy carbohydrates, the other two pillars of a healthy diet.”
4. TLC DIET
No, it doesn’t stand for a tender loving care diet although the Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes routine can give your body that. If you are only keen on losing weight, skip this. After all, the TLC Diet doesn’t promise to help you shed those kilos; it is skewed towards reducing cholesterol levels instead. With this, you are limited to no more than 200mg of cholesterol a day; you can get information on this amount from some food packaging labels or credible websites like the Health Promotion Board.
Reutens agrees that as cholesterol does not contain calories, bringing its levels down generally won’t do anything for your weight. She adds that most of us need about 400mg of cholesterol every day; if you consume only 200mg, the remaining 200g will come from your body’s “reserves”, which is how your overall level then gets reduced. “But do note that cholesterol actually plays an essential role in regulating hormones. It only becomes a problem when you have too much of it.”
5. FERTILITY DIET
This came about after studies found that high insulin levels can inhibit ovulation, which is necessary for conceiving. In this diet, sugar and trans fat are banned but full-fat dairy products are recommended.
Reutens says that full-fat dairy should not be consumed over the long-term because of the known link between saturated fat and health problems such as cancer and cardiovascular disease. “There is the rationale that low-fat dairy is full of sugar and causes insulin spikes. This is untrue. Low-fat dairy may contain higher amounts of sugar but not in such high amounts that it becomes a nutritional concern.”
She says that it is perfectly normal for your body to produce insulin at least three times a day if you have a balanced diet. While it is advisable to skip white sugar, you can get other forms of sugar from fruits, wholegrains and brown rice, which the Fertility Diet also recommends.