Ask Mickey: The Skinny on Trendy Diets

Should I be trying “clean eating,” the Paleo Diet™, or the Whole 30?

Unless you’ve been hiking off the grid in the Himalayas, you’ve probably been bombarded with clickbait headlines about three trendy diets: “clean eating,” the Paleo Diet™, and the Whole 30™ Program. As with any diet trends, some of these just recycle old ways of eating in a new package, while others make up new rules to follow.

There is no formal definition of “clean” eating: it’s used to describe a diet pattern that emphasizes whole foods and the inclusion of more fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains, with less sugar, alcohol, and saturated fat. Some interpretations are stricter and may eliminate entire food groups such as whole grains or ban even occasional treats and indulgences. In general, clean eating includes many of the facets of healthy eating and can be a sustainable way to eat long-term. However, taking an all-or-nothing attitude and eliminating entire food groups or favorite foods can backfire if it makes one feel too deprived. Some health professionals find the term “clean eating” concerning, because putting food into binary categories like good vs. bad or clean vs. dirty can lead to a negative, guilt-ridden relationship with food and a short-term mentality. With that said, following the general principles can be a good way to refresh your diet and get back on a healthy track after over-indulging.

The Paleo Diet™ follows the same principle of limiting processed foods; however, the rules are even stricter. Purported to be what hunter-gatherers who lived in the Paleolithic time period ate — before the beginning of agriculture — this low-carbohydrate, high-protein diet focuses on grass-finished meats, wild fish and seafood, vegetables, and some fruits and nuts. Legumes, dairy, grains, other fruits, and any refined or processed foods are prohibited. While many people have short-term weight loss on this diet, it can be a challenge to follow long term. That’s probably why many Paleo proponents take one “cheat” day per week. Reducing processed foods, added sugars, and saturated fat will have positive health benefits, but any diet that eliminates entire food groups (especially those that offer key nutrients) and calls for “cheating” should be considered with a critical eye.

Another popular diet is the Whole 30™ Program, which employs many of the same rules as the Paleo Diet but is meant to be followed for 30 days and does not allow for some of the Paleo-style treats (for example, brownies made with “Paleo-approved” ingredients). Some people find that it’s a good way to reset their eating patterns or identify food intolerances, but because it eliminates a large number of foods, including those that would be considered part of a healthy diet (such as beans, yogurt, and whole grains), it is not recommended as a long-term weight loss solution.

While there has been little to no scientific research (over extended periods of time, using control groups) on any of these specific diets, some of the principles align with what research has confirmed to be good for our health — eating more whole, unprocessed foods and an abundance of fruits and vegetables, and limiting processed foods and those high in added sugars and saturated fat. The downfall with these and other trendy diets is that they can be quite restrictive, and most people try them as a quick fix, which often results in feelings of deprivation and eventually a ditch-the-diet mentality. Instead, aim to make small, yet sustainable changes like eating more fruits and vegetables, replacing meat at one meal with a plant-based proteins, or replacing sugary beverages with water. And don’t forget the importance of moving your body on a daily basis – find a form of exercise that you enjoy, and stay active, which will help keep cravings in check.

12-3790_bamco_askmickey_web-157x300About Ask Mickey: At Bon Appétit, we know there’s a lot on your plate that you worry about. Making good food choices helps you avoid unwanted pounds, work or study (and sleep!) better, and form long-lasting healthy eating habits. In the Ask Mickey column, Bon Appétit Management Company registered dietitian nutritionists offer tips on “chewing the right thing” and answer your nutrition questions. (Mickey, aka Michelina, is a particular feisty Italian grandmother who continues to inspire us.) Email your questions and feedback to nutrition@cafebonappetit.com.