Eating healthy is tough, especially when there's so much delicious ice cream and BBQ and pizza out there. Following the guidelines of a specific diet, like Paleo, is much easier than trying to choose a healthy option for every single meal. And while diets are an undoubtedly positive force for many people, there are drawbacks to each one. That's why we spoke to Toby Smithson, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, to school us on the nutritional concerns of the eight most popular diets.
What it is: High-protein, low-carb diet that eliminates grain and dairy
Drawbacks: "Because you are not allowed fortified grains or dairy, you will not get enough calcium that is recommended for bone health. On this meal plan, you won’t receive enough vitamin D unless you truly act like a caveman and stay outdoors to reap the vitamin D benefit from the sun."
What it is: Low-carb diet that used to be hella popular
Drawbacks: "This high-protein plan is difficult to maintain for the long term. Your calorie intake is reduced drastically in the beginning phases of this plan. Nutritional concerns relate to the limitation of food containing carbohydrates. Many carbohydrate foods are drivers of important nutrients. Therefore, if you cut back or eliminate a nutrient like fiber, you may increase your risk for digestive or elimination troubles."
What it is: A diet that focuses mostly on plants and meat (no sugar, bread, fruit, milk...)
Drawbacks: "The nutritional concerns for this diet will depend on which foods (that contain carbohydrates) are eliminated or reduced. Carbohydrate-containing foods aren’t just bread, cereal, and grains, but also fruit, milk, yogurt, beans, and starchy vegetables. A low-carb diet can be deficient in calcium, vitamin D, vitamin C, or potassium, depending on which carbs you eliminate."
What it is: A diet without meat or fish, though it may include dairy
Drawbacks: "The concerns here are based on [the person] making the healthiest choices. A vegetarian diet can be very high in carbohydrate, fat, and low in protein, depending on the foods you select. If you follow a vegetarian diet that allows dairy products, you should not have trouble meeting your calcium and vitamin D requirements for building strong bones, and your vitamin B12 requirements for cell metabolism."
What it is: Vegetarianism without any animal products (like dairy)
Drawbacks: "Following a vegan diet plan can be a lot of work in meal prep or meal selection in order to fulfill your nutrient needs. Vitamin B12 can be difficult to consume on a vegan meal plan unless you carefully choose fortified products. Vitamin D sources are from animal sources, so most vegans will need to take a supplement in order to meet vitamin D requirements.
"Vitamin D2 is the form of a vitamin D supplement that a vegan would choose, and may need to take a higher dose of vitamin D3 (not appropriate for vegetarians) because it has a lesser absorption rate. Calcium is not a nutrient of concern as long as the vegan consumes dark, leafy green vegetables, calcium-fortified soy-based foods, almond milk, and orange juice."
What it is: Mostly plant-based diet, with some meat thrown in there every once in a while
Drawbacks: "This meal plan comes very close to meeting all nutritional needs. The negative aspect to the flexitarian meal plan is the meal prep involved. The concentration is on home-cooked meals, which may require a lot of investment in purchasing foods and cooking time."
What it is: The Mayo Clinic defines this as "Eating primarily plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts."
Drawbacks: "Although rated as one of the top plant-based diets, the negative aspects of this diet plan relate to costs (time and money). Purchasing the food on this meal plan can definitely put a dent in your wallet and you will need to invest time into meal prep. You will also be drinking your wine without dessert the majority of the time. Sweets and red meat are limited to occasional use. Nutrition-wise, the concerns are centered around weight gain. This meal plan is not a structured plan, so it’s up to individuals to make the right portion choices."
A typical diet from a weight-loss program
What it is: The kind of diet that advertises on TV
Drawbacks: "If you purchase the pre-packaged meals that are part of a diet center plan, you will be spending more of your food budget on these packaged meals. Pre-packaged diet center meals tend to run high in sodium, which can effect blood pressure and increase retention of fluid -- not something you want if you are trying to lose weight."