Talking about diet may be more sensitive than talking about politics or religion. Margaret Mead once said: "It is easier for a man to change his religion than his diet". Today I intend to demystify the term "diet" and give you the confidence to eliminate or better, explore foods or dietary protocols that can help you find your body's ideal balance.
In other times the word diet was synonymous with vanity, but those times are long gone and today, understanding that each person is different in their metabolism and genetics; in the management of their emotions, in their family, workload and more, it is imperative to stop and explore which foods suit you and which do not, as well as the amounts and timing of food, according to your personal circumstances.
In general, you diet to lose weight. No diet or supplement will be effective if you consume more energy than your body needs.
The fact is that a dietary protocol goes much further, for example: a raw vegan diet allows you to detoxify, reset and balance your body. A ketogenic protocol would help you lose fat, while others would use a different type of diet if they wanted to gain muscle.
Today I will outline the types of diets, or if you are more comfortable, the most popular and effective nutritional protocols, how they are structured and what benefits they can provide so that you can begin to explore which one may be right for you to improve your health, as well as your physical, mental, and emotional performance.
Most popular types of diet
Traditionally, Western society followed a protocol of 3 meals a day: breakfast, lunch, and dinner. However, this custom is changing due to the decrease of physical activity in society and the industrialised production of processed foods, which results in significant metabolic and, in other cases, emotional disturbances such as stress, depression and more.
Nowadays, when an event is scheduled, participants are often asked in advance about their nutritional preferences. This is a good thing because it is starting to consider the individual's current situation.
The types of diets I mention below are for you to use as tools depending on the situation you are in at the time you decide to take advantage of one of them. A diet refers, in principle, to a time of exception in which you eliminate or include one or more foods from your daily nutrition for a specific purpose.
As the name suggests, fasting refers to complete abstinence from food. Many communities and ancestral traditions have made use of this practice to prepare themselves physically, mentally and spiritually for certain events that form part of their traditions.
Nowadays, this practice has been taken up again because multiple scientific studies have proven that it allows the human organism to restore itself in several aspects.
- It would improve blood sugar control, reducing insulin resistance and the risk of type 2 diabetes.
- It may help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, as well as multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis.
- Fasting should provide protection for brain function in terms of memory and cognitive processes. It helps produce nerve cells and has a positive influence on Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease, thanks to the autophagy mechanism that is triggered during fasting. (study)
- Studies have also shown that fasting can reduce symptoms of anxiety, depression and even improve socialisation in humans.
- Fasting can help produce human growth hormone, as the body is at a certain level of stress, and this is when this hormone is produced. Growth hormone plays an important role during growth, but in adulthood it would help to stimulate metabolism, improve muscle strength and physical performance.
- Weight loss. Some studies indicate that reducing periods of food intake helps to better control body weight and fat loss, although it doesn’t appear to be superior to other types of calorie-restricted diets for this purpose. Ultimately, to lose weight, you need to be in caloric deficit.
There are several types of fasting such as intermittent fasting, 24-hour fasting, 5:12 fasting (5 days of normal eating and 2 days of fasting per week) or prolonged fasting.
Raw vegan diet
Raw vegan nutrition focuses on organic, plant-based foods. Food can be heated and brought to the point of boiling, but not for more than 90 seconds, as subjecting a food to any extreme temperature destroys the fundamental nutrients of that food.
This protocol consists mainly of vegetables, fruits, activated nuts and seeds, and sprouts. These foods are characterised by maintaining the totality of their nutritional properties since they are not processed, trying to maintain, as far as possible, their "raw" state.
- Because the body recovers from the consumption of processed foods, the absorption of nutrients is facilitated. You will eat less because the food carries its full nutritional load; and you will feel your body with more energy and vitality.
- By eliminating large amounts of animal protein and starches, you reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. (studies)
- A raw diet can protect your body from infections and other inflammatory diseases such as colds, flu, conjunctivitis, gastroenteritis, allergies and more. (study)
- Eating a raw diet can reverse or halt the progression of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease and cancer. (study)
Variations of the raw vegan protocol include vegan eating, where foods may be cooked or frozen, but at their core, include the same foods.
The other variation is the vegetarian diet, which also includes eggs and dairy.
The ketogenic protocol focuses on the consumption of healthy fats, moderate protein intake and minimal carbohydrate intake. With this regimen, the body enters a state of ketosis where it begins to use stored fat as fuel for all daily activities in the absence of sugar.
According to a study published by the National Library of Medicine in the United States, the ketogenic diet has the potential to
- Increase the genetic diversity of the microbiome and increase the ratio of Bacteroidetes to Firmicutes.
- The epigenome may benefit as the ketogenic diet creates a signalling molecule called beta-hydroxybutyrate, which has metabolic effects ranging from diseases associated with aging to human DNA (study).
- It has helped patients with diabetes lower their Haemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) and reduce their need for insulin.
- There is evidence that it may help with weight loss, visceral adiposity, and appetite control.
- Eating a higher fat diet improves lipid profiles by reducing bad or low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, while increasing good cholesterol.
- A ketogenic protocol can induce triglyceride reduction.
- Because of the Warburg effect, the ketogenic diet can be used as an adjuvant to kill cancer cells, making them more vulnerable to chemotherapy and radiation.
This protocol significantly limits carbohydrate intake to between 25-50 grams per day. It is characterised by a higher intake of animal protein, moderate consumption of healthy fats and very low in sugar and starches.
The ketogenic, Atkins and Paleo or alkaline diets would be variations of this protocol but maintain similar effects on the body.
- Weight loss. According to a meta-analysis published in the journal Nutrients, suggests that low-carbohydrate diets are effective in improving weight loss and HDL and TG lipid profiles.
- Type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance. Following a low-carbohydrate diet for six months or more can lead to remission of type 2 diabetes without any adverse consequences, as described in a meta-analysis published in The British Medical Journal.
- Gut health. A low-carbohydrate diet has been shown to influence the composition of our gut microbiota, favouring the growth of species that can have a positive impact on our gut-brain axis and our nervous system. In this sense, this type of diet could participate in the prevention and/or treatment protocol of central nervous system disorders, such as epilepsy, Alzheimer's, Parkinson’s, and autism. (article)
- Cardiovascular health. Research from the Mayo Clinic in the United States indicates that high carbohydrate intake increases the risk of developing cardiovascular disease and a higher incidence of cardiovascular mortality.
This protocol focuses on the consumption of green leafy vegetables, legumes, beans, nuts, spices, and olive oils, which are mainly consumed in countries whose coasts border the Mediterranean Sea. Meat consumption, as well as dairy products, is reduced.
In the practice of this diet, fats are used very sparingly while desserts, refined oils and processed meats are excluded.
The protocol does not specify portion sizes or specific amounts. It is up to the individual to decide how much food to eat at each meal, considering physical activity and body size.
- According to the Harvard University School of Public Health, USA, research has consistently shown that the Mediterranean diet is effective in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease and overall mortality. (article)
- A Nurses' Health study found that participants following a diet closer to the Mediterranean diet had longer telomere length, a component of DNA that shortens with age and whose length is a predictor of a person's life expectancy and risk of developing age-related diseases.
- Another study found that women who followed a Mediterranean-style eating pattern were 46% more likely to age healthily.
- The Mediterranean diet can help prevent weight gain and type 2 diabetes. Both conditions promote other diseases such as heart disease and stroke.
- It may help promote gut health. One study showed the influence of the Mediterranean diet on microbiota where subjects exhibited a lower presence of E. coli and a higher presence of total bacteria, a higher Bifidobacterium/E. coli ratio and a higher prevalence of C. albicans and SCFAs (Short Chain Fatty Acids).
- May help reduce high blood pressure. One study noted that greater adherence to the Mediterranean diet significantly decreased the likelihood of hypertension by 36% and a significant interaction was found between adherence to the Mediterranean diet and (body) weight status on hypertension.
Carbohydrate Cycling diet
This, like other nutritional protocols, is to be used as needed: if you are being more active or active, especially if you are a man, it is important to increase your carbohydrate intake a bit so that you don't lose too much muscle mass.
If it is a training day, for example, increase the consumption of this macronutrient to get more energy; if it is a rest day or a light training day, simply eat less.
The foods that make up this protocol should be high in fibre, as well as fruits and vegetables, some starches and certain low-fat dairy.
- Increased and retained lean muscle mass. By alternating low carbohydrate days with higher carbohydrate days, an anabolic environment is created (muscle is built) and muscle mass is retained due to reduced protein breakdown in the body.
- Endocrine stimulation. Spending too much time on a low carbohydrate protocol tends to reduce T3 hormone levels and consequently the basal metabolic rate (number of calories burned at rest), stalling the body's metabolic progress.
- Periods of high carbohydrate may also reduce inflammation and help your body use iron. (study)(study)(study)
- Glycogen overcompensation. During heavy training days the body produces an enzyme called glycogen synthase whose function is to convert as much glucose as possible into glycogen (sugar that is stored in muscles and liver for use in case of deficiency).
These are the main diets from which many other variations can be derived. Each person is different, and it is therefore important to choose the protocol that suits you best, even adapting it to your lifestyle and personal circumstances. The important thing is that, once you have chosen your protocol, you stick to it so that you can get the results you are looking for.
 Crous-Bou M, Fung TT, Prescott J, Julin B, Du M, Sun Q, Rexrode KM, Hu FB, De Vivo I. Mediterranean diet and telomere length in Nurses’ Health Study: population-based cohort study. BMJ. 2014 Dec 2;349:g6674.
 Samieri C, Sun Q, Townsend MK, Chiuve SE, Okereke OI, Willett WC, Stampfer M, Grodstein F. The Association Between Dietary Patterns at Midlife and Health in Aging: An Observational Study. Annals of internal medicine. 2013 Nov 5;159(9):584-91.