Gluten-Free, Vegan, Paleo—Are They Worth the Hype?

If you’ve perused social media lately, you’re well aware of and perhaps even confused about all of the different diet trends popping up. It can be really confusing and challenging to distill the information and understand what’s true vs. false.  One day coffee and a glass of wine are must-haves due to their high levels of antioxidants and then the next we should steer clear of our nightly vino; some days we’re told to eat more protein for that svelte bod and then the next meat is ‘bad’.

Every body is different and each of us need different nutrients depending on our lifestyle factors.

In a world where we look to the internet, social media, and our favorite influencers for social proof, it can be really challenging to navigate our way towards our healthiest self. As a Health Coach, I’m often asked which of these diets are the best and if they’re worth all the hype. The answer is yes and no. 

As they say, ‘you are what you eat’, but I don’t love ‘labeling’ or pigeonholing ourselves into one diet. Our bodies are constantly changing, so while one day being a vegan might work a few years later you might start craving meat, and that’s OK! Labeling can have incredibly adverse effects on our mindset and body image. We tend to compare ourselves, our bodies, our personalities, and careers to people we admire and then strive to be like them.

When it comes to diet and health, though, every ‘body’ is different and each of us need different nutrients to thrive depending on a number of different lifestyle factors including: ancestry, blood type, and activity level.

So let’s take a look at a few of the most popular diets, what they’re all about, and if they’re right for you.  Then I’ll reveal the diet that works for me.

Gluten-Free

Source: love & lemons

What It Is: Gluten-free has become incredibly popular in the last few years. I remember when my friend was diagnosed with Celiacs in High School and her GF pancakes tasted like chalk. A GF diet excludes the protein, gluten, which is found in grains like barley, wheat and rye. Yes, beer and delicious, crispy croissants, I’m talking to you.

What It’s Meant to Do: Elimination of the consumption of glutenous products can be really beneficial as it reduces bloat, brain fog, and skin problems – score!

Worth the Hype? A gluten-free diet is essential if you’ve been diagnosed with Celiacs or a sensitivity, but in reality, gluten found in real, whole foods can actually be quite nutritious because it contains great fiber and vitamins. However, any gluten you have should come from whole real foods, not from a package – don’t fear the gluten in that homemade loaf of sourdough bread. If you want to limit the amount of gluten but are a carb lover, you’re in luck and might be surprised to know that some of my favorite carbohydrate friends are gluten free. I’m talking brown rice, oatmeal, potatoes, and quinoa.

Vegan

Source: Pinch of Yum

What It Is: Being a vegan is pretty trendy right now. In fact, my favorite restaurant in NYC just opened up a vegan sister restaurant. Vegans avoid all food and products with an animal origin including eggs, dairy, and even honey. Tried and true vegans also avoid beauty and clothing items that are animal byproducts.

What It’s Meant to Do: People opt for veganism for a couple of reasons including animal rights, environmental issues, and health benefits.

Worth the Hype? From an environmental and animal rights perspective, yes. The meat industry is really wreaking havoc on our environment and the treatment of animals for food consumption is pretty horrific, but in terms health benefits it really varies person to person. I know someone who thrives as a vegan, while others need more animal protein. My biggest recommendation: if you’re going to eat meat, know where it’s coming from. Shop organic and local when you can. It tastes better and you can make a difference while you eat.

Paleo

Source: Against All Grain

What It Is: Also referred to as the Caveman Diet, Paleo is a protein and healthy fat heavy diet that eliminates all grains, legumes, hydrogenated oils, and dairy. If you’ve heard the word crossfit then you’re likely at least semi-familiar with this fad.

What It’s Meant to Do: The idea is that we eliminate toxicity by reverting back to the way our ancestors ate and removing processed foods. It’s also been touted for it’s lean muscle building results and increased consumption of iron, which is so important for women to avoid anemia.

Worth the Hype? In the Standard American Diet (SAD), we eat WAY too many processed foods, which are just plain bad for you. There’s sugar hiding in your peanut butter and ketchup, and I guarantee you can’t read half the ingredients on the back of your “nutrition bar”.  Let’s be honest these things can barely be called food. So the elimination of processed foods with the paleo diet is a huge score in my book, but research shows that grains and legumes can actually improve and be beneficial to our health.

Ketogenic 

Source: Cookie and Kate

What It Is: Kind of new on the diet trend scene, Ketogenic is a high-fat, low-carb, low-sugar diet. Think olive oils, butter, coconut oil, avocados, dark leafy greens, good meats and fish, above ground vegetables, and raw nuts and no high sugar fruit like bananas.

What It’s Meant to Do: It’s been said that a keto-diet can decrease the chance of neurological diseases, lower cholesterol and blood pressure, promote weight loss, and improve cognitive functions – no wonder people are loving it!

Worth the Hype? I like the premise, and people see results fast. On the Keto diet you’ll get high quality protein, decreased sugar rushes, and more good for you fats which are all good in my book, but the drastic elimination of carbohydrates is not for everyone.  Carbs are actually quite healthy, and don’t just come in the form of a loaf of bread.  They also hide under the disguise of starchy fruits and veggies which help to stabilize our blood sugar.

So how do you decide what’s right for you?

Source: @naturallyella

With all of the options how do you figure out which one works for you? Here’s the thing: you don’t have to choose. In fact, not labeling yourself and listening to what your body is telling you is the healthiest way to be. Our bodies are quite intuitive and tell us what we need, we just have to listen carefully. In addition, you should always consult your general practitioner before taking on any extreme diet.

The best way to figure out how to look and feel your best is to test them all. Test each one that interests you for a week and keep a journal that tracks how you feel, sleep, and yes bowel movements (ew!). When you notice yourself feeling energized, refreshed, and light, tune in with what made you feel that way.

That’s exactly how I decided I didn’t need to be gluten free, paleo, or a vegan! I have plenty of friends who subscribe to diets and that’s awesome because it works for them, but for me, a life of moderation is what works best.  My moderate life is filled with lots fresh, whole, real foods including kale, lean proteins, and healthy fats, but when I really want a glass of red wine, a margarita, a beautiful baguette, or a chocolate chip cookie, I don’t deny myself and enjoy every bite or sip.

If you’re going to subscribe to a diet my biggest recommendation for you is to eat whole, real foods, mostly plants, most of the time. This is a lifestyle for long lasting benefits, not just a one-time quick fix.

REMEMBER: every BODY is different.  Embrace and love yours and you’ll be your healthiest self yet. 

What works or doesn’t work for your body? Leave a comment if you have questions or need extra help!

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