Choosing the right diet for you

When working with clients, the question regarding the best diet often comes up. It is not always about the best diet but more about your objectives and health issues and then identifying which diet is most likely to help you achieve your goals, it could also be a blend of diets, which is tailored to your needs. So, this week I will be discussing the Paleolithic, ketogenic, plant-based and Mediterranean diet. I will be looking at the principles of each diet, how they may affect our health, are there any disadvantages to them and are they sustainable in the long run becoming part of your lifestyle? 

To start with let us look at the Paleolithic diet. During the 1970s Dr Walter Voegtlin who was a gastroenterologist put forward the idea that eating like our caveman ancestors, a diet rich in meat, as our anatomy resembled more that of a dog (carnivore) than a sheep (herbivore) making it difficult for us to adapt to a grain-based diet. He thought that this approach would help to alleviate certain modern illnesses such as Crohn’s disease, diabetes, obesity, and other ailments, which now know can stem from high consumption of grain-based foods. The original Paleolithic diet was broken into 1/3 of their food was hunted (meat) and 2/3 was gathered (berries, tubers, and herbs). Today, it is based on high protein intake, it includes nuts, seeds, and their oils as well as berries, however, it excludes all grains, potatoes, dairy, processed foods, and refined sugar. People who follow the Paleolithic diet often see a reduction in weight as they do not consume any starchy foods, grains, legumes, processed foods, and refined sugars. There may be some difficulties encountered when trying to follow this diet, as it can become quite costly to source good quality meats. Although this diet includes lots of fruits and vegetables individuals may end up consuming high quantities of saturated fats which may not be beneficial in the long term for heart and liver health.

The second diet that we will look at is the ketogenic diet, it was created the 1920’s and 30s to help manage epilepsy in children, it was when then dropped when medication became available to manage epilepsy. It was not until 1990 when the ketogenic diet reappeared on our screens when it was demonstrated on Dateline, that a young boy named Charlie who suffered from severe epilepsy saw his symptoms diminish and almost disappear once he started the ketogenic diet. It also became apparent that this diet was also very effective to help people lose weight. The concept of the ketogenic diet is to change our bodies fuel source from carbohydrates to fats, to be able to do this, individuals are required to eat no more than 20-50 grams of carbohydrates a day so that the body remains in a state of ketosis (burning fat as fuel produces ketones as energy). The keto diet, therefore, requires a large consumption of dietary fat, with saturated fats such as lard, butter and bacon sometimes being encouraged with other healthy fats such as avocadoes and nut oils. Protein is also key, with beef, pork and bacon being staples of the diet with leaner meats such as poultry and fish also included. However, as a lot of vegetables contain carbohydrates, the ketogenic diet focuses on green leafy vegetables, cauliflower, chard, Brussel sprouts and excludes potatoes and sweet potatoes and all grains (carbohydrates). Most fruits are excluded as they are considered high in carbohydrates however fruits such as berries, avocados, cantaloupe, and peaches are allowed as they are low in carbohydrates. Individuals that follow this diet may find themselves suffering from constipation due to the lack of fibre in their diet. In the long term, it is yet to be confirmed but one might be curious as to the long-term effects of a diet so high in saturated fats, knowing that this is a factor that has been attributed to problems with heart health. Those with liver problems may also need to be wary of the ketogenic diet, as fat is metabolized by the liver this diet may, therefore, increase any liver-related health issues. The long-term benefits of this diet are yet to be confirmed however when most people resume a normal diet containing carbohydrates, they find that the weight they had lost comes back. 

The third diet that we will look at is the plant-based diet. As its name suggests there are no animal products in this diet as it is based on nuts, seeds, fruits, beans, healthy fats, legumes, and whole grains. Although it includes all necessary components of a healthy diet such as proteins, carbohydrates and healthy fats, it is important that individuals following this diet, be aware that they may suffer from a lack of vitamin B12 which is found primarily in animal protein. It would be highly advised that foods fortified with vitamin B12 be included in their diet. As the symptoms of anaemia are subtle and can be confused with other health issues, it would be advisable for individuals on this diet to get their vitamin levels checked regularly. Although some may think that this diet revolves mainly around salads, there are many other alternatives and a combination of legumes and grains, providing a diet with a wide variety of meals. You can also get plant-based food ready for the go on this site.

This walnut crusted salmon truly embodies the Mediterranean diet.

Lastly, we will look at the Mediterranean diet whose foundation is like the plant-based diet, however, it also includes foods such as fish, poultry, eggs, cheese, and meat a few times a week. Many studies throughout the years often show that this diet can help reduce the risk of developing heart disease, diabetes, obesity, cancer, and high blood pressure. This is a diet which tends to be low on saturated fats but high in healthy fats, it also includes good sources of fibre through the fruits, vegetables, and grains and does not contain any refined sugars. I find this walnut crusted salmon recipe truly embodies the Mediterranean diet, not only that but it is simple, easy to make and taste delicious! Although many people think of this as a diet, I like to think of it more as a way of life, as there are no specific restrictions as with the other diets mentioned. It can easily be adapted to your lifestyle as you can decide to only eat fish cutting out meat and poultry.

As with all these diets, we know that a healthy lifestyle is not just about what we eat but is also affected by factors such as stress, physical activity, social requirements, and many other factors. This is very important to consider when you are looking to make changes to your diet.

Send your nutrition questions to

Photo: Caju Gomes, Unsplash