Healthy eating is now the largest and fastest growing sector of the $3.4 trillion global wellness industry. Between 2010 and 2014 alone, the sector grew 108%, making over $276 billion and forcing big brands to make even bigger changes. General Mills removing artificial colors and flavors from its cereals. Pepsi reformulated their signature soda in response to backlash against artificial sweeteners. McDonald’s will exclusively use cage-free eggs by 2025 and remove preservatives from Chicken McNuggets. Paleo, Whole30 and Keto diet recipes dominate Pinterest and search engines. Consumers spoke, and companies took action. However, as these diets, along with others, become more mainstream, which can we believe? More importantly, are these diets actually healthy, or just the newest fad?
Returning to our roots
As kids, we all learn how to build a food pyramid. We learn foods at the top, like sugars and fats, aren’t healthy, and therefore eat them less often. At least, we’re supposed to eat them less often. We all know making healthy choices is important, even though it isn’t always easy. So, if we could improve our overall health just by adjusting our diets… shouldn’t we try?
Research shows that as humans shifted from hunting and gathering to growing crops, diseases like diabetes, obesity and heart disease quickly followed. Reliable grain crops meant less diverse, usually high sugar diets, which future generations then inherited. This suggests that diet, perhaps even more than genetics, could play a significant role in determining a person’s health. The health and wellness boom, for better or worse, has birthed a new series of diets based on that same idea.
The Paleo Diet
Inspired by hunter-gatherer societies, Dr. Loren Cordain, Ph.D, created The Paleo Diet. By removing refined sugars, limiting carbs, and increasing proteins and fiber, Cordain says the Paleo diet can help “optimize your health, minimize your risk of chronic disease, and lose weight”. In short, if a caveman couldn’t eat it, neither can you. Followers of the Paleo diet can, however, consume natural sweeteners, including honey and maple syrup. This can make it easier for first-time Paleo-ers to have healthier versions of the recipes they already know and love.
Whole30 initially, is a more of a challenge than a diet. For thirty days, you eat real food and see how you feel after. No processed foods, alcohol, legumes, grains, dairy or added sugars, including Paleo-approved sweeteners. Whole30 also explicitly bans cheat days and baked goods, even if they’re made with Whole30 ingredients. As co-creator Melissa Hartwing puts it, “The Whole30 is, at its heart, an elimination diet. Just a small amount of any of these inflammatory foods could break the healing cycle; promoting cravings, messing with blood sugar, disrupting the integrity of your digestive tract, and (most important) firing up the immune system.” Think of it as an extreme Paleo, of sorts.
Created in 1924 by Dr. Russel Wilder, the Keto, or Ketogenic, diet was originally intended to help epilepsy patients by helping prevent seizures. Like Atkins and South Beach, Keto diets are low carb and high fat. However, Keto diets severely restrict carbohydrates in order to, hopefully, induce ketosis. Bodies in a ketosis state will burn fat for energy, rather than glucose provided by carbs. Evidence suggests that ketosis can help prevent seizures in epilepsy patients, as well as obesity and diabetes.