Climbing Through the Diet Maze

Last Thursday I submitted the final manuscript for the Everything DASH Diet Cookbook!  After ten weeks of constant work, I am taking a well-deserved rest.  Today Darcie Sosa from Everyday Health has kindly agreed to guest post.  Enjoy! 

It seems like every month there’s a new diet hitting the market and it’s easy to be confused by the many competing messages.  Here’s a brief introduction to three of the most popular diets today: the DASH Diet, the Paleo Diet, and the Gluten-Free Diet.

The DASH Diet:
DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. This eating plan is based on studies by the National Institute of Health (NIH) to help prevent or control high blood pressure. DASH is naturally rich in lower calorie foods and emphasizes preparing foods with less salt and more herbs for flavor. DASH also places an emphasis on eating fewer processed/packed foods and forgoing the salt shaker at the table.

The plan emphasizes a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low fat dairy, fish, poultry, beans, nuts, and seeds. It discourages consuming sugar-containing beverages, fats, and too much red meat. With an emphasis on healthy, whole foods, this diet is great not only for your heart, but also your overall health.

The DASH Diet has also been shown to help maintain a healthy body weight and is recommended by the USDA as the ideal eating pattern for all Americans.


The Paleo Diet:
Also known as the Paleolithic Diet, the Caveman Diet, Stone Age Diet, and the Hunter Gather Diet, the Paleo Diet focuses on eating plants and animals that cavemen would have consumed 10,000 years ago. This diet is based on the theory that humans are biologically the same as they were as cavemen and that the diet the cavemen followed is better suited to prevent chronic diseases than the typical Western diet.

The Paleo Diet focuses on foods that could be hunted and gathered during the Paleolithic era – meat, fish, eggs, tree nuts, vegetables, roots, and fruits. The diet restricts all grains, dairy, potatoes, processed oils, and sugar; i.e., everything that was introduced to the human diet with the advent of agriculture. The only beverages allowed are water, coconut water, and green tea.

Like many diets, this one does have its critics. From a nutrition standpoint, restricting huge food groups like whole grains and dairy can leave the dieter missing important vitamins and minerals, while relying too heavily on meat can have severe consequences on heart health and wellness in general. Some critics stress that it is virtually impossible to mimic a true Paleolithic diet, as wild game meats are hard to come by and most meat choices are now domesticated. Anthropologists theorize that cavemen may have missed diseases of the modern world not because of a specific combination of foods, but because of the scarcity of food in general and the overall reduction in total calories.

Gluten-Free Diet:
It seems like almost every package in the grocery store now has a label proudly exclaiming “Gluten-Free!” Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye.  It’s the substance that gives dough its elasticity; i.e., the chew you notice in many baked goods.  But for people with celiac disease, when gluten is consumed, it causes damage to the lining of the small intestine. The damage to the intestine causes the person to not be able to effectively absorb vitamins and minerals, which may lead to dietary deficiencies. Any food, beverage, or medication that contains gluten must be completely avoided; even the smallest amount can cause damage and make the sufferer very sick.

Fortunately, gluten can be avoided by removing all products containing wheat, barley, and rye from one’s diet.  There are plenty of healthy gluten-free choices, including fruits, vegetables, low fat dairy, lean meats, beans, legumes, nuts and seeds, as well as gluten-free starches like quinoa, rice, corn, and potatoes. In addition, many gluten-free packaged foods, such as cereals, pastas, breads, and pizzas, are now available, adding variety and convenience for people who suffer from celiac disease.

Whether you follow one of the diets listed above or not, it’s best to consult your doctor or a registered dietician before beginning a new eating plan.

Guest Blogger Darcie Sosa is a Dietetic Technician for Everyday Health.

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7 Responses to Climbing Through the Diet Maze

  1. Truthfully I hadn’t even heard of all these diets before… interesting!
    And I think I recognize myself in the Paleo Diet graphic. If that means anything.

  2. Leah says:

    Curious as to why so many feel that gluten free is good for everyone — not just those with celiac? I know it is important for those with the allergy, but others? Here in Portland, Oregon, it seems like “the thing to do.” When I bought Vital Wheat Gluten to add to my sodium-free bread, I thought the checker at WFoods was going to faint!:)

    • Christy says:

      Leah, you and I must be on the same wavelength – I bought vital wheat gluten yesterday!

      It’s interesting, the woman who wrote this post, Darcie Sosa, is gluten intolerant and said that she would NEVER be on a gluten free diet if she didn’t absolutely have to be. She was very specific about gluten having a valuable place in a healthy diet, as long as you don’t have celiac disease. Maybe there’s a backlash against wheat just b/c people are increasingly aware of the disease and want to be supportive?

      My family and I don’t have an issue with wheat, but my daughters have friends who are gluten-intolerant, so I’ve made gluten-free pancakes and pizza for them at home. There’s a huge learning curve there – gluten-free flours are a whole different animal (so to speak) – they’re very different from wheat flour. It must be very challenging for those w/ celiac – similar I would imagine to learning how to live without salt.

  3. Christy says:

    The purpose of this post was simply to raise awareness of these diets, not advocate for them, although the DASH diet is what many of you already follow.

    Although this post may be old news to some of you, many people new to dieting have no real understanding of terminology. My own daughters have been asking specific things lately, such as “What is gluten?” so it seemed like a good thing to have Darcie cover.

    A note on the Paleo Diet. Although I had Darcie feature this diet b/c it’s gaining in popularity, I must note it is not widely endorsed by the medical community and I am NOT a fan of it personally. Features of the diet, such as elimination of processed foods, dairy, refined sugars, and fats, are good. But I think the diet relies too heavily on meat – if not in theory, at least in practice. I would not advocate reliance on meat, even lean meats, to anyone.

  4. Angela @ The Chicken Scoop says:

    How did I not comment on this post? I know I read it! Anyway, just wanted to say that I am really enjoying the Paleo Diet. I am not 100% but I’ve practically cut out all grains (only bread products like once a week) and dairy (except coffee creamer). I’ve found that now when I do have grains, they greatly destroy my digestion. I’m also slightly lactose-intolerate so that goes hand-in-hand with it also. I am so glad I made the switch!

    And I agree, some people think its the MEAT diet but its not for me. I rely heavily on vegetables and fruits. I am eating about the same amount of meat (and fish) as I was previously. Then again, I lift quite often so I eat a higher protein diet than the average person. But I definitely do not buy into the eat-meat-all-the-time diet! I replaced the missing calories with more vegetables and fruits.

    There are a lot of versions of Paleo though and depending on who you talk to, there are different rules. I just go with what feels right for me!

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