Diet Smarter in 2013 – By Consensus

Diet by ConsensusIf you are like one of nearly 45 million other Americans, you plan to go on a diet sometime this year.  Some statistics show that up to 50% of American women and 25% of American men consider themselves to be “on a diet” at any given time.  The struggle to loose weight is continual for many as they bounce from one diet plan to the next.

With so many diet strategies available, how do you know which one is right?  Aren’t they all different?  Don’t they conflict?

To avoid these questions and diet smarter in 2013, stop comparing differences in diet strategies and start comparing similarities.

Diet by consensus

For this approach, examine the diet plans that you are considering.  Base your meals around the foods generally agreed upon as “Safe” and avoid the foods generally agreed upon as “Bad.”  This alone will determine about 80% of your food choices.  The remaining details then become much simpler to sort out.

As an example, I compared 14 popular diet plans & diet strategies (see below), resulting in the following lists.

Safe:

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Lean meats (except vegan/vegetarian)
  • “Healthy” plant oils: olive, coconut and others high in monounsaturated fats
  • Whole grains

Avoid:

  • White refined sugar (table sugar)
  • High fructose corn syrup
  • Processed grains (white flour, white rice, etc)
  • Processed grain products (white breads, pastas, etc)
  • Processed food (cheese spreads from a can, snack cakes, etc)
  • Processed meats (pre-packaged lunch meats, pepperoni and the like)
  • Saturated fats
  • Trans Fats
  • Additional sodium (table salt)

You may be asking “That’s it?  Where is the earth-shaking insight?”  There are not any – not in the sense of surprise items, that is.

Instead of surprise, the insight is that many commonly touted “health foods” are the basis for many popular diet strategies and diet plans.  These “diets” may differ in calorie counts and food proportions, but their shopping lists are largely based on the above.

Where to go from here

Using this information, you can begin to answer much simpler questions.  Instead of asking “Which diet plan is best?”, you can ask more specific questions like “Should I limit my dairy intake?” or “Should I include eggs?”

These simple questions will be easier to research and – more importantly – easier to “trial-and-erorr” on your own.

Advice by Consensus:

While putting together the list of foods for these 14 “diets”, a list of general tips also arose.

Track Your Nutrients:  When starting out, track your basic nutrients and calorie intake using a service like Calorie Counter by FatSecret.  This will help ensure you are on track for both nutrition and weight loss.  As your eating habits change, you will be a better judge of proper intake and can track your food less often.

Use organic when possible:  When possible, look for organic foods.  This can help avoid the risk of pesticides, herbicides and other chemicals in your food.

The less processed, the better:  When in doubt, go with the foods that seem to be less processed.  Processed foods often contain less nutritional value than their “whole food” counterparts.  Processed foods also tend to contain more of the undesirable ingredients listed above.

“Whole” grain varies:  When in doubt, go with a visual – can you see grains or pieces of grain?  If so, good.  Some “whole wheat” breads, on the contrary, are essentially just white breads with a little brown flour thrown in.

Look up the Glycemic Index:  Research the glycemic index to gain understanding about what it is and how common foods rate on its scale.  This will help explain why high-sugar fruits, sugar, and processed flours should be limited or avoided in your new diet.

Conclusion

People diet for many reasons, including weight loss, medical concerns and a desire to have more energy.  Some people require a support structure and others happily go it alone.  Regardless of your particular needs, the strategy of “diet by consensus” should alleviate the uncertainty you feel about diet choices.

The food lists and advice given here are a start for many of us, but please consider your personal needs and adjust as necessary.  Keep in mind that I am neither your doctor nor dietitian:  this is advice, not a prescription!

Diet smarter in 2013!  Gather data from your preferred diet plans and find consensus.  How do your lists compare to mine?  Share your lists in the comments below!

References:

The 14 Diets:

Notes:

  1. Some diets center around packages meals
  2. Some diets have multiple phases
  3. Some diets don’t have “official” food lists
  4. Good / Bad / Moderation occasionally group items loosely
  5. These lists attempt the best overall representation of each diet
  6. I did my best to be comprehensive, but if I erred please let me know!

Atkins Diet
Good:

  • Healthy Fats
  • Most meats
  • Vegetables

Moderation:

  • Whole Grains
  • Berries
  • Fruits
  • Yogurt
  • non-sugar sweeteners

Bad:

  • processed foods
  • breads
  • sugars
  • starchy / high carb vegetables
  • Margarine
  • “Processed” cheeses
  • fat-free dairy
  • sugar
  • caffeine

Paleo Diet
Good:

  • FIsh
  • Organic meats (lean)
  • fruits
  • vegetables
  • nuts
  • roots / rhizomes
  • spices

Moderation:

  • Nuts
  • Healthy oils

Bad:

  • grains
  • legumes
  • dairy
  • added salts
  • refined sugar
  • processed oils
  • Salty foods
  • starchy vegetables

Primal Blueprint
Good:

  • Healthy Fats / Oils
  • Some fruits (esp berries)
  • Vegetables
  • nuts
  • Meats

Moderation:

  • Cheese / Yogurt
  • Coffee
  • Honey
  • sugary fruits
  • starchy fruits

Bad:

  • processed sugars
  • processed grains
  • legumes

Vegan
Good:

  • Veggies
  • Fruits
  • Nuts
  • Whole Grains

Moderation:

Bad:

  • Meats
  • Dairy
  • Processed foods

Vegetarian
Good:

  • Veggies
  • Fruits
  • Nuts
  • Whole Grains

Moderation:

  • Dairy

Bad:

  • Meats
  • Processed Foods
  • Sugars

AdvoCare 24-Day Challenge
Good:

  • Vegetables
  • Fruits (especially low-glycemic index)
  • Healthy fats (olive oil, etc)
  • Lean meats
  • Clean, complex carbs (rice, oatmeal, etc)

Moderation:

  • Starchy foods
  • Nuts / Seeds
  • Dairy

Bad:

  • Table sugar
  • Sugary drinks
  • TransFats
  • Saturated fats
  • Margarine
  • Alcohol
  • Fried foods

17 Day Diet
Good:

  • Lean meat
  • Water
  • Healthy plant oils
  • Whole grains
  • Vegetables
  • Fruits

Bad:

  • starchy food

DASH Diet
Good:

  • fruits
  • vegetables
  • whole grains
  • low-fat dairy
  • lean meat
  • unsalted nuts
  • cooked beans

Moderation:

Bad:

  • Sodium
  • fats
  • processed food
  • sugary drinks

Biggest Loser Diet
Good:

  • lean meats
  • egg whites
  • beans, legumes
  • fruits
  • vegetables
  • whole grains
  • low fat dairy

Moderation:

  • “healthy” fats
  • nuts
  • seeds
  • red meat

Bad:

  • Refined carbs
  • processed meats
  • high fat meats
  • saturated fats (meat, butter, cheese, high fat dairy)
  • starchy carbs
  • sugars

TLC Diet (Lowers LDL bad cholesterol, increases HDL good cholesterol)
Good:

  • Monounsaturated Fats (olive oil, etc)
  • Lean meats
  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Whole grains

Moderation:

  • Meats
  • Milks
  • Egg yolks
  • Sweets

Bad:

  • Saturated Fats
  • No trans-fats
  • Full-Fat dairy

Jenny Craig
Good:

  • whole grains
  • reduced fat dairy
  • non-starchy vegetables
  • Lean Meats

Moderation:

  • fruits

Bad:  (no strictly taboo foods, but focus on moderation)

  • alcohol
  • sugar
  • starch
  • high sugar fruits

South Beach Diet
Good:

  • vegetables
  • nuts
  • olive oil
  • lean meats

Moderation:

  • certain sweets

Bad:

  • alcohol
  • milk
  • fruit
  • grains
  • yogurt
  • beef?
  • sugar
  • refined flour
  • starches / high glycemic index foods

Mediterranean Diet
Good:

  • olive oil (monounsaturated fat)
  • unrefined cereals (whole grains)
  • legumes
  • fruits
  • vegetables

Moderation:

  • moderate dairy
  • moderate fish

Bad:

  • Other meats

Cleanse / Detox diet
Good:

  • Organic Fruits, Veggies, Meats
  • Whole, unprocessed foods
  • Fruits & Veggies for fiber
  • WaterHerbal supplements

Bad:

  • Alcohol, tobacco

UPDATES:

  • Removed “Whole Grain” from the Primal Blueprint list.  An obvious discrepancy that I missed in my original publication of the list.  See comments below for details.

 Image Credit:  Flickr user doniree

Comments

  1. Interestingly, that’s actually the point I ended up at with my own dieting habits, too. Now that I”m to the “consensus” point, I’m trying out avoiding different things, like gluten, milk, etc. and seeing if that makes a difference. I don’t think anybody will keep weight off long-term unless they reach the conclusion outlined in your article.

    • I think it’s a point that could help a lot of people stick to their diet plan, whichever that may be. A person doesn’t need to be worrying about “the next big thing” of dieting – they need to understand the base of what they’re working with first. Once they have that solid base, further modifications become much easier.

  2. A focus on the similarities is what I also tried to do because I got so fed up with the contradictions and smug certainty of the different plan’s advocates, i.e. “any plan but ours will kill you”, particularly the paleo followers. However, I’d like to point out that there’s less consensus than you pointed out above on three items: additional sodium; saturated fats; and white rice.

    • Deb – thank you for the comment! Yes, the attitude of some diet devotees toward other diet strategies is what often strikes me as odd. My diet is roughly paleo, but realizing the above information it is hard to be smug when comparing to other diets.
      Your point is well taken regarding white rice and saturated fats – I consume them both myself, just not in mass amounts. The note on sodium I think would have in mind average americans that have salt in, and then add salt on, most foods they eat.
      If you’ve seen information that sodium in the larger amounts is fine – please feel free to link it here or e-mail it over. I would be interested to see it! Thanks again!

  3. One issue with the “Primal Blueprint” breakdown — Primal Blueprint definitely does not list “whole grains” as “Good”. Refer to http://www.marksdailyapple.com/why-grains-are-unhealthy/ — This is one area where Paleo and Primal agree. Grains are not proper food for man.

    • True! Thanks you for pointing that out – an obvious oversight on my part. After a couple hours of slogging through what counted as good for diets such as Jenny Craig, DASH, etc my mind had apparently stopped functioning. I’ll adjust that out of my Primal Blueprint list.
      I will, however, leave it included in the overall “good” list for two reasons:
      1. the list is just consensus, not necessarily 100% agreement
      2. the existence of quinoa, a grain which Mark Sisson doesn’t entirely damn
      Thank you again for pointing out the discrepancy!

Trackbacks

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