Breaking down popular “diets”: Mediterranean, Low-Carb and Paleo

I recently discovered an article written by the husband of a blogger I follow and have gotten a lot of recipes and advice from: Healthy Living How-To.

Vanessa’s husband, Tom, has a blog on his website, TomNikkola,com.

In an article published last week, entitled, “Mediterranean, Low-Carb or Paleo?” Tom breaks down these three popular lifestyles and makes his recommendation as to which is best.

The part about this article I found most compelling is the fact that Tom suggests despite whether one follows a Mediterranean, Low-Carb or Paleo lifestyle, each way of eating is better than eating a SAD (Standard American Diet).

Much like Tom did in his blog post, I’ve decided to take a closer look at the SAD, Mediterranean, Low-Carb and Paleo lifestyles, and explain each way of eating for you, my readers.

1) Standard American Diet

The Standard American Diet is referred to as the Western pattern diet.

This diet looked a lot different a few hundred years ago!

Nowadays, the focus is on making sure food-like products have the longest possible shelf-life, leading to what we know of today as processed foods, or food-like products.

Eating the traditional SAD diet hundreds of years ago, involving consuming fruits, vegetables, wild grains and seeds, fish and occasionally meat.

Today, the SAD diet consists of SUGAR (think bread, sandwiches, cereals, SODA, etc.), refined flour, processed foods and FAST FOOD.

Today, there is much more of a focus on convenience, and in today’s fast-paced world, many don’t make the time to cook nutritious food.

The consumption of today’s SAD foods, combined with a lack of physical exercise has led obesity to become an epidemic in this country.

Not to mention, our people are dying every day of things like cancer and heart disease, which some have suggested could be linked to diet — consuming unhealthy fast food and processed food, along with GMOs.

What are GMOs?

According to the “Non GMO Project…”

“GMOs, or “genetically modified organisms,” are plants or animals that have been genetically engineered with DNA from bacteria, viruses or other plants and animals. These experimental combinations of genes from different species cannot occur in nature or in traditional crossbreeding.

Virtually all commercial GMOs are engineered to withstand direct application of herbicide and/or to produce an insecticide. Despite biotech industry promises, none of the GMO traits currently on the market offer increased yield, drought tolerance, enhanced nutrition, or any other consumer benefit.

Meanwhile, a growing body of evidence connects GMOs with health problems, environmental damage and violation of farmers’ and consumers’ rights.

Most developed nations do not consider GMOs to be safe. In more than 60 countries around the world, including Australia, Japan, and all of the countries in the European Union, there are significant restrictions or outright bans on the production and sale of GMOs.

In the U.S., the government has approved GMOs based on studies conducted by the same corporations that created them and profit from their sale.”

Then, there’s the booming pharmaceutical industry in the United States. If more doctors looked at diet and natural, holistic treatment for illnesses and injury, we might see fewer doctors saying “just take this pill,” and then, “take this pill to combat the side effects from that pill.”

In my personal opinion, we need start focusing on caring for our people, versus doing whatever we can to make money.

However, what one puts in his or her mouth is his or her decision. The government can’t force-feed us healthy food.

Hopefully, the more we know, the better choices we will make!

CLICK HERE to view a timeline of the SAD Diet, via the New York Times.

CLICK HERE to learn more about GMOs, via the Non GMO Project.

2) Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean Diet first gained widespread recognition in the 1990s, and is somewhat similar to the Low-Carb and Paleo lifestyles.

The Mediterranean diet is a modern nutritional recommendation inspired by the traditional dietary patterns of Greece, Southern Italy, and Spain.

The principal aspects of this diet include proportionally high consumption of olive oil, legumes, unrefined cereals, fruits, and vegetables, moderate to high consumption of fish, moderate consumption of dairy products (mostly as cheese and yogurt), moderate wine consumption, and low consumption of meat and meat products.

The problem with the Mediterranean Diet in the United States is that people in the United States are typically much less active than those in Mediterranean countries.

In fact, the Mediterranean Diet is based on what from the point of view of mainstream nutrition is considered a paradox: that although the people living in Mediterranean countries tend to consume relatively high amounts of fat, they have far lower rates of cardiovascular disease than in countries like the United States, where similar levels of fat consumption are found.

A similar example could be found by looking at France. The French are known for consuming a great amount of carbohydrates. When I was in France, a typical breakfast consisted of a half-loaf of bread, a croissant and some fruit. Talk about carbs!

Yet, people in France are not typically known to have an obesity problem. Why? Because of their level of activity as compared with those of us in the United States.

Most of us aren’t Michael Phelps — and can’t subsist on a large carb load without massive amounts of exercise, lest we gain massive amounts of weight.

The Mediterranean Diet differs from Paleo in that those following this lifestyle eat things like legumes, cereals, and dairy products — things not allowed when following a traditional Paleo diet.

In my opinion, the best benefit you can get from following a Mediterranean lifestyle is the high consumption of olive oil, which is said to be a healthy fat, and can even reduce one’s risk for coronary heart disease.

OVERVIEW: Mediterranean Diet Basics:

Eat: Vegetables and tubers, fruits, grains, fish and seafood, poultry, eggs, cheese and yogurt, nuts, seeds and legumes, meats and sweets, water and wine, olive oil

Don’t Eat: Meat and meat products

CLICK HERE to learn more about the Mediterranean Diet.

3) Low-Carb Diet

Perhaps the most popular “Low-Carb Diet” is the Atkins Diet.

The Atkins Diet, officially called the Atkins Nutritional Approach was promoted by Robert Atkins from a research paper he read in the Journal of the American Medical Association published by Dr. Alfred W. Pennington, titled “Weight Reduction”, published in 1958.

According to Wikipedia, the Atkins Diet involves limited consumption of carbohydrates to switch the body’s metabolism from metabolizing glucose (sugar) as energy over to converting stored body fat to energy.

This process, called ketosis, begins when insulin levels are low; in normal humans, insulin is lowest when blood glucose levels are low (mostly before eating).

Reduced insulin levels induces lipolysis which consumes fat to produce ketone bodies.

On the other hand, caloric carbohydrates (for example, glucose or starch, the latter made of chains of glucose) affect the body by increasing blood sugar after consumption (in the treatment of diabetes, blood sugar levels are used) Fiber, because of its low digestibility, provides little or no food energy and does not significantly affect glucose and insulin levels.

The problem I see with the Atkins Diet, is that it involves a lot of packaged, processed food-like products. Rather than purchasing the Atkins sponsored products, I’d advise using Atkins as a model for creating your own low-carb recipes.

When following a Low-Carb lifestyle, foods eaten include Foods high in easily digestible carbohydrates (e.g., sugar, bread, pasta) are limited or replaced with foods containing a higher percentage of fats and moderate protein (e.g., meat, poultry, fish, shellfish, eggs,cheese, nuts, and seeds) and other foods low in carbohydrates (e.g., most salad vegetables), although other vegetables and fruits (especially berries) are often allowed.

The Low-Carb Diet is very, very similar to the Paleo Diet. In fact, many hard-core Paleo-ers will aim for ketosis.

To achieve ketosis: The diet is changed from one that is high in carbohydrates to one that does not provide sufficient carbohydrate to replenish glycogen stores, the body goes through a set of stages to enter ketosis.

During the initial stages of this process, blood glucose levels are maintained through gluconeogenesis, and the adult brain does not burn ketones.

However, the brain makes immediate use of ketones for lipid synthesis in the brain.

After about 48 hours of this process, the brain starts burning ketones in order to more directly use the energy from the fat stores that are being depended upon, and to reserve the glucose only for its absolute needs, thus avoiding the depletion of the body’s protein store in the muscles.

If you’d like to be sure you’re in ketosis, you can purchase special urine test stripes called Ketostix.

The strips have a small pad on the end which is dipped in a fresh specimen of urine. Within a matter of seconds, the strip changes color indicating the level of ketone bodies detected.

OVERVIEW: Low-Carb Diet Basics:

Eat: Meat, fish, eggs, vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, high-fat dairy, fats, healthy oils and maybe even some tubers and non-gluten grains.

Don’t Eat: Sugar, HFCS, wheat, seed oils, trans fats, artificial sweeteners, “diet” and low-fat products and highly processed foods.

CLICK HERE to learn more about the Atkins Diet.

CLICK HERE to learn more about Ketosis.

4) The Paleo Diet

The Paleo Diet has recently become super popular, and is a lifestyle in which one focuses on “Just Eating Real Food.”

The paleolithic diet (abbreviated Paleo Diet), also popularly referred to as the caveman diet, Stone Age diet and hunter-gatherer diet, is a modern nutritional plan based on the presumed ancient diet of wild plants and animals that various hominid species habitually consumed during the Paleolithic era—a period of about 2.5 million years which ended around 10,000 years ago with the development of agriculture and grain-based diets.

Centered on commonly available modern foods, the contemporary “Paleolithic diet” consists mainly of fish, grass-fed pasture raised meats, eggs, vegetables, fruit, fungi, roots, and nuts, and excludes grains, legumes, dairy products, potatoes, refined salt, refined sugar, and processed oils.

The Paleo Diet has become popular for weight loss, and improving a number of health ailments.

Those following a Paleo Diet don’t count calories, but focus on putting the most nutrient-dense REAL foods into their bodies, and use food as fuel.

The site, “NerdFitness.com” describes it best:

“Tens of thousands of years ago, before Nike, Cap’n Crunch, and Healthy Choice meals, our ancient ancestors thrived as hunter-gatherers.  Although it’s been a really long time, our genetics haven’t changed that much since then.

The average Homo Sapien back then: tall, muscular, agile, athletic, and incredibly versatile.

The average Homo Sapien now: overweight, out of shape, stressed out, unhappy, sleep deprived and dying from a myriad of preventable diseases.

So what the hell happened? Agriculture!  A few thousand years ago humans discovered farming, the agricultural revolution took off, and we advanced from hunter-gatherers to farmers.  We settled down, formed societies, and the human race progressed to what we are today.

The problem is, our bodies never adjusted properly to eating all the grains that we we’re now farming.  As Robb Wolf puts it, think of a 100-yard football field.  The first 99.5 yards are how long Homo-Sapiens spent as hunter-gatherers. As they became REALLY good at hunting and gathering our bodies adapted to that lifestyle over thousands of years.  That last half-yard represents our species after the agricultural revolution, where our diet has shifted (but our genetics haven’t).

So, instead of loading up on meat, vegetables and seasonal fruits, we’ve become a species “dependent” upon grains – bread, pasta, rice, corn, and so on.  The government continues to recommend 6-11 servings of grains a day, and people continue to get fatter and fatter by the day.

66% of us are overweight, 33% are considered obese, and those numbers are only getting worse.”

Those following the Paleo Diet eat things like meat, poultry, fish, eggs, vegetables, oils, fruits, nuts and tubers — trying to purchase the best-quality meat (grass-fed/pastured if possible) and the best-quality fruits and vegetables — avoiding processed foods, GMOs, pesticides and other chemicals.

Instead of your traditional “low-fat diet” for weight loss, this lifestyle stresses high-fat.

Think of it this way: Low-fat = chemical shit-storm. Think of all the chemicals that must be added to a low-fat product to make it taste good!

Back to the “NerdFitness.com” site, for the basics on the Paleo Diet:

“If we cut out the grains, almost all processed foods, and dairy, you’re left with only things that occur naturally:

  • Meat – GRASS-FED, not grain-fed. Grain causes the same problem in animals as they do in humans.
  • Fowl – Chicken, duck, hen, turkey…things with wings that (try to) fly.
  • Fish – Wild fish, as mercury and other toxins can be an issue in farmed fish
  • Eggs – Look for Omega-3 enriched eggs.
  • Vegetables – As long as they’re not deep-fried, eat as many as you want.
  • Oils – Olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil – think natural.
  • Fruits – Have natural sugar, and can be higher in calories, so limit if you’re trying to lose weight.
  • Nuts – High in calories, so they’re good for a snack, but don’t eat bags and bags of them.
  • Tubers – Sweet potatoes and yams.  Higher in calories and carbs, so these are good for right after a workout to replenish your glycogen levels.

Steak with asparagus and sweet potato fries, grilled chicken salad, massive omelets that will fill you up for the whole morning, apples dipped in almond butter (my favorite snack ever), and so on. Pick any of the things from that list, and eat as much as you want of them (with the noted exceptions). You’ll feel better and be healthier.”

CLICK HERE for much, much more on the Paleo Diet via NerdFitness.com.

Many folks “try out” the Paleo Diet by participating in a Whole30 — 30 days of eating strict Paleo.

CLICK HERE to learn more about the Whole30!

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